/ Food & Drink, Home & Energy

Why kettle water tastes funny: mystery (nearly) solved

Steaming red kettle

Earlier this year we asked you to help solve the mystery of smelly, foul-tasting kettle water – a problem that for many of you has been spoiling your daily cuppa. And now we’ve discovered a common cause.

The problem bubbled up when Which? members complained that the water heated in their kettle had a ‘plastic flavour that made it undrinkable’. We carried out testing in our lab, which confirmed there was a problem with how the water in one of the kettles tasted and smelled.

But it soon turned out to be far from an isolated problem. In fact, we’ve so far had more than 130 comments complaining about the taste and smell of the boiling water your kettle produced.

But what’s the cause? It soon turned out that it wasn’t a single brand that was to blame. Was it the water supply? Even some of you who used filtered water had the same problem.

The cause of smelly kettle water

We contacted scientists Luke Montgomery of Yorkshire Water and Dr Robin Price of Anglian Water. They told us that the chlorine in tap water reacts with phenol-based compounds sometimes found in plastic and rubber parts of the kettle.

There aren’t any associated health risks. And not everyone will have this problem – chlorine levels vary, and people have different sensitivities to taste and smell, Dr Price told us.

It’s recommended you compare the kettle water with water boiled in a saucepan to see whether it’s the kettle’s causing the problem. If it is, you can get rid of the chlorine by storing tap water in a covered jug in the fridge for a few hours.

We’re looking into whether in the future we can test every kettle we review for this problem, so you can avoid buying models likely to produce smelly water.

However, the mystery still isn’t fully solved. We had problems with the Russell Hobbs’ Ebony 15076 kettle even with filtered water that didn’t contain any chlorine.

Comments

Just bought a Logik kettle with filter and the bad taste has just appeared, everything else constant: water, make of tea leaf, china teapot, china mug, drinker. But the taste is very distinct indeed. This needs Which ? to take the kettle makers to task, in print at least.

Which? news 19th May:
“New kettle reviews include £20 bargain best buy”
“Our latest test of kettles for 2016……..”

I can see no mention in the leader page of any kettle water “tasting funny”. In view of the many complaints about unpleasant tasting water from kettles was any taste testing carried out? Perhaps I’ve missed it – is it in the individual test results?

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2016/05/new-kettle-reviews-include-20-bargain-best-buy-442738/ – Which?

I have just checked Which? latest kettle reviews online and not one of them mentions taste.

Very lacking on the part of Which? methinks when so many people have reported this problem and at least 2 convos have been dedicated to this very subject.

Here I think the problem is that the “poor taste and smell” issue seems to affect all (or almost all) new kettles but not under all circumstances. Hence it seems to be hard to reproduce under laboratory conditions.

Investigating the issue would probably provide a decent “food science” thesis project for someone.

I do think Which? should have included a taste test as it does seem to be a major problem, but they have ignored it completely.

Testing and reporting could have been the start of manufacturers solving the problem, so an opportunity missed.

Sue says:
21 May 2016

In my case, it came down to the individual kettle. I had three of the same brand and model: first one fine, second one stinky despite trying all the methods mentioned, replacement kettle (free of charge from retailer) fine. So the brand and model is no guarantee either way.
Keep taking them back. Perhaps naming the retailers that don’t replace the faulty kettles would be more effective in the shorter term?

Sue – thanks – that confirms previous speculations that only certain batches of kettles are affected, e.g. as determined by the use of batch based processes during manufacturing.

For example, a UK brand owner (“DerekP Smelly Kettles Ltd”) might actually use a number of different foreign subcontractors to make the kettles and then just operate as a “box shifter”.

And, in turn, any one of the makers might buy in batches of raw materials from a number of different suppliers.

I suspect that the causes of the problem are not yet fully known or understood, from which I also doubt that the problem can be prevented by quality control of the raw materials.

I live in london where its chloramine, not chlorine that you get i tap water.
It would be good to get tips on how to remove that from the water.
And possibly a view on its health effects vs. Chlorine…

Sometime back the question of applicable standards on materials used in kettles was raised. Having seen the BS EN standard I can find no reference to materials, probably because as a safety standard it is not concerned with such things. I suspect there is a standard covering materials – one I found was BS EN 12571 on Materials and articles in contact with foodstuffs. Transport units for catering containers…. This says materials shall not transfer undesirable odour, taste or taint to the foodstuffs. Seems appropriate to this problem.

