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Have you had a problem with smelly kettle water?

A cup of tea with some biscuits

Can you help solve a mystery that’s threatening to ruin the breakfast time cuppa of tea drinkers up and down the country? Smelly kettle water. It’s a problem many of you seem to suffer, judging by comments we’ve had.

The problem came to the boil when several Which? members complained to us that water they heated in the Russell Hobbs Ebony 15076 kettle smells and has a ‘revolting’ plastic flavour that makes it ‘undrinkable’.

One of those who contacted us told us that they had tried reboiling and rinsing it several times, but the ‘plastic flavour’ wouldn’t go away.

What the problem is

One member told us:

‘It produces the most foul tasting water which renders tea, coffee etc undrinkable. No excuses here either as the water used was from a filter jug and regularly produces totally drinkable water from my other kettle.’

So we had a look at it in our lab where we test kettles and sure enough, there really is a problem with how the water tastes and smells when boiled. But why? Our white-coated wizards tested it for lots of different chemicals but couldn’t come up with an answer.

What Russell Hobbs told us about the smelly kettle

We asked Russell Hobbs if it could explain the problem. It said safety was its main concern and that all its products are thoroughly tested.

It apologised ‘to anyone who has had an unsatisfactory experience’, said that this was an isolated incident and that anyone concerned should contact its customer services team.

But now it seems the Ebony isn’t the only kettle that has this problem as we’ve heard of similar problems with other kettles and other brands.

Have you had this problem? Can you help solve the mystery of the smelly kettle water?

Helen says:
13 May 2015

I bought a Russell Hobbs kettle a year or so back and the taste of the water was terrible. Very unpleasant. Suggestions online to boil with bicarbonate of soda did not work. I read somewhere that the kettle parts were being shipped in and then assembled here. The parts are coated in an oily substance either to protect them in transit or to aid assembly. I can’t remember which. They are not washed before or after assembly so the customer gets the taste of this coating. I eventually gave up on boiling with bicarbonate and washed the inside of the kettle with hot soapy water and then boiled it with clean water. The taste went after that.

If you’ve ever tasted wd40 after accidentally getting on your hands, that’s what it tasted like.

Steve says:
14 May 2015

We’ve had this problem for years with different makes of plastic kettles. The taste and smell have never really gone away but it does improve with time. My kettle is probably around 7 years old. Our water tastes horrible and has a TCP taste and smell occasionally, sometimes it’s really quite strong. I find emptying the kettle and refilling with fresh water each time is the best solution and I never reboil as the taste is disgusting. I hardly ever drink straight from the tap and use bottled water for cold drinks. We live in a hard water area. I think it may be a reaction of the flouride with the plastic and rubber components.

It’s always best to empty the kettle and refill it with fresh water every time as the first boiling will have driven off all the oxygen in the water making any later-boiled water seem stale. It’s also a good idea to run the kitchen tap for a period first thing each day to clear the pipe of any water that has been static overnight [although any use of toilets or showers will have this effect as the domestic supply recharges from the mains, the short section below the kitchen tap will not get refreshed unless some water is run off first]. A good way to check whether it is the kettle or your water supply that is causing the taste and smell problem is to boil some water in a pan on the hob, take it off the hob immediately it starts to boil, make some tea with it, and see how it compares with your kettle-boiled water.

John – As you say, boiling water drives off oxygen. This happens quickly, and I have often boiled (distilled) water for use in lab work where oxygen-free water was essential. Whether water is boiled once or many times is not going to affect its oxygen content.

I am not claiming that re-boiled water does not affect the taste of tea, but I’m as sure as I can be that oxygen is not a factor.

Tea purists have always recommended using fresh water every time. Not being a connoisseur of tea [I stick to everyday brands and probably add too much milk] I am in no position to judge the effect on taste; nevetheless, I always use fresh water every time and use it immediately it has boiled. This doesn’t prove anything but, out of dozens of different kettles [of different types] we’ve had over the years and water in several different locations in southern England, we’ve never had an unpleasant taste or smell from the kettle.

Tea purists might well be right about using freshly boiled water but it will take a lot to convince me that dissolved oxygen is the reason. I’m not the first who has rejected this hypothesis.

I am not familiar with strange tastes from kettles but I drink coffee, which has a powerful flavour. I stopped drinking tea when I moved to an area with extremely hard water.

