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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?

dougal says:
25 November 2018

I agree with malcolm r, 11 March 2018 – we bought a Russell Hobbs Legacy (dome) kettle which has, over two weeks, introduced the ‘plastic’ taste to a cup of tea; not really noticeable with coffee. Rather than try all of the other suggestions (like comparing pan boiled water with kettle boiled, or emptying the kettle each time etc.), I removed the red plastic 1/2/3 cup indicator and immediately brewed a pleasant cup of tea.


Thank you Malcolm r

Furbies says:
3 August 2019

We have been experiencing similar but sometimes the teas/coffees are fine others that have the awful taste and smell – so not a consistant problem. Like today I had 3 cups boiled from the Russell Hobbs we brought a couple of months ago without the problem (we have had this on and off ever since buying), then suddenly this afternoon that foul smell and taste returned. We had assumed it was the kettle, even removed the red plastic level measure like someone suggested but the taste since returned. Today it was so bad we tried 3 different kettle boils, then tried the water from elsewhere in the house. Then I boiled water in a pan and the coffee resulting still had that really nasty smell and taste. Then we resorted to boiling in microwave to see if any different – the water in the pyrex jug smelled and tasted fine, but add coffee and milk and that metalic plastic smell and taste was there.

So we then looked at the milk we were using, it was a plastic bottled milk, use by date 14 Aug, purchased at lunch time – so tied in with when the nasty taste appeared. Opening the bottle and there is a hint of plastic smell to the bottle. So we microwaved a cup of the milk and that metal taste was very clearly there. The brand we used was Country Milk supplied at our local small Budgen Store.

We went out and got a fresh pint of milk (different producer) from another store and using our kettle and the water from our normal downstairs tap resulted in a completely normal and satisfactory cup of coffee.

So perhaps the problems that people are experiencing is not with the kettles in all cases, but could very well be down to the materials used to make the plastic bottles storing our milk, or in the milk production process.

Hi I just replace our Russell Hobbs kettle after about 4 years because the plastic level indicator started leaking. We replaced it with the Brooklyn model after boiling and cleaning before first use the drink tasted Vile, After three attempts at cleaning I finally had success with half a cup white vinegar and juice of a lemon topped up with hot water. and left over night ,Vile taste has gone.
It seems to me the taste is coming from some sort of coating on the bottom of the jug is it Teflon???

Thanks Malcolm. We just bought a ‘Russell Hobbs 21886 Legacy Quiet Boil Electric Kettle, 3000 W, 1.7 Litre, Black’. Water tasted awful. We removed the three step red cup level indicator and the problem was immediately fixed. Saves sending back.


Thanks for solving the mystery because my mother has had the same problem with her Russell Hobbs 20460 kettle. We blamed it on the tap water but now we’ve removed the red plastic “1/2/3” cup level indicator from the inside the chemical taste has completely gone!! Hope this is harmless because the taste was foul!

John Bright says:
3 May 2019

We are on our FOURTH new Russell Hobbs kettle in six weeks.Russell Hobbs have done their best and have been excellent on service,but we are no further forward.Tea still tastes horrible. Other kettles in the home are fine. Giving up and buying a ten quid plastic one.

Scott Southby says:
11 May 2019

Thought this was a problem with our water but just boiled water on stove and it taste so much better will send an email to Russell Hobbs I want my money back

Ken says:
12 June 2019

We’ve just bought RH Buckingham kettle, boiled it six times and it still stinks!

I suggest returning it for a refund, Ken. It would be worth letting RH know that you have been inconvenienced.

Maureeencocklin says:
23 July 2019

We have just bought a Russell Hobbs kettle from Lidl tea tasted disgusting plastic taste we are taking it back to Lidl tomorrow.

Foswat says:
29 July 2019

Try scrubbing out the kettle with “Jif” or some other abrasive cleaner , and with warm water. . I believe there is a layer of manufacturing contaminant on the inside surface of the kettle which has to be removed. It may take a couple of applications .
Rinse and boil a couple or 3 times to get rid of the cleaner totally . .
Your jug could be fine now.
Maybe this works for some but not others, but it worked for our stainless steel kettle .

Kate says:
11 August 2019

The problem is because of the completely needless plastic all the manufacturers are using inside the kettle, now even Russell Hobbs. It has nothing to do with the water. Nothing removes it, neither bicarb salt, vinegar or steradent tablets. The answer is to buy a kettle which has no plastic in contact with the water. The only one I have found is on Amazon – the Corsori, made in the USA, £30.

