Faulty kettles: what can you do?

Fixing a kettle isn’t easy.

Pouring water from a steel kettle to make a cup of tea.

Electric kettles are simple: A jug holds water, a resistance element heats the water, and a switch turns the power on and off. A handle and spout make it easy to fill and pour water, a lid keeps water inside the jug, and a filter keeps everything except water out of your tea.

So, given they’re such basic appliances, results from our latest reliability survey left us scratching our heads: 12% of kettles had developed a fault less than five years from new. We’d expect even the cheapest kettle to last at least five years of household use. To find out why many aren't going the distance:

  • We stripped two kettles, costing $25 and $420, down to their parts. We found, despite their hefty price difference, they were remarkably similar inside. (The results of our comparison will be available shortly.)

  • We used our annual reliability survey with feedback from 1800 kettle owners; data from more than 300 kettle owners who told us their kettle failed; and the inner workings of our two deconstructed kettles to find out why some failures are more common.

  • We asked kettle manufacturers what parts and repair advice they offer.

The anatomy of a kettle

Jug

Parts of an Dualit jug: spout filter, lid release (pull handle), water level indicator, ON switch.

An electric jug is a plastic, stainless-steel or glass container that holds water. It has a handle so you can lift it and pour water. A spout means water pours in a controllable stream. A jug copes with repeated temperature changes from about 10°C to 100°C. If the jug is opaque, a water fill indicator is useful – a common solution is bonding a clear plastic window into the jug. Most jugs have a metal gauze filter over the spout to prevent foreign objects entering your tea.

Lid

The parts of a lid on an Anko kettle.

The lid reduces boiling time, prevents hot water splashes, and keeps steam inside the kettle, not your kitchen. The lid is critical to the auto-off feature – when closed, steam is diverted down a pipe to a thermostat that senses boiling. Most lids are hinged and opened by pulling a handle, or released by pressing a button in the handle and opened by a spring. A rubber seal inside the lid prevents leaks.

On/off switching

The switch mechanism of a Breville kettle.

A paddle or rocker switch turns on the kettle. An LED is often used to show the kettle is operating. The switch operates a sprung lever that closes an electrical circuit to connect power to the heating element. An automatic mechanism turns the kettle off. There's a steam vent and tube leading down from the top of the water chamber to a bimetallic thermostat. When the kettle boils, steam whooshes down this tube. It heats the thermostat and makes it flip open, switching off the heating element and stopping the water from boiling. Some models have a small bell that rings when the contacts disengage. Kettles that heat water to a user-selectable temperature (below boiling) use a more complicated electronic switch and thermostat.

Water heating

A resistance heating element converts electrical energy to heat energy. The element is usually hidden under the bottom surface of the jug.

Power supply

A jug sits on a circular base that plugs into a wall socket via a power cord. It is powered when inserted on to a circular connector at the centre of the base. The connector allows the jug to rotate 360°, so the handle is conveniently placed.

Most common faults

In July 2019, we surveyed our members, supporters and Facebook followers about their faulty kettles (we defined a fault as something that meant the kettle didn’t work as it did when new). We gathered data from more than 300 survey participants.

Leaks

Leaks were the most commonly reported problem, present in a third (33%) of faulty kettles: our survey respondents told us kettles leaked from around the handle, base, lid, spout or the fill-level indicator. So just about anywhere.

  • It leaked around the handle, base or fill-level indicator: 29%
  • It leaked around the lid or spout: 4%

Lids

In 24% of faulty kettles, the lid wouldn’t stay closed (or would pop open during boiling), or the button or handle to open it failed.

  • The lid wouldn't open (the button or mechanism to open it failed): 15%
  • The lid wouldn't stay closed or would pop open when boiling: 9%

Shutting off

Problems with the lid led to another common fault: a kettle that wouldn’t shut off – 15% of them kept boiling away.

  • It wouldn't automatically switch off when boiling: 15%

Turning on

Not shutting off is one thing; not turning on is another. Thirty percent of faulty kettles wouldn’t operate. The ON switch of some kettles wouldn’t stay on, or broke off. Others had power, but didn’t heat water – the element or connections to it were at fault. And, frustratingly, some just stopped working – a few owners reported their kettle went out with sparks and a bang!

