It occurred to me that other day that my kettle looks like it has never been used and yet it has been boiling water several times a day for over 2 months.

My shiny kettle

Why is this unusual to me? Because the insides of UK kettles are usually coated in white limescale which has to be regularly removed either with a branded de-scaling product or the alarmingly volatile but effective combination of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar………..although if you don’t want your kitchen smelling like a chip shop, the former option is preferable. Even though de-scaling a kettle is one of the least labour intensive kitchen chores imaginable, it’s one of those things you keep putting off telling yourself “well, it’ll be good for another week”, and then be utterly mortified when guests turn up expectedly and you have to serve them cups of tea with myriad of tiny limescale deposits floating on the surface.

For any Kiwi readers, let me explain: where I come from in the UK, the water is ‘hard’ meaning that it has a high mineral content as a result of percolating through deposits of limestone, chalk or gypsum which are largely made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates, bicarbonates and sulfates. The hardest water areas in the UK are Southern England (where I come from), London, The Midlands and Eastern Wales. As you move further up the country into Northern England and Scotland the water tends to be softer. South West England, Western Wales and Northern Ireland also have softer water. But even water hardness in different parts of the same county can vary hugely.

Water hardness levels are determined by the amount of calcium carbonate it contains. As a rule of thumb, anything under 100 milligrams per litre (mg/L) is classed as ‘soft’ water and anything over is ‘hard’ water. To give you some idea of exactly how soft New Zealand water is, according to Wellington Water’s website, the calcium carbonate levels in the water range from 18 milligrams per litre (mg/L) at Te Marua to 47mg/L at Waterloo. In comparison, the calcium carbonate levels of the water in Oxfordshire, UK according to Thames Water are 288mg/L. And in East Anglia (on the South East coast of England), the calcium carbonate levels are around 423mg/L falling into the alarming yet slightly amusing sounding category of ‘Aggressively Hard’ water. Yes, that is actually what it’s called.

So while this means that most UK water doesn’t need to be treated with fluoride because it occurs naturally in sufficient amounts to be beneficial to health, most of us have to descale our kettles every five goddamn minutes. In fact, the problem is so ubiquitous throughout the UK that you can even buy tea that is specially made for hard water.

And it’s not just kettles that are affected. Shower heads, shower screens, washing machines, irons and coffee machines will all build up a nice thick layer of scale in a relatively short space of time and have to be regularly de-scaled.

I never thought that not having to deal with limescale in my appliances would be one of things I would appreciate about living in New Zealand.


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