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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?

Comments

I am surprised by how many people reboil previously boiled water in their kettles that has fully cooled, rather than using fresh water. If people don’t use fresh water, then they’re asking for trouble.

John Kenwright says:
13 May 2015

Absolutely correct when water is heated then cooled then re-heated there is a chemical change that is harmless but nasty tasting. Some tea killers cant tell the difference but if you are in a hard water area it’s truly undrinkable even for professionals like me (plumber) Iv’e been given tea that would be better used to flush out your radiators or remove bird droppings from bridges. ghuuu!! Which white coat men are barking up the wrong tree if they are using soft water and not doing a re heat test. And believe it or not electric appliance manufacturers don’t always know a lot about water and the finer taste buds of tea drinkers.

I have always bought metal kettles and have never had a problem.

The main reason I prefer metal kettles is because putting a powerful electric heater in a plastic container could be a fire risk if the overheating cut-out fails.

I wonder whether the hardness of the water supply might affect the taste and smell of boiled water in certain kettles. Does the smell occcur when the water is under-boiled, just boiled, fully boiled, or over-boiled until the cut-out is activated, or at a particular temperature point in the boiling cycle? Does the volume of water in the kettle make any difference? I expect there has been some sort of reaction between the boiling water and the inner plastic surface of the kettle but it can’t be an “isolated incident” if several Which? members have reported it. It might be relevant to know where the affected brands/models are manufactured and the source and constituents of the plastic used [the same production line might be used for making buckets for all we know].

Matt, “Smelly kettle water. It’s a problem many of you seem to suffer”. How many have reported a problem and for how many makes of kettle? Or is this just a problem with one make of a plastic kettle?

I remember years ago when a manufacturer (can’t remember which) launched a kettle with a Noryl (plastic) handle that cracked when in contact with margarine. They had not, presumably, tested the kettle on cooks who had greasy hands from baking. This may be just an inappropriate plastic – if so the manufacturers shoiuld replace them all. I’m for stainless steel kettles – plastic is still, in my mind, a second-rate material for many applications.

Jen S says:
3 May 2015

This not just an issue with plastic kettles. I recently bought a stainless steel kettle from Tesco. (A cheap buy in a hurry). The smell of the water was most peculiar. I boiled several kettles of water before it improved. It is still there a few weeks later but water does not smell in the cup nor does it distaste tea/ coffee. However it will be going in the bin shortly of it doesn’t improve

Maybe we need a Which? Conversation detective club. 🙂

Are there any children with a sense of humour in the house? Any packs of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, etc. nearby?

To be serious, I suggest that anyone who experiences this problem tries could try boiling some water in a pan to check that there is no funny smell.

Alan says:
3 May 2015

We had the same problem with a Russell Hobbs kettle we purchased but after boiling a full kettle and throughing the water away a couple of times it solved the bad taste problems.

My first thought is, does this happen with metal kettles or only with plastic kettles? Also, the problem may be with the rubber or plastic seal between the kettle body and the heating element.

A modern stainless steel kettle has the heater underneath the base, so there is no seal that could create a strange smell or leak. Unfortunately, there will be seals where a plastic water gauge is fitted and possibly where the handle is attached.

http://www.newscientist.com/blog/lastword/2006/02/kettle-turn-off.html

Or
” My water has a rubber/plastic/disinfectant/TCP taste and smell
Most dishwashers and washing machines are now connected directly to the mains water supply but are sometimes not installed correctly.
All connections should include a single check valve (also known as a non-return valve) so that water within the flexible hoses or the dishwasher or washing machine itself, cannot return to the mains supply and reach the kitchen tap.
If it does not have a check valve you are likely to get rubber/plastic/disinfectant/TCP tastes and odours in your tap water. Also flexible hoses can deteriorate over time and release traces of chemicals that can cause ‘chemical’ type tastes and odours that are particularly noticeable with hot drinks. Fitting non-return valves will prevent this problem.
If you notice unusual ‘medicinal’ or ‘plastic’ tastes only in hot drinks this can often be due to the seal that separates the kettle’s heating element from the water. This is particularly noticeable in new kettles. To confirm whether the kettle is the problem, try making a hot drink with water boiled in a saucepan and compare the taste with one made from the kettle. If the taste has gone away then the cause is likely to be your kettle.”
http://www.cambridge-water.co.uk/customers/taste-and-odour

Interesting comments.

Seals and plastic components seem the most likely culprit. On that basis, look for a stainless steel kettle with the heater under the basis (so no seal), a metal lid and the minimum possible use of plastic or seals inside.

Unless there has been a failure in water supply pressure, the lack of check valves is not going to be relevant.

PamJ says:
4 May 2015

I am currently on my fifth kettle in about six months. I live in a hard water area, but always use a Brita filter for water to be boiled in the kettle. I have recently purchased kettles by Breville, Russell Hobbs (Buckingham), De Longhi and Next. I have tried to buy kettles with as little plastic in as possible as i thought that might be causing the problem, although most kettles seem to have some plastic in them, but each time I have had the same problem with a horrible chemical taste and smell. I usually persisted with the kettle for about 2 weeks, having to boil it at least 2 or 3 times each time I use it to try to eliminate the problem, but each time it comes back. I have also tried descaling, using bicarb, lemon, vinegar, you name it I’ve tried it. I did read somewhere that the problem is caused by the release agent used for the plastic mouldings inside the kettle, but have no idea if this is true. Usually I return the kettle to the shop and they will often say that others have been returned for the same reason. I am sick of having so much trouble with this and am surprised that taste hasn’t become part of the Which kettle review. I did contact Russell Hobbs at one point to try to get some advice, but they weren’t interested. I have today purchased a bog standard Morphy Richards kettle in Currys for £22 and after 2 boils it seems fine. Eureka!!

