Introduction: How to Descale a Tea Kettle

Picture of How to Descale a Tea Kettle

Have you ever opened your tea kettle to fill it and noticed a brownish or greyish film in the bottom? That film is called limescale and is made up of minerals left behind during the evaporation process. If you live in an area with hard water like I do, limescale is something you'll encounter quite often!

It's not dangerous to use a kettle with limescale, but it can affect the taste of your water and it impairs the heat conduction of your kettle. So you may as well clean it quickly before it gets to be a limescale mess. :D

Thankfully, descaling a kettle is insanely easy with the help of a little white vinegar!

You can use this method with both standard and electric tea kettles.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

A 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar! That's it. (I've found white vinegar is the most effective - apple cider and other vinegars required extra boils to clean away the scale.)

I normally do 12 ounces each water and vinegar, but scale that up or down depending on the size of your kettle. If you have a large metal kettle, you may have scaling further up the sides and require more liquid!

If you're not crazy about the idea of using vinegar, you can also use citric acid. I have not noticed a flavor of vinegar when using the kettle afterwards, but I've seen complaints online from others about it!

Sometimes the smell of vinegar sticks around after cleaning the kettle, but I have not noticed it in the taste of my tea.

Step 2: Removing the Limescale

Picture of Removing the Limescale

Above: before and after.

I don't recommend letting the vinegar and water sit in the kettle forever before boiling, or boiling it for an insanely long amount of time. This only seems to increase the odds that your kettle will taste and smell of vinegar after. :P

Instead, bring the mix to a boil and turn the kettle off.

Take off the lid and look inside. I've never had any limescale left behind after one boil in my electric kettle, but you may. If you do, boil again!

If your kettle has a filter in the spout, pour the hot water and vinegar mixture out through it to clean it as well.

Rinse with cool water and smell the kettle. If you can still smell vinegar, you can boil plain water in the kettle and pour it out - that typically removes the smell for me.

And there you go - repeat as needed for a scale-free kettle! :D


john12692 (author)2017-01-04

I have used both citric acid and vinegar and I noticed that the vinegar would sting my eyes and nose more than the citric acid even when only in the same room and not actively working on descaling.
I know that my hot water dispenser's manufacturer recommends citric acid. it was by weight (grams) and I forgot how much it was but it ended up being about 1.75 tablespoons for 4 Liters. (I used a coffee scoop that happened to measure the exact weight I needed.)

Also citric acid (powder) is easier to store than vinegar and gallon for gallon of the same pH, citric acid is much cheaper.

A word of warning to those with concrete septic tanks. the lime scale from your water (calcium carbonate) is the same stuff that makes concrete concrete instead of a pile of sand, gravel and rebar. so don't put the waste down the drain without neutralizing it with a base such as baking soda. (I still need to do some testing, but I believe calcium carbonate is preferred but I am still working on a household source of it in sufficient quanties. tums works but it uses nearly the entire bottle which defeats the point)

Georgiemcluvvin (author)2016-12-09

I have heard of lemon and onions vinegar too. I prefer to buy Andes cakes

jogrebe (author)2016-09-07

I agree using white vinegar is the best method for keeping one's kettle clean. Personally I would add a third step to the process of boiling a pot of water mixed with a little baking soda to remove any traces of vinegar from the kettle.

BunceyTheInbred (author)2016-08-25

A 'Tea' kettle? What's so special about it compared to my kettle?

Nothing - using that term because that is how most folks search for this information. :)

GaryV15 (author)jessyratfink2016-09-02

A covered pot boils faster than an uncovered one, due to less heat loss from the open top of a pot. A pot needs a second accessory (the cover) to accomplish this. A kettle doesn't because, save for the spout, the rest is covered. For a tea drinker, it is a faster way to get the hot water they need, sometimes even with a low-tech whistle indicator to let them know that the water is as hot as it's going to get. This way, unlike a microwave,you don't need to pretend that you can set a precise time for a multi-variable process (water temperature, cup temperature, ambient air temperature, amount of water) to go on and then still have to check and see if the water is as hot as you want. It is a low-tech way to accomplish quick water heating. Although not as fast as a microwave, you can still save time by multitasking (making the rest of the meal, or reading through mail) and using the whistle as an indicator that it is time to get back to the water to make the tea.

BunceyTheInbred (author)GaryV152016-09-02

I was only mocking the fact that it was dubbed a 'tea kettle' as if it was some bizzare alien technology.
In Britain you have your kettle. Just a kettle. And it makes any hot edible drink/food you want.

From this day on..... I will never jibe again.

GaryV15 (author)BunceyTheInbred2016-09-06

Sorry, I keep forgetting about what us Yanks refer to as abstract British humor.