EU legislation on food contact materials provides that these materials shall not transfer their components into food in quantities that could endanger human health or change the composition, the taste or the texture of food

In the case of tumble dryers catching fire, we don’t know yet if the products fail to comply with the standard or the standard is inadequate – or both. In the case of the problem kettles, it is obvious that the kettles are non-compliant because the water is being tainted. Without knowledge of the cause of the taste/smell (which may differ between models), we don’t even know if there is a safety issue.

If companies were subject to the Freedom of Information Act we could require them to reveal how many problems have been reported. Making this information public would help those companies that make better products.

We do not need to ask manufacturers (even if they had reports from customers) when we have Which? and the other 40 European consumer groups who can ask their millions of members to report any problems and draw conclusions from the data collected.

Why should consumers’ organisations have to devote precious resources to discover information that companies already have?

Why make the assumption that this is information “companies already have”. I wonder how many customers will have bothered to report “taste” problems to the manufacturers. I doubt many. But I could, of course, be wrong. Maybe others know?

Who is going to make use of a FOI request, if the possibility existed, and have the knowledge and authority to decide if there is a problem and then follow it through? On a consumer problem I’d suggest it would be a consumer group anyway.

As FOI to private companies is unlikely to come about, rather than bang a head against a brick wall I’d rather we took a realistic approach and looked at how something could be achieved in practice.

Consumers associations “valuable resources” are there, funded by their members, to investigate member’s problems and help resolve them. They are likely to gain far more reports of “taint” by asking their members and thereby building up a collection of data if the problem is of any significant proportions. They already use “valuable resources” testing kettles; looking at possible tainted water is hardly going to break the bank of resource.

I have, so far, not found any reports from our continental cousins on tainted water from kettles, which seems odd if it is a major issue. I did ask Which? whether they would ask BEUC members; I wonder if they did?

If no-one had made an effort we would not have the FOI act and all it has helped facilitate. Rather than thinking of reasons to hold back progress, perhaps we should look at how to move forward.

Progress has to be seen to be achievable and realistic. I don’t believe this is, but if it does happen in 10 or 20 years then OK. But I don’t want to wait for ever to see problems dealt with. I would rather see proposals made that can deal with consumer problems whilst I still can benefit.

Aside from that, we know consumers are “sticky” – many (most, probably) simply will not bother to report voluntarily to anyone problems they find, particularly ones they cannot ascribe to a particular source. The kettle issue is clouded by differing experiences, different water, for example. Extracting information by asking specific questions is far more likely to get a useful quantity of responses and as Which alone has around a million members that might produce enough results to decide whether a significant problem exists. What make/model/ser no is your kettle? Does boiled water taste unpleasant? Which area do you live in (water company). Any other suggestions? I pay my subscription to support Which? in investigating consumer problems.

Since the FOI act is in existence there is no reason why it should not be extended to cover companies and – I would suggest- charities. I suspect that consumers would be very supportive if they appreciated the benefits of openness

You may believe this, and you may or may not be right about support. I think expecting private companies to divulge information they might regard as commercially sensitive, other than on genuine safety health and hazard issues, to the general public is unrealistic. However those with good cause and no commercial interests should be entitled to request and receive appropriate information. Government bodies for example. I expect this is currently the case.

However, whether FOI should apply to private companies is not my point as I tried to make clear. I want there to be action now, and there are ways this can be done that will never require FOI. So rather than do nothing until your solution might, or might not, happen, let’s just get on with investigating the problem. It is not either or – both can be pursued. 🙂

I’d like to hear what Which? are doing.

There are bigger issues than smelly kettles. It is documented that companies have withheld evidence relating to hazards and suspected hazards of their products. The AllTrials campaign was set up because adverse trials have been ignored. I wonder how long Monsanto have known of the hazards of Roundup.