PamJ says:
18 May 2015

Just to give you an update on the cheap Morphy Richards kettle, mentioned in my last comment. On the whole it’s been quite good but every now and then the water tastes and smells of chemicals again and we have to throw our drinks away. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this. We are sticking with it as there doesn’t seem to be a reliable alternative.

It is a very good thing if Which? now include a smell and taste test for kettles. If kettles are highlighted as being affected, the bad tastes and smells should soon become a thing of the past.

I don’t know if it is the release agents that are causing the problem, but we always smell plastic items before buying them. Food containers that smell stay on the shelf because you can never get rid of the smell and it taints any food put into them. We try to stick with glass containers with plastic lids but there are not that many on the market.

Tamworth tea drinker says:
10 May 2015

My Russell Hobbs jug kettle smells like TCP when it has boiled. Doesn’t affect the taste, but really strange.

simon tomlin says:
12 May 2015

I’ve got this problem with a Russell Hobbs Buckingham kettle. It’s very noticeable, especially if you don’t use the water immediately ( and I mean within a few minutes) .

We are in a soft water area, and I don’t have the problem with my old kettle (a Sainsbury’s Value plastic jug -cost £5.99 and has worked well for about 5years!!) . And having been through several kettles in the last 40 years I’ve never had such a problem, even when I lived in hard water areas.

I’ve tried using bicarb of soda several times (something I always do with new kettles anyway) but it doesn’t make any difference, so I can only assume there is a problem with the materials used in the kettle.

Had a disappointing response from RH; don’t think they really want to know…

Rob Broad says:
12 May 2015

We have just sent back our Kenwood SJM100 Moda Kettle – Stainless Steel Kettle I think that there is a chemical reaction with the plastic that is used on the water guage. The Kenwood that we have just returned had 2 water gauges one on each side

Mark Pickering says:
13 May 2015

are you all sure it is not the water that is the problem, our water is terrible and I can only use bottle as the tap water tastes bad, maybe this will stir up a hornets nest but are we getting value for money if we cannot drink tap water, (fluoride, chemicals and bacteria creating black slime in and around taps and washer)…………

The reason why tap water contains chlorine is because that ensures that it is safe to drink. Don’t give bottled water to infants without boiling it because their immune system will not be fully developed.

You might expect that bottled water contains fewer bacteria than tap water, but that’s not the case: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/7763038/Bottled-water-contains-more-bacteria-than-tap-water.html

Myra Morris says:
13 May 2015

I purchased a Russell Hobbs Glass Kettle about 4 months ago and have experienced exactly the same problem, the water after boiling has a horrid plastic taste. I have got around the problem by using the water immediately it has boiled, throwing away any unused water and refilling from the tap when I want to boil again. My Kettle is completely glass but it does have a plastic lid and I believe the problem is caused by the condensation on the lid dripping back into the water in the kettle.

Tony Burton says:
13 May 2015

I have had problems with nasty tasting tea and coffee and blamed it on the jug kettle.

It turned out to be the dishwasher that was causing the problem.

I had been using Finish power tabs with lemon addditive.

I swapped to Finish normal and the nasty taste disappeared.

(the taste also disappeared if I rinsed the mugs in clean water after they had been in a dishwasher)

Jane says:
13 May 2015

We bought the Which recommended RH Buckingham and immediately had this problem. I think the smell was worse, it completely put you off drinking from it. I followed RH’s instructions and boiled and threw away water but no change. I then tried bicarb but it was still there. Went on internet to find loads of people have this problem. Think I tried coke as well. Eventually smell went although it does return occassionally but this is not dependant on whether the kettle is full or not. We live in a soft water area (Manchester)

Pat Haden says:
13 May 2015

I bought a Russell Hobs Ebony kettle and I had the same problem of the water tasting and smellincg of chemicals.. We came to the conclusion that it probably was flouride in the water from the tap. We bought a Britta water filter, so now the water that we use from that to boil taste absolutely fine.
so, all the water we use from the tap gets put in the water filter before we boil and everything is fine.

suze says:
13 May 2015

My husband and I have pondered this question for the past 11 months ever since we bought a new Russell Hobbs kettle and we ended up taking it back after boiling, rinsing, boiling, using bicarb, boiling etc etc etc and the new one does the same thing!

David Kilcast says:
13 May 2015

I’ve spent many years investigating the causes of taints (off-tastes and off-smells) in food and drink products in my career as a research scientist, in the food industry and this sounds like a classic case of a problem that the industry has been fighting for years.

The problem almost certainly arises from polymer chemical components present in the kettle construction. Although kettles are mainly made from metals, polymer seals are present, particularly to seal in the heating elements and prevent leaks. These can contain very low levels of chemicals used to make the polymers, and these can migrate into the water in the kettle Some chemicals can be smelled and tasted at very low levels, and are often described as plastic or chemical. This is usually more serious when the kettles are first used, and should gradually wear off, but can take some time.

An associated problem is that migrating chemicals that are free from smells and tastes can react chlorine present in the domestic water supply to give even more horrible antiseptic/medicinal/TCP smells and tastes. This can also happen in coffee makers and commercial hot drink dispensers. I’ve experienced this myself with both kettles (including Russell-Hobbs) and filter coffee machines, but it eventually wears off.

If the problem doesn’t go away, and if it’s happening with several makes of kettle, it indicates a defective batch of polymeric sealant supplied to several kettle manufacturers with high levels of the tainting chemical