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. Which one to choose? We'll boil it all down for you.
Do I need a kettle with extra features?
Kettles are really quite simple appliances, but manufacturers are adding bells and whistles you may or may not need. 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 here are a few other things we look for in a good kettle.
So what do I look for in a kettle?
The kettle should feel balanced and lightweight, even when full. 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.
- Indicator lights should be bright and obvious, so you can see them regardless of the light levels in your kitchen.
- For a quieter model, a tone or an audible click to alert you that the water has boiled could be handy.
- Water level indicators should be easy to read from both sides, for both left- and right-handed use.
The base should be non-slip and allow the kettle to be placed on it in any position (360 degrees). 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.
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 could be hard to remove and the handles weren'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.
Will a cheap kettle last as long as an expensive one?
Probably. Our members tell us that cheap kettles can be reliable, and because so little was spent on it, expectations are generally low. Price is no indicator of performance, as far as kettles are concerned.
Do kettles use up much energy?
No. 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 only set you back about $20 or less.
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 of coffee, but still better than boiling a full kettle.
What are 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). CHOICE tests show that these different temperature settings aren't always very accurate.
Aren't kettles noisy?
Yes, they can be, but some kettles claim to be much quieter than their more conventional cousins. We've found that models with a quiet boil feature can indeed be relatively quiet - but so can other kettles that don't claim 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; this coating might wear off or become less effective over time.
What do fancy designer kettles have?
The features you'll see in a more expensive model might include:
- More attractive finishes, such as stainless steel, vividly coloured plastics, or a glass body.
- Some are part of a design suite of appliances with matching toasters.
- Different temperature settings - handy if you're particular about the water temperature for specific types of tea,
- Constant or "instant" boil (e.g. an electric urn that always heats).
- Other features such as quiet boil, indicator lights and sounds.
My boiled water tastes weird!
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 is certainly worth avoiding.
To avoid this problem, 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 $10 for a basic no-frills model to $200 for a high end model.