Is the number of reported problems with smelly kettles a huge commercial secret? It’s not difficult to see how a company with a good product could turn this to their advantage. Here is an example. I had a holiday in north Wales last year and I was delighted to see food hygiene ratings being used in marketing of restaurants, takeaways and pubs. I still have a business card for one establishment, proudly proclaiming its rating of 5. In England, where it is not mandatory to display the food hygiene ratings, it us generally only those premises with a rating of 5 or 4 that advertise it. I’m well aware that a 5 rating is not a guarantee of good standards, but it’s the best indicator available to the general public.

It would help if companies were required to declare the composition of the plastics used in their products, in the same way that they are required to state the ingredients of processed foods. Thats not just a type of plastic such as polypropylene or ABS but variable additives such as plasticisers. I expect that you are familiar with the fact that some plasticisers are toxic and may migrate into the water, particularly at elevated temperature.

If we push Which? to look at every consumer problem there is a good chance that bigger issues are ignored. I am convinced they could have done more to campaign to introduce clarification of the durability issue when the Consumer Rights Act was being drafted. I have not had time to keep an eye on recent news and Convo articles, but I’m not aware of Which? saying much about TTIP.

Regulators have the power to investigate problems that may be hazardous and injurious to health. I don’t really see how an individual using FOI would have the required impact. However, i was not arguing that we should ignore the proposal, simply saying it is unlikely to happen in the near future so lets get on with remedies that will work now.

I agree Which? may be looking at too many problems and not deal with them in enough detail. Durability is something i have banged on about for a long time, but Which? have not reallytackled it. SoGA and CRA seem to be little promoted or used despite being the legal protection offered to consumers. More cooperation with other consumer groups could spread a widening load and lead to better and more useful information for consumers.

Have we established the extent of the smelly kettle problem – in numbers that taint water? Which? connect could directly ask 30 000 Which? members. The magazine, or email, could ask others.

Maybe if an organisation like Which? was to make a request it might have the necessary impact. If it would get things moving, perhaps we could start by letting consumers organisations, Trading Standards etc. make FOI requests of companies.

We could ask Patrick if a Convo on FOI might be worthwhile (or not). Just remember most manufacturers are foreign so probably don’t even know what FOI is, let alone are likely to respond, and Trading Standards are an endangered species (and look how they seem to have dealt with the tumble drier problem).

As this conversation is about kettles, perhaps we should return to that topic

We have asked Which? to test contributors “faulty” kettles, to analyse water, and to do taste testing as part of their evaluation of kettles when rating them. As a consumer this is now information I think is invaluable to help me in choosing a new kettle. No sign of any of this happening yet, so perhaps discussing this topic is a pointless exercise if there is to be no outcome? 🙁

Today’s Which? latest news 10 Jun 2016
“The best kettles for a quick half-time brew Euro 2016 kicks off today – pick up one of these speedy Best Buy kettles and you’ll be able to quickly get a round of tea in during the half-time break.”

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/news/ – Which?

I could see no mention of even the possibility of a tainted taste, and neither could I see under “How we test kettles” any reference to a taste test. So what is the inference? That Which? do not recognise that some kettles can be involved in an unpleasant taste? That therefore there is no “smells funny tastes funny” problem at all? So what is the point in running this conversation topic if it is a phantom problem, or if no account is being taken of the reported problems?

Hi Malcolm,

We did some research last year to look at how widespread this problem is. We found that 6% of Which? members had experienced problems with the smell or taste of the water boiled in their kettle over the previous 12 months. That indicated that this wasn’t a hugely widespread problem.

While we do still fully intend to add a test for this to our kettles test programme if possible, setting this up hasn’t been one of our top priorities. We hope to have more news on this test within the next couple of months.

thanks Matt. i hope you do test for this in future.
Assuming Which? members are representative, and looking at the latest electric kettle annual sales I can find (2013, 7.5 million) 6% of smelly kettles means 450 000 a year. I would have thought that qualified as significant 🙂 .

(double post, sorry!)

If 6% of members have experienced a problem in the past year, I see this as a big problem. Surely it is not difficult to add a taste test whenever kettles are tested.

It would be worth establishing whether some individuals are more sensitive than others to strange tastes and smells, which seems likely. If this proves to be the case, obviously the taste tests need to be done by those who can detect a problem.

