Descaling your tea kettle as a feisty American in the UK:the why and how

Posted on April 8, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire

yahooavatar15Let’s remind ourselves of The Mysterious Things you might discover upon moving to the UK as a feisty and intelligent American lady. Oh darling,  will there be plenty. No one tells you (well besides us, I mean)  that you might notice your British partner doesn’t rinse the suds off dishesduvet covers might wean you from your beloved sheets for good, that in this country Asbestos is no biggie despite what you thought, and that you will need to be able to make tea for 10 Brits and get them all right. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! But– amongst those initial discoveries is the reality that you might need to descale the tea kettle at some point to get rid of rust and limescale buildup. Descaling the tea kettle is a frequent joke amongst us 3 American women and a frequent laughing point when we have one of our Betty’s tea parties (wait, I hope Betty’s descales their kettle?!).

Us three American ladies on this blog are very different, and it is highlighted by our approach to the tea kettle descaling. Do you fall into any of these categories?

yankeebeanYankee bean: She doesn’t bother with descaling and actually didn’t know what the heck I was talking about at our first mention of descaling. She said something along the lines of  “Descaling? You mean cutting fish open?” Needless, to say she happily drinks her tea regardless of the mineral buildup– she won’t mind me telling you that the bottom of her tea kettle looks like a dandruff  storm that has settled for life.  I admire her relaxed nature to this and wish I could be so chilled about it.

avt_kapyork_large115Pacificbird: She only uses natural ingredients to descale to coincide with her uber-healthy lifestyle. She has tried numerous natural recipes and the most popular ones include using citric acid, lemon, vinegar, water… this goes along perfectly with her decision to give up caffeine and drink herbal cuppas instead.

Well, then there is me here–I can’t stand drinking tea from a nasty scaled tea kettle, with weird white things floating in the water. It just grosses me out. For example, I teach at a very posh college, but do those Old Boys bother to descale their very schmancy fancy silver coated kettle? No! So, I decline tea very politely. But in my home I descale my Tesco 5 quid bargain kettle every four months with those little descaling packets you can buy. By descaling I have had my cheapo kettle for years! Click here for a great little article on how and why to complete this important task. Gosh it’s so satisfying.

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  3. Michelle March 29, 2010 at 7:55 am

    I was working with a family who were moving to the UK from the US, and I talked for a minute about how the appliances are a bit different, and I mentioned kettle descaling, and the woman flipped out – she yelled, “What the hell is ‘descaling’, and what the hell is a ‘kettle’?!” then they started to have a fight about how she didn’t really want to leave the US, and they asked me to end our session early because they couldn’t carry on with it. Not really about the kettle, obviously, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for her.

    In the UK, I used to descale my kettle about every 2 weeks. It was easy. I would fill the kettle up the the highest mark with hot water, put about a cup of white or malt vinegar in, leave it overnight, then in the morning, I would heat this mixture to the point where it was just bubbling slightly under the surface (NOT to boiling! If this mixture boils, it erupts all over your countertop!), then unplug the kettle, pour out the water, and usually 95% of the scale would be gone with almost no effort at all (and at very little expense). After you pour the vinegar mixture out, rinse the kettle, then boil 2 fresh pots of cold water and discard, so you don’t get any trace of vinegar in your tea/coffee when you next use the kettle for real.

    And I would never leave water sitting in the kettle – this builds up the limescale quickly. What I would do is pour the leftover quarter of a cup (or cup, or however much water I ended up not using after I’d boiled it) of the hot water from the bottom of the kettle onto my kitchen sponge on the sink edge, for a quick disinfection of the sponge.

    I was able to use the same kettle for years and years, with this maintenance. To me it was worth it, because I’d gotten a metal kettle at John Lewis that looked kind of sleek and was Italian, I think, but wasn’t cheap, so I wanted to keep it nice. :-)

    Here in the US, for my mom’s house I got a cute red electric kettle at Target. I only just descaled it two days ago, for the first time in a year. Obviously the water here is a lot less scale-forming than it was where I lived in the UK.

  4. Linda February 28, 2010 at 12:57 am

    I know I’m coming late to the party but the subject of Americans and electric kettles is fascinating me at the moment.

    The need to de-scale a kettle depends on where you live and whether you have hard or soft water. It also affects how much soap powder you need to use in your washing machine. Not sure if it’s the same with soap liquid, but I would imagine so. I have been told that keeping a marble in your kettle helps. These days, kettles can be bought for a fiver so lots of people just throw them away.

    I enjoyed your blog.

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  6. Almost American August 21, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Severs, yes, there is hard water in Yorkshire! I lived in Bridlington for a year and we had hard water there.
    I kept my kettle relatively scale-free by always emptying it after each time I used it. There used to be little brillo-pad-like thingies you could buy to put in the kettle that were supposed to catch the scale. Never had one though, so I don’t know if they worked very well.
    I had to buy an electric automatic kettle in Canada cos 24 years ago they were rare as hen’s teeth over here. (Yes, you could buy ‘hot-pots’ but NOT automatic kettles.) Now it’s not so difficult to find them, though I suspect they’re still more expensive than in the UK. I have a Krups one that was about $70 four years ago.

