The function of an Ice Maker is easy to understand - but exactly how do these machines function?
Turns out, they are relatively simple - but well-engineered - devices.
Most Ice makers are comprised of three main components: an electric motor with a cooling unit, a heating unit and an ice tray.
They also require a supply of clean water. Either you have an ice machine with a connection to a water line, or you have to fill your ice maker with water on your own. If the water not enough clear, you can use filters to get more quality and transparent ice.
When it's time to make ice, clean water is pumped into an ice tray of some form.
Once the water is at the right level, the cooling unit will activate and freeze the ice.
All ice makers have built-in thermostats, so they know when to turn on and off.
The water freezes in the ice tray, and then it’s time for the heating unit.
The heating unit heats the base of the ice tray, so the giant clump of ice separates and falls as different cubes.
Then, the ice falls into the ice bin where it is ready to be scooped out and served.
But if you're in the market for an ice maker, then there are a few more things you also need to know.
First off, most ice makers aredesigned to make ice, not to store it.
Many ice machines do not include a cold storage unit. This means that the ice bin is a temporary solution and melting is inevitable.
A freezer is needed to properly store ice, so don't think that you will be purchasing an ice machine with built-in ice storage unless you are willing to pay a much higher price for a unit with a freezer.
An in-between solution is to purchase an ice maker with an insulated storage bin, but most portable and small ice makers do NOT come with insulated ice storage. You'll probably have to buy an undercounter or built-in unit to get that.
Why Buy An Ice Maker At All?
Going to the store is a nuisance. But we’ve already gone over this.
There are quite a few other reasons a home ice maker can come in handy, though.
For example, if you are setting up the office break room, you may want to invest in a compact ice maker.
Likewise, if you go camping and want fresh ice, bring along a portable ice maker. It makes life so much easier.
And, if you enjoy tailgating and aren’t sure how much ice you will need, bring along your own personal ice maker.
If you love fishing or boating, a portable ice maker can also be a life saver.
When purchasing an ice machine, though, most people don’t realize how portable some of them are.
Factors To Consider When Buying An Ice Maker
There are lots of things to consider when you buy your ice maker.
Don’t just go with what you think is the best deal.
Sure, it’s important to get the best value you can, but make sure everything you need is accounted for before looking for a deal.
For your convenience, consider the following a checklist of important factors to consider:
We'll put this first since it's likely the most important factor for you.
You can get a basic small portable ice maker for right around $100 US.
Higher-capacity and efficient ice makers (up to 45 lbs per day) shouldn't cost more than the $300.
If you want to make sonic ice nuggets or gourmet ice, then you'll likely need to buy a specialized under counter or built-in ice maker. These range from a few hundred dollars to many $1,000s.
Make sure you check prices across different online stores, as the price of ice makers isn't as uniform as other products.
In my experience, Amazon often offers the lowest prices across models, and mall-style retail stores are on the higher end of the spectrum.
If you want your ice maker to become a part of your kitchen or bar, decide where you want it before you buy.
Take precise measurements and figure out what the maximum size ice maker you can afford to use.
The biggest problem people have is that they find out their ice maker is too large for their desired space.
Another issue comes when you don't give your ice maker enough breathing room.
As a rule of thumb, you should allow a minimum one inch clearance on all sides of a countertop ice maker to allow for maximum oxygen circulation.
For under-counter and built-in ice makers, the clearance can be a bit more than an inch - and some of the larger units need special ventilation ducts, so check your model's installation guide before buying.
Without enough space, your ice maker will likely overheat, and you will be stuck with super wet and soft ice.
Ice Production: How Many Pounds Per Day?
How big is your party?
Are you purchasing an ice maker just for yourself and a few others - or are you trying to keep an entire party served?
Ice makers are very diverse regarding ice production.
You can buy a small ice maker that makes just enough for one glass, or you can invest a significant amount of money into buying an ice maker that can put out a mountain a minute.
How fast does the ice maker produce ice (minutes to first serving) and how much ice can it make in total (pounds per day)?
In my opinion, the smallest ice maker you should settle for will make 20 pounds of ice in a day.
Just keep in mind, when a company tells you how much ice your ice maker is capable of making, that's in 24 hours of continuous ice production.
Unless you plan on keeping yours on all day, realize that this isn't how much ice you will get immediately. The next part of ice production to consider is speed. A safe speed is one batch every 6 minutes. If it takes longer than 10 minutes for a batch of ice, it's probably a little too slow.
Many ice makers come in a stainless steel design, which fits most kitchens.
