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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?

Hilster says:
5 April 2016

So…. Has anyone successfully bought a taint free, reliable electric kettle recently that they would recommend? (I know this might seem a silly question on the Which? site…)


It’s hard to make recommendations – because the “smelly kettles” problem does not seem to affect all kettles and/or all households.

A friend of mine recently replaced her kettle with a £6 plastic bodied budget offering from Tesco. As a consumer of tea at her house, I must say that I cannot detect any problems with it at all.

But who knows – maybe the exact same kettle in a different house – or another kettle of the same design but from different batches of raw materials – might exhibit the problem.

Bill Williams says:
29 October 2017

The only kettle that I have found that does not taint the water is one model by Swan. It is their old-fashioned Swan traditional electric kettle.
It has the element on the inside of the kettle at the bottom.
I took out any plastic bits including the internal float for the level indicator and it works well.
No after-taste.
I have tried most of the big brands such as Russell Hobbs, Breville etc and they all pollute the contents and no amount of sodium bicarbonate or vinegar will stop this.
None of the manufacturer’s advice is correct regarding removing the problem.
I simply kept returning the kettles till I found one that was ok.


Is this the Swan polished aluminium kettle @ £3.10s.3d recommended in the 1957 Which magazine I have just received? 🙂 It was in second place of the recommended ones. They didn’t test for tainted water in those days, and 60 years later still don’t. Perhaps they should? 🙁

peter griffin says:
6 April 2016

I’m guessing that all these kettles are manufactured in China. If so, for how long ? I bought a Morphy Richards Chroma plastic kettle yesterday, and on boiling water, the plasticky smell is overpowering. The coffee brewed using this water also has an additional unwelcome taste. I have been buying plastic kettles for years with no problems, The last one I bought was a Breville about 2 years ago, and there were no problems with it. This must be a recent phenomonon.


And I say your guessing is right Peter .


I know that kettles have been made in China for far longer than this problem has been apparent.

Hence I agree that the issue is most likely caused by relative recent developments in kettle manufacture.

The designs of kettles have not really changed, but both manufacturing processes and raw materials may have done.

Eco developments now encourage the much greater use of recycled materials in manufacturing – this may have the adverse trade-off that greater proportions of potentially volatile impurities have become present in the raw materials.

Continuing pressures to reduce the costs of materials may also lead to the same effect – cheaper materials are likely to be more impure, bringing in more “trace quantities” of unwanted substances.


On the button Derek , I was thinking the same but was looking for substantial proof as you know many posts i post get challenged , an I agree from me .



The problem here does seem to be getting proof.

in olden days, Which? ran their own labs and might have employed some clever folk who could have undertaken “post-mortems” of convicted “smelly kettles”. The trouble is, if the quest is to find trace quantities of smelly materials, the required analysis might not cheap or easy.

If enough kettles are affected, and get return for refunds, then our British kettle retailers and distributors (I won’t call them manufacturers) might eventually get motivated to do something about it.

My ~10 year old Asda kettle was probably made in China but its labelling does not state its country of origin. My spare kettle is a ~25 year old Phillps. They are/were a Dutch company, but it it was Made In England. But since then, consumer pressure for ever keener prices seems to have resulted in more and more consumer goods being made overseas.


Derek I am spending a bit more time traveling round the Internet to get back up to what I post now but I go by the “Law of Averages ” that if enough people complain about something -well there must be something to it as they cant all be wrong . Each person is an individual some have good sense of taste/smell others not , some can “live with it ” others cant . The biggest clue I got was actually from wavechange I think he got it spot on .Because of the promotion of Eco information a lot of stuff in the past 20 years is being recycled and he said Plastic . That makes sense as recycled plastic will have impurities in it even thought the big Chinese manufacturers just mention “polypropylene ” etc on their websites as what they do and small Chinese sub-contractors do are two different things ,especially when its a “save money ” exercise both by the manufacturer and the importer especially as he wants to maximise his profits. I just dont trust them and I do trust public reaction . Your right about laboratories -expensive , but I haven’t given up ,I inhabit some very radical websites which do “exposures ” nearly every day and get emailed by many but I sift through them and then double check before taking what they say as gospel I am still trying to get a laboratory test result that condemns the plastics used in most kettles 100 % ,if I do I will certainly post it .


There have been many people complaining of smelly kettle water and I have asked Which? several times if it would be a good idea to retrieve some of the offending kettles and carry out a proper analysis of what is causing the problem.

This sort of thing was, I thought, among Which?’s jobs, and probably would have been when it did its own testing. I also used to think a significant part of my subscription went towards investigations and testing, but it seems only around 10% goes towards this vital (in my view) work. So maybe that’s why we still don’t know what kettle to buy? 🙁


DerekP, I doubt if the UK is the only victim of smelly kettle water. Perhaps Which? might ask BEUC (the umbrella group that looks after all the European consumer organisations) to ask these organisations to see whether their members have similar kettle problems. Then we might get enough impetus for a properly-managed investigation?

In view of the relatively small amount of our money that Which? puts towards testing, and since many of the products we use are also used throughout Europe, is it not time all these organisations worked together to help all consumers? We might have got somewhere with Sony phones, Whirlpool driers, for example with the weight of our European friends behind us.

Might we not also get a consumer associations’ test laboratory as well to save subcontracting all this work?


Malcolm -consumer association test laboratory- back that up 100 % .Good idea !


Which? still talks about “our lab” in print media. A bit disingenuous I think. Once people find out about these little misnomers they might lose trust in the organisation.