Donna says:
14 May 2015

Purchased a new phillips kettle a couple of days ago. Ans its terrible pan water tastes fine, we had the same problem a few years ago so we purchased a cheap currys own brand which was fine. the new ones going back today

Shipmategill says:
14 May 2015

I thought it was just me and am so relieved to read your blog. I have a newish metallic kettle and we have to remember to change the water every time otherwise I cant drink from it.
When the water is still warm from an hour ago this is a waste of energy and water.

I thought I would replace it with a plastic one but it seems this might make things worse.

I shall have to re commission my old one. It looks a bit scruffy but at least it makes a decent cuppa.

Whats going on?????

Heath says:
14 May 2015

I drink only hot water not tea or coffee and sometimes the smell of the hot water as I go to rake a sip is so strong I literally throw my head back from the smell,it is an extraordinary smell which is like hot tar or hot electrics.The kettle I use is a make called Judge and we use an induction hob so there is no plastic involved.I have had the kettle for about 7 years and it is only recently this problem has started .It does seem to happen mostly in the morning boiling of water but it is not every day.

wendy says:
14 May 2015

I bought a Russell Hobbs Buckingham Kettle some months ago and there has been a foul chemical taste with the water after boiling. The cups of tea or coffee proved undrinkable we hoped that after some months the taste would improve, but sometimes even after putting fresh water in the kettle there is a strange taste. I am about to take my Russell Hobbs Buckingham kettle back to the shop.

Mabel says:
14 May 2015

Its not the kettle’s, it’s the water….

I live in Kidderminster, Worcestrrshire with extremely hard water. If you boil the water and let it cool for more than 2 hours and you want another cup of tea then we have to pour away all water and start with fresh. It does not notice as much in coffee as it does in tea.

The taste is hard to describe, stale, earthy just nasty. The smell is almost on the chlorine scale.

Hope this helps

Ballie says:
14 May 2015

yes w have had 3 new kettles sent 2 back because of the smells in the water w are using a Brevelle this also smells we have put vinegar and soda crystals but we now have to use fresh water each time

TC says:
14 May 2015

We have overcome the smell and taste by filling the kettle with water from the hot tap.

Steve says:
14 May 2015

Are you sure this a healthy thing to be doing if the water is going through the hot water cistern or boiler first?

A traditional hot water system was fed by an open-topped galvanised steel tank in the loft. Birds and rats have been found decaying in these tanks. Plastic tanks with proper lids are a great improvement. In modern systems, there is no tank in the loft or hot water cylinder, so it’s probably safe to use water from the hot tap, but I’m not taking the risk.

Our very modern mains pressure unvented hot water system does have a very large sealed hot water storage tank [also containing an immersion heater and the primary heating coil] and I would not use water from the hot tap for drinking even after boiling. Even though there is very little chance of foreign bodies lurking in the tank, the water might have been there a long time and it always looks cloudy when it comes out of the taps – possibly due to liberated limescale or aeration or a combination of both. Apart from when cleaning my teeth I do not take water from any of the cold taps except the kitchen sink tap; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just never as cold and fresh-tasting as the water from the kitchen tap.

In some houses, the only cold water tap fed from the rising main is the one in the kitchen. 🙁

I once lived in a flat for a short period and even the kitchen cold water tap was fed from the tank in the loft. That’s illegal and I had to make it clear to the landlord that he would be reported if he did not take prompt action. He did.

John – Cloudiness in cold water can be due to aeration, as you say. Allow a glass of water to stand and it should become crystal clear. It is common to see genuine turbidity in water after work on the mains or local hydrant testing, which disturb sediment in the pipes. According to water companies this is not a hazard, but most of us would prefer to wait for a while and then run the water until it is clear.

Thanks Wavechange. I should have made it clear (!), it’s only the hot taps that run cloudy. The kitchen tap is always crystal clear and all the other cold taps [all connected directly to the water main but with much longer pipe runs] are just as clear but are not used so much as the kitchen tap so the water is not so fresh although perfectly potable. In fact, feeling like a cup of tea at this moment, I’m going to go up to the top floor and make one with water from the cold tap in the bathroom up there and see whether there is any difference in taste.

Here is a useful document about water storage in the home: http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/consumers/advice-leaflets/tanks.pdf

Maybe we are getting off-topic, but maybe not if the problem is due to a problem with the water supply.