I think the taste is carbolic which is sometimes used in manufacturing processes.

“Carbolic” is phenol. Phenol is quite soluble in water and if any was present it should dissolve and be removed the first time the kettle was used.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This brings back memories of childhood at our local public library – a grand Victorian building that always reeked of carbolic.

Mother made us wash our hands before we went to the library as well as immediately upon our return. The habit has stuck; I always wash my hands before opening a book, but no longer with a heavy block of carbolic soap.

Our local library did not stock any dirty books. 🙂 . But, surprisingly perhaps, my grammar school library subscribed to the clean-living “Health and Efficiency” magazine that was quite a popular “read”.

The problem I found was with the kettle, plastic filter. I now have a metal kettle from Tesco and took the filter out so no problems anymore. Have been using this kettle for years now and bought the same one as a spare because I had such a problem before

mrs susan barbary says:
30 January 2020

purchased a Russell Hobbs colour plus 20415 jug kettle the taste of the water is foul have just boiled the kettle and made a cup of tea the taste was bad, boiled same water in the saucepan and made a cup of tea useing the same brand of tea bags the taste was fine we have had other kettle jugs and have never had the smell and taste problem before

The easiest solution is just to return the kettle and ask for a refund or replacement, Susan. You can contact Russell Hobbs and they will suggest using the descale procedure, but that might not help.

I bought a Russell Hobbs Mode Kettle 21400 – and have the same problem. I boiled it over and over, tried steradent and lemon but no difference. It is not just the inside of the kettle that stinks but the base as well. The base seems to be settling down but the kettle itself is still tainting the water. I have a spare old haden kettle and it is fine so it is not the water, the milk or anything else it is definitely the kettle. I am giving up and sending the mode back as we can’t be doing with this stink and smell. I am also concerened that it is harmful. I suspect it is possibly the recycled plastic that china is using. I have had a few other products that came from China and had a horrible strong plastic or glue smell. A pair of boots and a handbag were the same. both were returned but it has put me off buying things made in China however it is ot easy to get anything nowadays not “Made in China”

Have tried various plastic kettles, the foul taste when making tea or coffee was the same with all brands so they all ended up in the bin; we have a water softener but there was no difference whether I used the cold water tap direct from the mains or the cold water tap connected to the softener. My conclusion is stick to stainless steel. the plastic lids do not seem to me to be a problem.

Margaret – We have a Russell Hobbs “Inspire” kettle which has a completely plastic body. There is no unpleasant taste.

I noted that the Buyer’s Guide to small kitchen appliances [kettles, toasters and microwaves] in the May 2020 Which? Magazine made no reference to taste in the reports or performance results on the kettles tested.

The Buyer’s Guide does not comment on our Russell Hobbs “Inspire” kettle directly [it is referred to in relation to the matching toaster] other than to say that it scored highly [78%] and was a Best Buy [£26].

There has been extensive comment, reported problems, suggested tests, to determine how some kettles produce smelly water. A pity this apparent problem has been ignored.

Martyn says:
26 May 2020

We gave up on plastic kettles years ago and now only buy the clear glass and metal type. Setting any taste issues aside, we find plastic quicky seems to go really grotty inside and it also stains really easily. After a recommendation from Which, our last purchase was the George fast boil kettle and it proved to be both cheap and excellent. It is particulary easy to judge how much water to boil.

This conversation started in Nov 2018 and now in June 2020 there still seems to be no solution.
We have a year old Russell Hobbs kettle which has had this problem for the last week. Looking forward to hearing more.

The Convo dates from May 2015, Jan. It’s interesting that you have not had a problem until now, so thanks for reporting this. Most users seem to experience the problem from the time of purchase. It seems likely that the problem is due to a change in your water, but not the other hand, plastics can deteriorate with age.

This is one of these annoying Conversations that we have been told about but we still don’t know the reason for the problem.

What on earth is that red plastic cup indicator made of????? Three month old Russell Hobbs kettle, horrible taste after returning to the office from lockdown, replaced teabags, milk, water, and cups nothing changed the taste in tea – just removed the offending little red thing – perfect cuppa!!!

I’m not sure its something that should go in kettles!!!

Aerobat says:
22 July 2020

Can confirm un-clipping the red plastic “1/2/3” cup level indicator from the inside of my Russell Hobbs 25111 model kettle stopped the chemicalTCP-like taste immediately.

That’s strange. We tried that and it wasn’t the case.