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What Is a Whistling Kettle?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2016
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A whistling kettle is a kettle that alerts users when the water inside has reached a boil. The kettle’s design causes steam to escape through a whistle. This design feature has existed for centuries and remains popular in the present day. The size, shape, and length of the spout determine the sound of the whistle. Modern electric kettles may have an automatic shutoff switch as well as a whistle.

A basic whistling sound is created by forcing air through a narrow opening. If this stream of air is divided by a solid object, it vibrates the object audibly, amplifying the sound and changing its tone. This principle of aerodynamics has been understood for thousands of years and can be demonstrated easily with or without tools. The first kinds of whistling kettles likely had narrow spouts, by deliberate design or otherwise. Later designs added a metal insert to make the sound louder and more musical.

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A kettle is a simple, even primitive, device used for heating water in cultures all over the world. Many are heated by placing them on a stove, over a fire, or atop another heat source; some have their own heating elements. As the water in the kettle heats, it becomes steam, a form of water vapor with high heat and pressure. The pressure causes the steam to rapidly escape up the spout and, on a whistling kettle, through the whistle. As the amount of escaping steam increases, the sound of the whistle becomes louder and more persistent.

This serves as an effective way to alert the users of the whistling kettle that the water is ready for use. The sound subsides as soon as the kettle is removed from heat. The design of the whistling kettle determines the sound of the whistle; for example, a longer spout will provide a louder whistle. A larger hole for the steam to escape will provide a lower tone. Further variations can be created by altering the shape of the whistle itself.

It’s best to choose a whistling kettle with a whistle that lifts out of the way for pouring. Some designs require users to remove the whistle to pour, but this increases the risk of burns from escaping steam. Many electric kettles will automatically shut themselves off when the water reaches the boiling point and maintain the water at a prime temperature. While electric kettles are faster and otherwise efficient, many people still prefer the simple and somewhat romantic design of the whistling kettle.

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