Descaling a Kettle

Are you fed up of limescale building up in your kettle? As well as being annoying and changing the taste of your drinks, it can actually do damage to the kettle itself. But don’t worry: help is at hand! We’re going to show you what you can do to descale your kettle and to get on top of the problem for good.

What is limescale?

You’ve probably realised that kettles are more likely to get scaled up in some locations than in others. It’s primarily all down to the presence of limescale.

Most of us probably learned at school that limescale is actually properly known by its chemical name: Calcium Carbonate. In appearance, it is hard, chalky and not quite white. Although it’s most visible within kettles, it’s also often present in other areas of the home where hot water is in place. So boilers and hot water pipes are other areas where you might discover limescale and where it can lead to problems.

Calcium itself is quite naturally found in water, with the concentration largely depending upon the type of rock that the water flows through in the first place. Heating water in the home causes a chemical reaction, which then leaves the limescale as deposits. It’s not a poisonous or toxic substance, but it does cause some problems.

Limescale problems

We tend to think of these issues as falling into three main categories:

  1. Taste

If there’s limescale present in your kettle, then it may well be altering the taste of drinks that you’re making using that kettle. In particular, many people don’t like the taste of tea, when it is made using a kettle with a substantial limescale build up.

  • Appearance

Let’s face it that it’s not visually appealing to be filling up a kettle and to see it covered in limescale. Although this might be the least critical of the three issues, it can be disconcerting.

  • Damage

By far the most significant issue is the damage that limescale can do. If left in place, it can ultimately cause appliances (notably including kettles) to fail. Even before that point, limescale reduces the efficiency of your kettle. In environmental terms, this means that a descaled kettle is likely to use less energy than the same appliance that is not limescale-free.

If you live in a hard water area, where there is a greater prevalence of limescale, then you’ll probably want to understand two key aspects: how to descale your kettle to remove limescale and how to prevent it building up again in future. We’ll tackle both of these in turn.

Limescale Removal

Let’s start with an overview of limescale removal, or descaling. The approach that you take is likely to depend upon personal preferences, with the choices available falling into two main areas: chemical solutions and natural alternatives.

There’s no best solution out of these two choices, with it very much depending upon your own preferred approach. Chemical solutions tend to produce results more quickly and with a little less work on your part.

Natural alternatives may require a little more elbow grease and can hence take a bit longer to produce results. But the lack of chemicals can also mean that they are less abrasive and more environmentally friendly as a result. In terms of costs, these will vary depending upon which specific chemical or natural approach that you take.

Chemical descaling

When using chemicals, it’s critically important that you should follow the very specific instructions that will be available on the bottle, container, box or packet. Chemicals do have the potential to be harmful, if used incorrectly. In particular, make sure that you use the right dosage.

Broadly, the approach involved is most often as follows:

  1. To begin, you’ll usually need to dilute the chemical solution with water, as per the instructions. It’s unusual in these circumstances to use the chemical purely in its concentrated form.
  2. Next, you’ll pour the diluted solution into your kettle.
  3. Some chemicals work at this point by simply sitting within the kettle for a period of time. Many, however, will require that you actually boil the kettle, in order to increase their effectiveness. Once boiled, you will then usually need to leave water to cool and the limescale, plus chemicals, to settle.
  4. Finally and before using your kettle for the first time, you’ll wish to rinse thoroughly with cold water. This will help to remove the last morsels of limescale and will ensure that your kettle is safe for continued use.

Occasionally, particularly if your kettle has a really stubborn build-up of limescale, you may find that there are residual pieces of limescale still in place after you have followed the above process. If you discover that this is the case, then you may need to repeat all steps once more. We discuss the different chemical solutions available in the final section of this article.

Natural cleaning

The process involved in natural cleaning of the kettle is usually pretty similar:

  1. As a first step, mix a 50-50 solution of water and either vinegar of lemon juice
  2. Pour the solution into the kettle and allow to settle for around an hour
  3. Boil the kettle, then empty and ensure that you rinse thoroughly

Why do we suggest using either vinegar or lemon juice? The answer can be found by studying the chemical make-up of limescale, which reveals it to be alkaline in nature. An acidic substance is needed to react to the alkaline limescale, with both vinegar and lemon juice fitting the bill. Most people tend to have one or the other available at home. Some people swear by Coca-Cola as an alternative for this purpose, although we find it to be less effective.

After cleaning the inside of your kettle, whether using chemicals or a natural alternative, we’d recommend cleaning the outside of the kettle too. Before doing so, ensure that the kettle has cooled. Then, you can simply use a damp cloth to remove any residual mess from the exterior.

We’d recommend cleaning the outside of the kettle at regular intervals, while descaling of the interior should also become part of a regular routine. Depending upon the nature of the water in your area, it’s likely that you should be aiming to repeat the process every 4 to 6 weeks.

There are number of common errors that people make with descaling that you should certainly look to avoid.

You may have seen it suggested that bicarbonate of soda should be rubbed over internal kettle surfaces. This isn’t something that we would recommend because there’s a risk that you may damage the element within the kettle, doing more harm than good as a result.

If you use vinegar, then you may find that it leaves a slight hint of vinegar after the cleaning process. Although this is harmless, you can overcome the problem by squirting a little lemon juice into the kettle. It will act to mask the slight smell of vinegar.

Don’t be tempted to increase the proportion of acid that you use within your diluted mix. At worst, too much acid might damage the appliance. At the least, it may react to being heated up and will bubble up over the top of your kettle.

Preventing limescale build up

Of course, it would be best to avoid allowing limescale to build up in the first place and a similar maintenance routine can help to ensure that prevention steps are in place.

Cleaning out the inside of your kettle is a must, as suggested above. The harder the water reaching your taps, the more frequently you’ll need to descale. You might also like to invest in a limescale catcher. These small, metal, ball-like devices are very clever. They work by attracting the limescale to them (and hence keeping it away from the rest of your kettle). In doing so, they stop the core parts of your kettle from being overwhelmed.

One point that many kettle owners don’t realise is that limescale doesn’t just build up during the boiling process. After the kettle has boiled, limescale can settle upon the element and elsewhere. Rather than leaving a kettle full of cold water in place for a few hours, or even overnight, you should consider emptying it more regularly.

When buying a kettle, there are certain features that you can look for in order to reduce the risk of limescale too:

  1. An exposed element is often the weakest part of the kettle, attracting limescale and undermining the effective operative of the appliance. Many modern kettles have a metal plate that acts to protect the element, reducing the chance of build up
  2. Since limescale is attracted to metal, a plastic kettle should reduce the impact. However, be aware that plastic kettles will usually have a metallic base, which will itself attract limescale. So plastic helps, but will never provide a full solution.

You may have heard that kettles with internal filters are better than those without. This is partly true: the internal filter stops limescale chunks from being poured into a cup when making a drink. But it’s important to note that they don’t halt the original build-up of limescale.