There is some interesting info on water quality which can be found @thameswater.co.uk – Frequently Asked Questions – Taste, Smell and Appearance. Some answers may surprise!

I have completely eradicated the awful taste I used to get with my hot drinks (especially tea) by using a water filter jug which removes all chlorine from the water through its carbon cartridges and emptying all the old and stale water from my Breville stainless steel kettle before reusing. I usually wait until the filter cartridges are ‘on offer’ before buying as they can be rather expensive t but well worth the enjoyment of a decent cuppa.

Dave says:
14 May 2015

I bought a Russell Hobbs Buckingham Kettle before Christmas and had the same problem. The water had a chemical smell and taste. If the quantity of water boiled was large enough – greater then half a kettle, and you used the water straight away the tea or coffee was just about drinkable.

In the end I bought a Wilko own brand kettle for £20 which makes perfect tea!

Morley says:
14 May 2015

My previous kettle, used in 2 areas of England + different water sources, was a brushed stainless steel Sandstrom SKET210. Initially there was a metallic taste even to freshly boiled water, but after a couple of weeks freshly-boiled or re-boiled (however distasteful a practice that might be!) tasted equally OK. I replaced it in late 2014 with a brushed stainless steel Russell Hobbs ‘Snowdon’ model 20441. After a couple or so weeks freshly-boiled water tasted fine, but re-boiled is still revolting six months on whether with tea or coffee. So what’s left over now gets emptied into the rainwater butts. I haven’t yet noticed any plants keeling over…
So, if neither a change in water source nor re-boiling affected the ‘flavour’ of the Sandstrom, what’s going on with the RH? I’m reminded of the unexplained difference in flavour that I find between whole milk out of the traditional glass bottle and the same from a waxed or plastic container. But that’s a different story. Maybe.

Forensic science relies on the principle that, at every crime scene, something is left behind by the perpetrator and something is taken away. With smelly kettles we need to take the nasty smell away and leave something nicer in its place. I wondered whether boiling some rice in the kettle for a short time might do the trick. We need someone who has laboratory experience and likes doing experiments . . .

14 May 2015

I bought a Morphy Richards kettle that gave off a very strong plastic taste, I noticed there was a lot of plastic inside so I removed as much as was safe I washed the kettle again in boiling water and the taste has gone away now

Pat Stannard says:
14 May 2015

We have the following kettle, Breville BKJ824, which is a couple of months old. We also have been having problems with metallic taste, but it is inconsistent. We change the water every time and at one point, we thought it was the tea bags. We have tried different levels of water and boiled a full kettle several times before throwing it away. It is such a waste, as several cuppas get chucked away. We are now going to try scrubbing the inside of the kettle, as one person suggested.

Sarah ball says:
14 May 2015

We bought a Stainless steel Cookworks kettle from Argos and had dreadful problems with the smell/taste from tea and coffee. We live outside Glasgow in a soft water area so it is not just a hard water problem. We couldn’t stand it any longer and bought another kettle and have had no problems. My husband is convinced it is something to do with the plastic inside.

Karen Bannister says:
14 May 2015

We had a similar problem with a nasty after taste in the tea. We had some builders round and they managed to persuade the neighbours to keep them in tea, the taste was so bad!

Jean says:
14 May 2015

I have had the same problem in Kent when using a Sainsbury’s plastic kettle at my son’s. Thought it was because it was new, but it still tastes the same after a few months of use. When I use a pan the problem is not there. It has a vague TCP taste. The Southern water does not have a good taste to begin with! The water is NOT grim up North. At home I use a metal Russel Hobbs kettle and have not had problems.
I have noticed exactly the same problem and taste with water from a new similar plastic kettle in Northern France, bought in a French supermarket, so I don’t think the water has anything to do with the nasty taste. I have tried boiling bicarbonate of soda several times. No change.

Is it a problem with the recently produced plastic kettles?

Simon says:
15 May 2015

Just replaced my leaking Russell Hobbs steel kettle that works and tastes fine (apart from the leak around the spout) with a Delonghi KB steel kettle. after five days of near-constant use (I like my tea and coffee) the strange taste and smell are still there.
I went back to my old kettle today for a decent brew. I have emailed Delonghi customer services about this also, they questioned whether I use fresh water each time. No I don’t but the water barely gets chance to cool down in our house so I am not going to start throwing away warm water when I have never done that in 40 years of kettle usage.