The humble kettle is likely to be at the very heart of the kitchen. Used daily for morning coffees, afternoon teas and other warmed delights, it’s often integral to the home. In recent years, innovations in kettle design have increased the range of appliances that are available. But how can you choose a kettle that’s right for your needs?
Whether you are desperately in need of a replacement kettle, or simply interested in an upgrade, the Number67 guide is here to help. We talk you through the key features, explaining the functionality that really matters. So, without further ado, let us begin!
Electric or non-electric kettles
The vast majority of UK homes have an electric kettle and you may have noticed that most kettles that we review here are electric. That’s not a coincidence: there are more electric kettles on the market and they are in greater demand.
But that’s not to say that they are the only choice. Metal kettles that can be heated on the stove provide a more traditional option and work well with country-style kitchens in particular. They tend to take a bit longer to boil and will have an integral whistle so that you know when they are done.
Electric kettles aren’t as traditional, but they are practical and very popular as a result. They boil the water quickly and cam be used in most kitchens.
Having decided on whether you are taking the electric or non-electric route, it’s time to take a deep dive into functionality.
Time to boil
One of the key concerns for most buyers is how long it’s going to take to boil the water within the kettle. As you’ll undoubtedly already be aware, less water in the kettle will lead to faster boiling times.
In order to identify how quickly a kettle will take to boil, you should look at the power levels (or wattage). You’ll find that they range from around 1.7kWh to around 3kWh. What’s the difference in terms of time?
Assuming that you place around one litre of water in your kettle (enough for four decent-sized cups), you may find that a 1.7kWh kettle will take around 4 minutes and 30 seconds to come to the boil. By comparison, a 3kWh kettle (sometimes known as a rapid boil kettle) will boil the same water in just 2 minutes 30 seconds. That’s quite a difference! As you might expect, more powerful kettles often have a higher associated price tag.
In the example above, we talk about boiling one litre of water and suggest that this is enough for four cups. But it may not be enough for you! If you have a large family, or drink large cups of tea, then the capacity of the kettle could be of vital importance to you.
In general terms, a reasonable estimate is that a large cup is equivalent to 250ml. This means that we can work out how many cups you should extract from a kettle depending upon its capacity.
Smaller kettles usually have a capacity of around 1.5 litres, which means that they can make a maximum of 6 cups at a time. Larger kettles typically have a capacity that is closer to 1.7 litres, meaning that you should be able to get around 7 cups from each boil.
Just as important as the maximum capacity, at least from an environmental and financial perspective, is the minimum capacity. You probably don’t want to boil more kettle than you need, if you’re looking to be good to the planet and to your pocket. For most of us, we’ll want to have the option to make a single cup from a boil. This means that we need the minimum capacity to be in the region of 250ml.
It seems obvious that the minimum capacity of a kettle should be the equivalent to one cup, but it’s not obvious to all manufacturers! It’s worth checking, not least because you should never attempt to use a kettle with less than the minimum (or more than the maximum, for that matter) as it can damage the element and leave you with a non-functioning kettle.
One point to note about capacity levels is that you may sometimes find the water level difficult to read. Ideally, you should opt for a kettle where the water level is clearly visible, including from multiple angles.
Much of our focus in this article is on kettles for home use, but travel kettles can have a role to play too. Here, maximum capacities will usually be smaller because most travellers don’t want to be hauling large kettles around in their suitcases. A travel kettle will usually be dual voltage too, allowing them to work in multiple countries.
Let’s face it, kettles can be noisy. That’s particularly true of powerful kettles, when you’re attempting to boil them at full capacity.
As a general rule, the most powerful kettles tend to make the most noise, although this isn’t always the case. Manufacturers are well aware of the fact that noise can be a real annoyance, so they have been competing to produce quieter kettles and to boast about new, less intrusive functionality.
This is, at the headline level, rather good news. But do be aware that manufacturer claims may not always match reality. If possible, look at independent testing to understand the true nature of any appliance.