BrianS291 (author)2016-08-31

Some common salt (sodium chloride), say 1 teaspoon full, can help the vinegar. Citric acid is another good way, also used for large boilers.

PaulGetson (author)2016-08-29

I just use straight vinegar, or pickling vinegar without watering it down. I find the higher percentage of acetic acid in the pickling vinegar does the trick quickly, and with a rinse, there's no lingering odor of vinegar.

I've been cleaning the kettle at work this way for a few years now, and usually clean it every few months. I find if you just boil some water, and dump it out, you remove a lot of the scale that loosens up, and it can prolong the time between cleanings.

Thanks for the Instructable.

Jemetha (author)PaulGetson2016-08-31

I second this strategy. Been doing it for years with good results.

Jollyriffic (author)2016-08-31

I prefer citric acid. i've read a lot about this before, vinegar can actually eat at either all metal or specific metals. also if all of the deposits aren't removed you're left with a vinegar taste. This is more of an issue with coffee pots like a Keurig. Also vinegar eats away at rubber seals and tubing. That really wouldn't be an issue, but figure someone looking up "how to descale" might need to know this.

RossM23 (author)2016-08-30

Jessie, I don't know the science behind it but adding a clean/washed sea shell (clam shell) - does something magical and the scale is removed faster, especially in a stove top tea kettle. I think it has something to do with the calcium in the shell.

smartrem (author)RossM232016-08-31

Sorry about my English, but I'll try to make it clear. Scale is a a precipitate. And like all precipitates the molecules tend to build up around each other. In water treatment plants, they sometinmes use a bit of carbonate to "spark up" the precipitate in the process. The sea shell is made of scale and all the precipitate made when the water is heated will build up on the shell (mostly)

corneliusarkeveld (author)2016-08-30

Good tip and it worked well. The scary part was finding the filter had
disintegrated prior to this cleaning process. No doubt making its way
around my anatomy. Isn't a cheap kettle, not that that seems to make
much difference in quality these days.

Holister (author)2016-08-25

metric system please!! also good tip

taj1994 (author)Holister2016-08-30

I believe 12 ounces is the size of a standard can of pop, or about 350 mL

laughtrax4 (author)Holister2016-08-30

Jean-Michel Paris (author)2016-08-30

Do you heat the vinegar in the kettle? How long does the process take in your case?

louis.m (author)2016-08-30

Instead of vinegar I use a few teaspoons of Tartaric Acid (purchased from a local drug store) diluted in some water, better result and no odour or taste residue (this can also be used to clean a coffee- or tea-maker).
¡ Beware
of using glass marbles to prevent building up (as mentioned below),
the can break into small an sharp pieces by the heat, better use a steal
(bearing) ball !

Ev (author)2016-08-30

Add a couple of glass marbles to keep the scale from building up. There's a stainless steel "pad" that's supposed to attract the hard minerals, haven't tried it.

NativeElement (author)Ev2016-08-30

Ev, the little stainless steel "pad" works. It kind of looks like a bunch of wire all smushed together into the shape of a 1" x 1" x 1" cylinder. My guess is that the wires give an increased surface area for the minerals to deposit onto instead of on the surface of the kettle.

I personally use food grade citric acid to descale. As mentioned in a previous instructables by sketchglass, it also removes rust.

EToft (author)2016-08-25

I have tried the vinegar route. it works but takes a lot of time. 2 tablespoons of "The Works" bowl cleaner does it in about 2 minutes...but rinse really well...and don't mix it with bleach. if your teapot ts chrome plated Z's don't use this will react with the nickel chrome.

ngadhno (author)EToft2016-08-28

Yes it's true that with vinegar only it takes time. But if you want powerful and super effective solution than you use white vinegar with acetic acid.
I fill the kettle with white vinegar up to where scale is build and turn the kettle on and reach boil point of vinegar and then add a full tablespoon of acetic acid and you'll be amazed how quick will this solution dissolve the scale.
You're kettle will look like new inside once you do this.

xkaes (author)2016-08-26

White vinegar is just a 5%, dilute solution of acetic acid. So if you
happen to have acetic acid -- and most REAL photographers do --and want a
5% solution, just take 0.5oz of acid and mix with 9.5oz of water (or
0.5ml acid and 9.5ml of water). If you want a 2.5% solution, as
suggested in this INSTRUCTABLE, just take 0.25oz of acid and mix with
9.75oz of water (or 0.25ml acid and 9.25ml of water). You can mix
larger or smaller quantities, of course, by varying the numbers. But
remember, ALWAYS add the acid to the water, NOT the other way around!

Yonatan24 (author)2016-08-26

My Grandpa uses lemons to clean his kettle. He says that it works really well (we live in an area where the water is really "hard")

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