  7. Severs August 11, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I’m fascinated by this apparent obsession with kettle de-scaling. I have lived in a number of locations in the UK and have never de-scaled a kettle in all of my 43 years, despite making and drinking tea in vast quantities. Nor have I ever seen scale build up in the first place. I have only seen floaty bits once, at my brother’s place when he lived in London for a bit.

    I grew up in Yorkshire, and have lived in various bits of Yorkshire most of my life. Is there actually anywhere at all in Yorkshire afflicted with hard water (which would cause the scale) ?
    I was taught that the reason why the (textile) industrial revolution begain in Yorkshire and Lancashire was that the water is soft, leading to easier fulling (cloth washing during manufacture). Soft water does not scale kettles, sayeth my ‘O’ level chemistry teacher of yore.

    Hence my puzzlement at the emphasis on kettle scale in a blog with the “Y” word in its very title.

    So whassit all about?

    • peacefulyorkshire August 12, 2009 at 8:59 am

      Severs! You might be one of people I work with at the Yorkshire Old Boys school I teach at by chance?! The tea kettle there is FILLED with white dandruff flakes waiting to be consumed. Yum! ;)

      I am glad we have common interests and that you are fascinated about the tea kettle descaling obsession. I am too! Call me crazy but I just love a cup of tea without floaty things in it…how odd!

  8. Hope April 23, 2009 at 10:42 am

    I had one of those small electric kettles back in the states…mainly for my English honey when he would visit. Now that I am here in the UK..I need to descale my hubby’s kettle..looks like it has never been done! And as for rinsing the dishes…my mum always said that the soap on there would make you sick. I don’t rinse either as the DH does all the washing up in my house! I am one lucky duck!

  9. JP April 18, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Ha, I didn’t realize that it’s a common thing for Brits to not rinse the soap suds off dishes. I thought my hubby just lacked some basic domestic skills. I bet Australians do it too. When visiting Australia last year, I noticed my sister-in-law didn’t rinse the suds off. As for descaling, the first time I saw stuff floating around my kettle I thought it was the kettle itself eroding! I assumed my landlords were cheapos and that they bought some defective China made kettle that was slowly poisoning me. I bought a new one and stored the original for when I moved out. When it happened again to the new kettle, I finally figured out it was the water and not the kettle. Your typical ‘duh’ moment. I wasn’t too fussed and didn’t clean it. I figured I was getting extra minerals that way.

    Did you know about electric kettles before moving to England? It generally seems like Americans don’t know about them.

  10. peacefulyorkshire April 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    But ladies, oh ladies, I have to defend the mighty descale process. Why, its so so cheap and easy! You pour in the powder (less than 2 quid), let it sit for 5 mins and then whoosh all that crud is gone. Not to mention it saves money and energy. Good god– I sound like the script for an infomercial. ;)

  11. Christiana April 14, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Good Lord…Nick thinks I’m nuts b/c I flipped out about the soapy dishes. It’s just weird to leave all the soap on there!

    I avoid dealing with the kettle at all really…

  12. Cinda April 9, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    lol….lol….fairy liquid, was told to quit rinsing the dishes….had to wash the duvet cover and put it back on, I angrily said to my daughter this is why I got rid of the one and only one I had…lol, and was constantly told not to forget to offer everyone in the room tea or coffee…didn’t get to do any descaling but saw the descaling stuff in the cabinet…probably would have if I had stayed longer…lol

  13. Iota April 9, 2009 at 4:43 am

    I’m with Yankeebean. I grew up in the Chilterns (north west of London), where the underlying rock is chalk, and scale was just a part of life I guess. I don’t even notice it.

  14. yankeebean April 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    You hit the nail on the head with my de-scaling regime :) I’m really not fussed about it, although I do descale my espresso machine that flat out refuses to give me my much-needed caffeine after several months of scaled-up-madness.

    We’ve been using the kettle for about 5 years now without a de-scale in sight. That IS a little frightening… but now it’s like the Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy experiments and I want to see what happens :D

  15. notfromaroundhere April 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I have to admit, there are certain things that upset the time/money balance in that the time invested is not worth the money saved… I’m in the “buy a new kettle” camp myself :-) But I deeply admire those who de-scale, and I do it with my Nespresso machine, I just can’t be bothered with the 10 GBP electric kettle that I use infrequently.

  16. peacefulyorkshire April 21, 2009 at 9:33 am

    No I had no idea about electric kettles before I moved to England, did you? I have since bought one at good ol’ Wal-mart to keep at my mother’s house in the USA. I can still have cuppa every morning the way i am used to when I visit. They are very more pricey to buy in the states compared to here, as they are a rare thing. I haven’t scaled it though… yet. haha

  17. yankeebean April 26, 2009 at 9:50 am

    I’m glad you’re coming to visit – our kettle could use a good descale ;)

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