  • It just stopped working - no power (or blew up!): 13%
  • The element failed (it had power, but it stopped heating water): 8%
  • The ON switch wouldn't stay on: 7%
  • The ON/OFF switch broke: 2%

Broken plastic

Broken plastic parts caused problems in 12% of faulty kettles. Plastic deteriorates over time, particularly if it’s subjected to many cycles of heating and cooling. Owners reported cracking fill-level windows (some said plastic bits ended up in the water), parts of the lid or handle that broke off, or the spout filter falling out or breaking.

  • The filter inside the spout broke or fell out: 7%
  • The plastic fill-level windows deteriorated and bits broke off into the water: 3%
  • Other plastic failures (lid etc.): 2%

Can you fix it? No you can’t!

Of more than 300 faulty kettles, about a fifth (18%) of them were still being used, while a similar proportion (20%) got replaced under warranty or CGA. Almost half (49%) became e-waste. Just 4% were repaired.

Successful repair needs parts and knowledge. We searched online for spare parts and instructions, and we asked kettle manufacturers if these were available for their products. The results were underwhelming.

We found kettle parts available at non-authorised resellers, such as needapart.co.nz and similar overseas websites. The most commonly available parts by far were replacement filters and power bases. However, we couldn’t find spare seals, power buttons, lid mechanisms, level-indicating windows, thermostats or ON/OFF mechanisms for any popular brands. The availability of parts was hit and miss depending on the kettle brand and model – mostly miss.

What options do manufacturers offer?

We contacted Breville, Dualit, Kmart, Russell Hobbs and Sunbeam in New Zealand and asked them what kettle spare parts were available, whether they supported self-repair, and if they supplied manuals and guides to assist owners attempting repair.

Dualit was the only brand to offer a broad range of spares, which included a lid assembly, hinge kit and element, along with the usual power base and water filter parts. However, Dualit told us only parts not requiring dismantling (the filter and power base), can be replaced by the consumer. All other repairs should go through an authorised repair agent. The local Dualit website lists its authorised service agents.

Sunbeam’s New Zealand website lists a network of authorised repair agents. Sunbeam said “for the most part, a kettle would be considered a fully sealed unit and therefore non repairable/serviceable by the user”. However, it does supply replacement water filters (costing about $4+GST) and will swap out a faulty power base rather than replace the entire kettle.

The local Breville website has a prominent section for “Parts & Accessories”. However, the only spare “part” for any of the 18 kettle models listed is a bottle of cleaning liquid. The website states: “Only Breville's registered service agents are permitted to carry out professional repairs on your faulty Breville appliance.” Breville said they supply power bases and filters for consumer replacement, along with troubleshooting information and repair advice for customer-replaceable parts. Internal service components and procedures are only available to authorised service partners.

Russell Hobbs has no repair, service or parts information on its website and it said it doesn’t send instructions for repair to consumers. A limited range of spare parts, mainly filters and lids, are available. Products must be returned for warranty repair. However, if the spare part required was a lid, filter or base, it would be sent directly to the consumer.

The Kmart website has no repair or service information for consumers. Kmart said “we do not offer spare parts or warranty repair service for any kettles sold at Kmart. It is not possible to do so within our everyday low pricing model”.

Manufacturers must try harder

Kettles are simple, yet one in 9 doesn’t see its fifth birthday. Most fail due to faults with the lid, leaks or power. Only a tiny fraction of faulty kettles are repaired (4% in our survey) and it’s usually cheaper for a manufacturer to replace a ‘junked’ jug, rather than repair it. Even a non-catastrophic failure like a broken lid can mean goodbye kitchen, hello e-waste.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Manufacturers could use better design and materials where it matters, to minimise common failures and make those that do happen repairable. Stewardship rules would incentivise durability and repair, as manufacturers would be responsible for the end-of-life cost of their products.

Retailers have a role, by stocking better products and spare parts. And we’re no saints — we need to stop buying disposable kettles. An “everyday low priced” jug is worthless when it becomes landfill long before its time.

Mid-range kettle brands compared

Here’s how three middle price-point brands fared in our faulty kettle survey (we didn’t get enough responses to report on Dualit or Anko models).

Breville

  • 17% less than a year old, 62% <3 years old.
  • 45% became e-waste (thrown away or recycled).

