Virtually everyone will boil their water in a kettle. It's something you don't have to replace often, but when your kettle dies you want a new one – fast.

But, cheap and cheerful or expensive and elaborate, aren't all kettles pretty much the same?

Do I need a kettle with extra features?

Kettles are really quite simple appliances, but there are plenty of manufacturers out there adding bells and whistles you may not need in order to drive the price tag up. Do you need to control the exact temperature of your water (say for brewing specialty teas) or do you just need hot ?

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?

Comfortable handle

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 – a D-shaped handle is best.

Wide spout or lid

Lids should open easily and preferably be hinged so you won't 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 in the dark or in a well-lit kitchen.
  • An off switch probably isn't needed for a noisy kettle, but 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.

Base

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.

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.

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. CHOICE tests show that accuracy can vary.

Aren't kettles noisy?

Yes, they can be. Some kettles claim to be much quieter than their conventional cousins. As they get older, it's possible that the quiet boil function may become less effective, as our members have indicated.

What do fancy designer kettles have?

  • Pretty finishes, such as stainless steel or vividly coloured plastics.
  • Glass kettles (no, seriously).
  • Temperature settings.
  • Constant boil (like an electric urn that always heats).

What happens if my 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. Many come with matching toasters, or as toaster and kettle sets.

Do kettles use up much energy?

Not typically. These days, kettles are not expensive to run. Using the kettle a couple of times a day over the course of a year should only set you back around $21.