A large capacity kettle, full of water, is likely to be relatively heavy. If it’s made of metal, rather than plastic, then it may be heavier still. This is worth considering, particularly if you have difficulty lifting heavier appliances.
But weight is only one aspect of lifting ease. The grip that is included on a kettle can sometimes be overlooked, but is just as important. A kettle with a good, comfortable grip can be that bit easier to lift that an alternative, even when the weight is the same. Take this into account when examining any kettle prior to purchase.
The element is the key component within your kettle and is also the part that is most likely to fail.
When you switch your kettle on, the element starts to heat up. The heat from the element warms the water until it boils. Your kettle should have automatic functionality to switch the element off, in order to ensure that it doesn’t overheat and burn out.
Traditionally, elements were exposed within the kettle. This was thought to make them efficient at heating the water, but it did have a considerable drawback: the exposed element would attract limescale, which could itself damage the element, reducing efficiency levels and increasing the cost associated with using the kettle.
Faced with this challenge, designs were improved. Today, most kettles on the market no longer have an exposed element. Instead, base plates are used that protect the element, meaning that limescale should be less of a problem.
The other, more recent change in kettle technology has seen the introduction of energy-saving elements. These are typically higher wattage.
Gold elements are said to be less susceptible to limescale and are available in some kettles, albeit at a premium price.
We’ve mentioned that the element represents a core part of the kettle design, but can also be a weakness. There’s something else, which is related, that can cause kettle users problems. It’s all too easy to boil a kettle without enough water inside it. Many of us have made this mistake, which can lead to the destruction of the kettle. Arrgh!
Fortunately, boil dry protection is present in many modern kettles. If there isn’t enough water, then the kettle will automatically switch off, ensuring that it can’t burn dry. Even so, we’d always recommend checking that you have at least filled the kettle to the minimum capacity prior to boiling.
Full rotate base
There was a time when a cordless kettle was seen as being an advanced alternative to a corded kettle. These days, it’s almost become expected as standard.
But the way in which the kettle fits within the base has come to be seen as an advanced feature. When placing the kettle in the base, you probably don’t want to be fiddling around trying to slot it into the precise angle that is needed to make a connection. This is where a Full Rotate base comes into its own, allowing you put the kettle down easily, without desperately trying to find the right position.
If you find that the cord is unpleasant to look at, or simply keeps getting in the way, then you might like to seek a kettle with a base that enables you to hide the cord away within it.
The lid and spout
It’s seems strange to envisage that the lid on your kettle could have a big impact on use but the truth is that it can really make a difference. Why should this be so?
In order to answer that question, we need to turn our attention to the process of filling the kettle. Typically, we’ll take the kettle, place it under a tap and fill from there.
A kettle with a small spout will take a while to fill, which can be frustrating. Filling via the top can be quicker, but there’s danger lurking here too: might you scold yourself on a hot lid? The best answer might be provided by a hinged lid (with plastic parts), allowing you to quickly and safely lift the lid, leading to quick filling. So, you see that the lid is more critical than you might previously have thought!
As far as the spout is concerned, not all spouts are created equal. You’ll want to be sure that it provides for easy pouring because the alternative can be very frustrating and potentially dangerous. There’s nothing worse than seeing boiling hot water spilling out of a poorly designed spout.
Do you live in a hard water area? If so, you’ll be aware of the delights of limescale. This substance can leave a cloudy, milky residue within your kettle. As well as being unsightly, this can actually reduce the efficiency of the appliance and ultimately may even lead to longer term damage.
But limescale has another impact too: when poured into your cup, it can leave a rather nasty topping on your cup of tea. That’s pretty unpleasant and can be avoided, if you make use of a kettle that includes an integral filter. It’s worth noting, however, that this won’t stop the build-up of limescale within the kettle itself.
You should also remember that these filters can usually be removed and cleaned. That’s a vital part of kettle maintenance and should be undertaken at regular intervals, alongside your usual descaling regime.