Common faults (>10%):

  • Wouldn’t automatically switch off when boiling: 31%
  • The lid wouldn’t open (button or mechanism to open it failed): 18%
  • It leaked around the handle, base or fill-level indicator: 17%
  • The lid wouldn’t stay closed, or popped open when boiling: 14%
  • The ON switch wouldn’t stay on: 12%

Russell Hobbs

  • 15% less than a year old, 64% <3 years old
  • 54% became e-waste (thrown away or recycled)

Common faults (>10%):

  • It leaked around the handle, base or fill-level indicator: 33%
  • The lid wouldn’t open (button or mechanism to open it failed): 12%
  • It just stopped working – no power: 12%
  • The element failed (it had power, but stopped heating water): 10%

Sunbeam

  • 24% less than a year old, 69% <3 years old
  • 46% became e-waste (thrown away or recycled)

Common faults (>10%):

  • It leaked around the handle, base or fill-level indicator: 43%
  • The lid wouldn’t open (button or mechanism to open it failed): 14%
  • The filter inside the spout broke or fell out: 14%
  • The ON switch wouldn’t stay on: 11%
  • It just stopped working – no power: 11%

Member comments

Get access to comment

Maurice V.
17 Aug 2019
Plastic mesh filters

Had the same experience as Martin R., with a Russell Hobbs. Will never buy a plastic jug or kettle again as, although no evidence of harm found, it is a risk I choose not to take.

Christopher F.
17 Aug 2019
Breville Kettle

Our kettle is well over 5 years old. Provided an appliance is not allowed to boil dry and is treated well it should last for years. Our experience with Breville shows it is our go to brand - the toaster is well over 5 years old and our sandwich press lasted 20 years plus before failing. However having said that its replacement had to be replaced under warranty this year.

Graeme W.
19 Aug 2019
Breville is garbage

Most modern breville appliances are garbage. Expensive toaster lasted just over two years (the $20 replacement has outpaced it). The kettle filter broke off and the kettle doesn't shut off - less than 5yr old. Older breville products seem better, i have a sandwich press that has lasted, of course its use is much less frequent. i'll never buy another breville.

Bill
17 Aug 2019
Jugs and kettles

I am not surprised that manufacturers don't want to make it easy for their products to be repaired as they just want consumers to go out and buy a new one every few years. And that would apply to ALL products, not just jugs and kettles, and until consumers start putting pressure on them nothing will change. Though to be fair should we expect them to retain parts for 10 or 15-year-old appliances when the product designs change significantly over that time? I do expect to get at least 10 years out of a jug however.

Staff C.
20 Aug 2019
Spare parts

Hi Bill,

So many small appliances are seen as disposable now, and many bigger ones aren't economical to repair. That's not right. We're going to keep pushing this, putting pressure on manufacturers and retailers to make better (more durable and more repairable) products available. Kettles is just the start. As consumers we need to stop buying throw-away products and choose better.

I think it is reasonable to expect manufacturers to make parts available for the life of a product. Maybe 10-15 years is too long for a kettle, but many parts that fail aren't subject to lots of technological change - the kettles we buy now aren't much different to those of 10 or 20 years ago. With better design, they could be made more repairable. It's not difficult, just a change in focus for the manufacturers who, as you say, are better off if we just junk the old and buy the new each time.

cheers,
Paul
Consumer NZ

Martin R.
17 Aug 2019
Plastic mesh filters...

...are (or were...) used on some kettles including Sunbeam plastic jug models. Both the filter material and the water level gauge would crumble away over time, into the water we drink.

Having a much better experience with a Sunbeam Stainless Steel "dome" design - all metal and seems very robust.

Staff C.
20 Aug 2019
Plastic parts

Hi Martin,

Very good point about the plastic parts. The water-level window on my old Breville crumbled into the water - that's what got me started on this exercise. It annoyed me that a perfectly functional kettle was dead because that part had failed.

cheers,
Paul
Consumer NZ

Sarah P.
17 Aug 2019
Brabantia Kettle

Just replaced by Briscoes. Less than 2 years old. Press button lid opener fell apart. New one a few weeks old is not opening straight away. Have to prod it several times. I presume the same thing is going to happen but sooner than the last one. My first Russell Hobbs lasted 20 years. I have lost count of the number we have had since then.