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What to look for in a new kettle

These days you'll find models that do more than just boil water.

illustration of several different kettles

For most households, the kettle is an essential everyday kitchen item. But this once basic appliance now comes with more finishes and features than ever. So which one should you choose when it comes time to buy? We'll boil it all down for you.

CHOICE tester in a lab coat

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Kettles are really quite simple appliances, but manufacturers are continually adding bells and whistles. Do you need to control the exact temperature of your water (say for brewing specialty teas) or do you just need hot water?

For most people, a kettle really only has to do one thing – and that's boil water. We test kettles to make sure they can at least make a cuppa, but there are a few other things we look for in a good kettle.

Key features in a kettle

Comfortable handle

The kettle should feel balanced and lightweight, even when full, and you should have enough finger room to avoid contact with the potentially hot surface of the kettle's body. Look for a handle that's thick enough to give a solid grip, but not so thick you can't hold it securely.

Wide spout or lid

Lids should open easily and preferably be hinged so you won't remove and lose them. A wide spout means you don't always have to open the lid to fill the kettle.

Controls and indicators

Light-touch controls or a large switch make it easier to turn the kettle on and off, while indicator lights should be bright and obvious, so you can see them regardless of the light levels in your kitchen. Water level indicators should be easy to read from both sides, for both left- and right-handed use.

For a quieter model, a tone or an audible click to alert you that the water has boiled can be handy.

Non-slip base

The base should be non-slip and allow the kettle to be placed on it in any position (360°). It should also have a long enough cord so the kettle doesn't have to be right next to the power point, and have room for cord storage underneath.

Style and finish

Kettles come in many designs, and many also come with matching toasters. The main finishes are stainless steel, plastic or glass, with many stainless steel models coated in various colours. 

Each type has its own pros and cons: a stainless steel kettle may match your other appliances, but may show up fingerprints. A glass kettle looks sleek and modern, but in time you may see discolouration on the inner base, caused by mineral residue from the water. This means more frequent maintenance with bicarb or vinegar to keep it looking as good as new.

Electric or stovetop?

It's mostly a matter of personal preference when choosing between an electric kettle and an old-style stovetop kettle. Stovetop kettles are still available and come in a range of styles. 

We tested stovetop kettles a few years ago and found most of them only OK for ease of use, as the lids can be hard to remove and the handles aren't so comfortable.

As for energy efficiency, they aren't as good as an electric kettle – on a stovetop some heat is lost into the surrounding air, while an electric kettle tends to lose very little heat, so almost all the energy goes into boiling the water. However, a kettle on an induction cooktop will still be fairly energy-efficient, and will boil very quickly.

What about fancy designer features?

The features you'll see in a more expensive model might include:

  • more attractive finishes such as vividly coloured plastics or matte looks
  • 'dual wall' styles that claim to be cooler to the touch
  • different temperature settings (handy if you're particular about the water temperature for specific types of tea)
  • quiet boil
  • constant or 'instant' boil (e.g. an electric urn that always heats)
  • easy pouring functionality (for if you have weaker hands or arthritis, for example).

Do kettles use much energy?

Most electric kettles are not expensive to run. Boiling a full kettle a couple of times a day over the course of a year would set you back about $32, based on 40 cents per kWh.

To save money and energy, only boil as much water each time as you actually need. For most kettles the minimum level is about two cups – a bit of a waste if you're just making one cup of tea or coffee, but still better than boiling a full kettle.

Preset temperatures and temperature settings

Some kettles can be set to a range of temperatures, which is handy if you're particular about water temperatures for tea-making, or for when you just need very hot water rather than boiling (such as when filling a hot water bottle). Our lab tests show that these different temperature settings aren't always very accurate.

Are 'quiet boil' kettles really quiet?

Yes, they're usually quieter than most other kettles. Kettles can be pretty noisy – we measure their noise when boiling and they can be anywhere from 51dB (reasonably quiet) to 65dB (about the same as a typical conversation).

We've found that models with a quiet boil feature can indeed be relatively quiet, but so can other kettles that don't claim to have this feature.

As the kettle gets older, it's possible that the quiet boil function may become less effective (as CHOICE members have told us). The noise from boiling comes from bubble formation on the inner walls of the kettle. Models with quiet boil usually have a special coating on the inside to change how the bubbles form (making them smaller) in order to reduce the noise, and this coating might wear off or become less effective over time.

Can kettles add a weird taste to boiled water?

We've had reports that some kettles, particularly plastic kettles, can give the boiled water a strange or unpleasant taste. A quick experiment in our lab with a cheap plastic kettle confirmed that this can indeed happen with water that has been left in the kettle and reboiled again and again. We don't know if there's anything more to this than just a plasticky odour, but it's certainly worth avoiding. 

Try to only fill the kettle with as much water as you need each time (good advice in any case – it's more energy-efficient). If any boiled water is left over, pour it out before you refill the kettle. If the problem persists, it might be time to replace your plastic kettle, perhaps with a glass or metal-bodied model.

How much do kettles cost?

Kettles range in price from around $10 for a basic no-frills model to more than $200 for a high-end model. Our members tell us that cheap kettles can be reliable, and because so little was spent on it, expectations are generally low. As far as kettles are concerned, price is no indicator of performance.

Recycling your old kettle

Stainless steel kettles are more recyclable than models which might use a mixture of, say, glass and plastic. All kettles can be disposed of as e-waste so that materials in the electronic components can be retrieved and recycled. Most councils will have regular e-waste clean-up days so you can get rid of yours safely.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.