It would be good to expose the manufacturers of kettles that never have a problem. 🙂

Good point Wavechange, there are a number of reasons for metallic taste in the mouth, such as:

Bad breath
Gum disease
Sinus infection
Nasal polyps
Chemotherapy
Pregnancy.
Schizophrenia

My maths are not brilliant but if Which? claims to have approximately 600,000 members that means 36,000 with strange tastes, which is quite a lot.

I can verify approximately one in every hundred people will experience at least one schizophrenic episode during their lifetime and that during all four of my pregnancies I experienced a strange metallic taste in my mouth for the whole duration but I am unable to vouch for the remainder which can be better explained @ nhs.uk – Metallic Taste in the Mouth.

The mystery deepens!

I presume the intake of certain substances could also impart a metallic or sour taste to water. I have no personal experience of this and have never encountered a case of smelly kettle. It would seem to me that as soon as such a problem in a kettle has been identified it would be useful for as large a sample of people as possible immediately to taste the water both pre-boiled and after boiling and give their reaction.

SueB says:
3 July 2016

Interesting Beryl, but that still can’t explain my case – I don’t see any way I could have had any of those conditions only (and always) when I used kettle #2, but never when I used kettles #1 and #3 soon after.
It’s a manufacturing fault, nothing more.

“Are glass kettles worth buying? We’ve tested 12 of the latest models to find out” Which? news 18 July.

But no sign of a taste test. Not a problem any more? Not according to the intro to this convo: “Earlier this year we asked you to help solve the mystery of smelly, foul-tasting kettle water – a problem that for many of you has been spoiling your daily cuppa.” So why, after instigating two convos spelling out a problem that affects “many” do Which? not test for taste? Leaves me in a bit of a quandrary.

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2016/07/are-glass-kettles-worth-buying-448860/ – Which?

I have a metal morphy richards kettle that can make tea taste tainted . I have concluded that it is the plastic liner under the lid that is the cause. Condensation forms on the plastic after a boil up and drips back into the water making the next cuppa taste tainted. I now wipe the condensation off the plastic on the lid underside with a tea towel and change the water every time I boil up.
This seems to work but every now and then i forget to wipe the lid and I have a nasty tasting cup of tea again.

I have a Tower T10004 Glass Kettle for a few weeks now. Most obvious comment is the chemical taste when you boil water in it. Bot sure how safe this chemical is. Now I empty the water out and refill before I boil it – which helps. But not sure what to do with it. As I live in a hard water area and the kettle has furred up a bit – can anyone advise if a descale will help matters.

If the matter continues, I think it must be damaging the kettle – removing resin or glue used in manufacture – is this safe on both counts.

I note the comments about Chlorine in water attacking the kettles rubber or plastic components and Phenol A. No previous kettle has had this problem.

I have just bought a tower glass kettle and have a terrible chlorine taste when I use it. Just made drinks using a saucepan and no chlorine taste! I live I’m a hard water area and know I have to regularly descale it but it is not fit for purpose.

Penny says:
11 October 2016

We recently bought the Which Best-Buy Greville kettle and the boiled water tastes very metallic which ruins coffee and especially tea. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to return it to the retailer. Following advice listed earlier in this conversation, I first tried making tea using water, filtered as usual in a Brita water filter, and boiled in a saucepan, and there was no metallic taste to this water so the tea tasted perfectly good. Stating the obvious, it is clear this problem is something to do with the kettle, not the water. I then followed the advice offered earlier on this thread of removing the plastic filter and boiling the kettle with the lid open. This does indeed improve the taste of the boiled water remarkably so it does look like the problem has something to do with the plastic. Just thought I would add my experience if it helps others.

Yesterday I bought a new electric kettle to replace my Bosch product as the body of the kettle which holds the filter in the spout was breaking up and getting in the water I had boiled. I bought at Asda a George home 1.7L (GH) kettle, GPK101S (no GPK101W in stock which I would have preferred). I followed the Instruction Booklet “How to use your electric kettle” and under “Please note” it stated “If you’re using the kettle for the first time, we recommend cleaning before use by boiling and discarding a full kettle of water twice.

Using fresh water in the afternoon I made coffee and tea for my husband and a neighbour but drank my green tea which I made earlier using my ‘old’ kettle. At bedtime as is my usual practice I put the requisite amount of water in my new kettle ready to switch it on at breakfast to make my green tea and made 1st one cup and then a 2nd but both were undrinkable both in relation to smell and taste. Putting water straight from the tap into a 3rd cup after boiling I found the green tea was up to its usual standard i.e. no adverse smell or taste. I use unbleached teabags.