A filtering system
Do you fill your kettle with filtered water? An alternative option is to buy a kettle that includes its own filtering system. Some manufacturers include this as a major selling point, although we’ve found that actual levels of effectiveness may vary. Bear in mind that a filtration system is likely to increase the weight of the kettle and that you’ll have to wait a bit longer for your tea or coffee, since the water needs to filter through in the first instance.
You may not always wish to heat water to the same temperature. A good example of this is when boiling a kettle of water for tea, but looking for a slightly cooler water temperature for coffee.
In reality, you may deal with this issue by attempting to manually switch off your kettle just before it reaches boiling point in some cases. But some kettles do offer functionality that can really help in this area, allowing you to set the temperature each time that you opt to use the kettle. A useful additional extra that may be worth considering.
The mixture of heat and water can make a kettle one of the more dangerous appliances within the home, but there are a number of safety features that can help. If anything, the range of safety features available has been increasing over time.
This is an area that is worth considering and often starts with the material used in the kettle construction. That brushed chrome look may really appeal within the kitchen, but it will also be very hot to touch. If you have young children who are able to reach the kitchen work surfaces, then you might wish to think about whether this is right for your needs.
Similarly, automated shut-off options can provide an extra layer of protection. These might typically kick in when the lid is opened, or when the water reaches boiling point. Additional features in this area can make a real difference, although they are ultimately no substitute for taking care when using the appliance. No matter how safe it appears to be, we (the users) will often represent the biggest individual impact upon safety levels.
Increased energy efficiency
Inefficient kettles use more energy, which means that they cost more money to use and are also more harmful to the environment. A good maintenance approach can help, but manufacturers have also been introducing new features to improve efficiency levels.
A good example of this is quick boil kettles, which are designed to heat up very quickly, rapidly bringing water to the boil and thus reducing overall energy usage. This functionality is often present on top-end models to allow a single cup to be boiled quickly. Energy savings can be substantial, with the latest models reducing energy usage by between 40% and 50%.
Keep warm functionality
This is an area of functionality that is interesting, but isn’t right for everyone. Keep warm functionality allows water to be kept warm within a kettle, after the initial boil. This safes re-boiling, but does have an energy cost in itself, meaning that it may be something to be avoided for those considering the environmental impact.
The appearance of your kettle may be important to you. Fortunately, the different designs on the market have only been expanding with time.
When considering what you want in this area, you may want to think about the colour scheme and style of your own kitchen, together with other appliances. Many manufacturers now produce kitchen and toaster sets, for example, enabling you to fully co-ordinate these appliances. It’s also become increasingly popular to include various lighting options. These can look great, but they also provide a practical function, making it that bit more obvious when the kettle is in use.
Ultimately, one of the key reasons for opting for an electric kettle is usually reliability. They consistently heat water to the same temperature within a few minutes. They are relatively easy to use and have few moving parts.
Despite this, not all kettles are made to the same standard. There’s always scope for things to go wrong.
Good maintenance of a kettle (including regular descaling) will help to extend the life of the product, but kettles don’t go on forever. In order to get an idea as to how reliable a particular appliance is like to be, you might look at reviews. Sometimes, however, you may find that your kettle doesn’t last as long as others. This might just be bad luck, it may be down to usage levels, or it could be that the kettle has an inherent fault within the parts or design.
In some senses, a kettle may seem like one of the most simple appliances within the home. We take it for granted that we can use a kettle again and again, expecting a very consistent level of performance. It’s often only when things go wrong that we think to take a closer look.
But buying the right kettle for your home is important. As well as looking for functionality that meets your requirements, you’ll want to give consideration to the safety of all family members. If you have children, for example, then you’ll undoubtedly want to ensure that they are protected.
Other considerations may extend from the weight of lifting the kettle to speed of boiling and the ability to get your drinks produced at the optimum temperature levels.
Our own reviews offer guidance on individual brands and products. Of course, we realise that some aspects will be personal to the individual. A design that some rate as innovative, others may find unappealing. But we aim to guide you through the maze of kettle buying options, hoping to help you find an appliance that looks great and performs well.