I will monitor the situation over the next 2 weeks and if always using fresh water from the tap avoids the smell and taster problem I will keep the kettle; if not I will return it to Asda for a refund.

It’s standard advice to clean kettles in this way, Marion. The same applies to coffee makers and other products in contact with food. Bosch kettles don’t seem to produce many complaints, at least from what I have read. Thanks for posting the model number and if you do have to return the kettle, at least Asda will be made aware of the problem with a kettle sold under their brand name.

I recently completed a Which? Connect survey about kettles, food processors and blenders. It was good to see a couple of questions relating to smell/taste but there was no prompt to give details of make and model.

This conversation has been very helpful. We recently bought a Russell Hobbs (plastic) kettle model 21271. Soon afterwards I found cups of tea were tasting really unpleasant. If I boiled a cup of water in the microwave it was fine, if I filled the kettle with water from the fridge (which has a water filter) it was fine. We have now gone back to a Breville kettle and that is fine too. So the theory of chlorine (or similar) reacting with kettle plastics seems quite plausible.

Thanks Rob. It’s interesting to have positive contributions to this long running debate. I would be interested to know if other people detect the unpleasant taste and whether it affects coffee, which is generally regarded as having a stronger flavour.

The reason I ask about other people is that people differ in perception of smell and taste and in some cases there is a genetic explanation.

Lily says:
4 December 2016

“…you can get rid of the chlorine by storing tap water in a covered jug in the fridge for a few hours”.

It will be very much faster if you store it at room temperature, uncovered. Dissipation of chlorine is slowest when water is cold and covered.

Duncan2w says:
6 January 2017

That has been the solution for me.
Leaving the cold water in a glass jug for a few hours before using it in the glass kettle

MalJ says:
16 January 2017

I am using rainwater, no chlorine or fluoride (only what dies in the tank or on the roof)
My Russel Hobbs kettle makes the water smell like an old wet hessian bag and the coating is coming off the bottom around where the element is.
My old kettle didn’t do this at all ever.
Haven’t noticed the taste with coffee just the smell when I open the lid

Andrew says:
17 January 2017

I Spent a good few years thinking my Tea & Coffee tasted weird. I boil a kettle and pour it in to a Cup with nothing in it and smelt weird. I thought it was me as my wife said she didn’t really notice it. I bought a cheap one for work and wow it was truly awful undrinkable and made me feel quite queasy. We had at home a Britta kettle and both my wife and mother in law swear they cannot drink non filtered water in Tea and Coffee. Anyway the Kettle at work led me to this thread and then I simply boiled in a Saucepan and it tasted so much better. Microwave wasn’t so nice as difficult to get temp right but still it didn’t smell. Anyway long story short I ended up on Amazon and bought a 100% stainless steel kettle that is made 100% in Europe cost £70 but worth it. Both my wife and mother in law drink from it unfiltered tap water….

I have zero trust in China in manufacturing products to the spec given to them by the Brand owners of any product. Previous events both in Pet Food and in Baby Milk suggest some will do anything to increase profit.

Peter says:
4 March 2017

I recently had a “Hot Tap” installed. It is an InSinkErator HC3300 model. Since this was installed 2 weeks ago, I cannot make a drink of tea or coffee without a bitter, metallic taste. I contacted InSinkErator (In Essex), who contacted a local distributer to replace both the “Tank” and filter. So far, this still hasn’t helped. The taste remained. But if I use my old kettle, all is well. We live in Worsley, Salford, next to Manchester and have never had a problem with bad tastes. The cold tap water is clear with no metallic tastes, so, I assume it is either the “Tank”, which is a permanently working “kettle”, or the filter. If anyone has any Ideas how to resolve this, I would be forever in your debt.

We have 5 stage deionised reverse osmosis water, just H2O out the tap! Old kettle by Tesco, identical to Russell Hobbs made steam from boiling water smell fishy and plasticy. Bought brand new German made Russell Hobbs glass kettle with plastic lid only… Wreaks the same at boiling point. Returning to Asda now and going to buy a ceramic saucepan to eliminate all possibilities.