You can find them in white or black or silver as well generally.
Aside from these standard colors, many come in red as well.
The color should be an easy decision, but they also come in one of two basic styles. They are either boxy or smooth.
The box ones are meant to be placed under cabinets and in their grooves, while the more fluid ones are more so meant for countertops. Just know that the style of your ice maker often speaks towards its overall purpose as well.
A confusing ice maker should not exist.
Most important options include: set a timer, to turn it on, and to select your ice size.
An icemaker should also be easy to clean.
If it looks like it would be difficult to clean the water filters, cooling trays and heating elements (like a lot of built-in units are), you’re going to find yourself stuck with dirty ice.
And lastly, it should be easy to install.
You may have a perfect ice maker for a month, but if it breaks down after just a few weeks is it worth it?
I have found a real correlation between durable ice makers and good customer support.
If the product was meant to break down fast, it will be cheap and have no helpful customer service. So check those online reviews carefully.
It's worth to pay an extra $20-100 dollars to get a product that has good customer support and proven durability.
A good ice maker should last you at least a few years without heavy maintenance. If you are maintaining it regularly, it should not break down or even begin to rattle just after a few months.
Most ice makers come with a warranty, although usually short - maybe 90 days to a year.
So for this type of appliance, it's worth considering an extended warranty.
A simple, innovative technology makes your ice maker easier to live with.
Because ice makers don't store your ice at a freezing temperature, ice left untouched will melt. In older models, this melted ice would sit in the main compartment and even potentially damage the product.
The water recycling feature takes this melted ice and recycles it back into the system. This means you won't need to drain the water or refill the machine. It will go back to the front of the cycle, and your water will be reused into more ice cubes. This saves you time, water, and a lot of hassle.
Most ice makers have a water recycling feature, but some of the older models - even expensive built-in units - do not. So definitely check.
Ice Type and Size
There should be an option to pick between small and large cubes. If not, then make sure your ice machine creates ice in your desired type (crescent, cube, nugget, sonic ice, clear cube, crushed or gourmet) and size.
The density of ice is also important.
If your machine makes ice that is too soft, it will ice-up more often and the ice will melt faster. That said, a soft-ice unit will typically produce more ice, faster.
This is just an opinion, but you probably want your ice machine to make thicker, denser ice that is better suited for those hot summer days.
If you are buying a heavy duty undercounter or built-in ice machine, then you will need to connect it to a water source. Tap water is assumed, and there are filters in the unit that will need to be cleaned regularly.
Smaller, portable ice machines need to be refilled by hand. They do not come with filters - you need to make sure you use clean/filtered water.
Now you have a better understanding of what to look for in an ice maker.
There are many different types of ice maker sold today.
Understanding the different types of ice makers is essential for you to do this.
Ice Maker Types
Chances are you’re looking for a portable or countertop ice maker.
If you are, feel free to skip ahead.
If you are unsure of what type of ice machine you need, the consider the following.
Modular ice makers are extremely good at making ice in volume.
These units can make up to 1,000 pounds of ice in a day - if you need that much. They are the type of ice machine you find in hotels and in larger restaurants.
these beasts typically cost thousands of dollars and are the oldest type of ice machine. They are also loud, large and need their own well-ventilated corner to operate (no built-in or counter top installation is recommended).
Modular ice makers also require a dedicated water line to feed them with enough fresh water.
The main two things you'll want to look for when buying a modular ice maker is the maximum ice production and the speed of ice production.
After that, make sure the ice size is what you are looking for.
Unless you need a LOT of ice for outdoor parties, I can't recommend getting one for your home.
Undercounter ice machines are designed to hide below a bar or kitchen counter.
Undercounter units are typically expensive and high-capacity: they can often make 300-400 pounds of ice in a day.
An under counter ice machine needs a line to connect to a water source.
If you regularly have large groups of people over or need to fill up ice chests regularly for boating or outdoor activities, then an undercounter ice machine may be perfect for your home.
Countertop Ice Makers
Most countertop ice makers are small, compact units, about half the size of an under the counter unit or less.
Countertop ice makers can produce anywhere from 20 to 80 pounds of ice in a day.
These icemakers are the most practical for placing in an existing kitchen.
Portable Ice Makers
If you want an ice maker for the kitchen that you can move outside, to your garage, or to a different room, then this is your best bet.
These are the cheapest ice makers - you can get for around $100.
Portable units also make the least ice, typically just a few pounds - but some can make up to 60 pounds per day.
Obviously, portable ice makers are small, and you can fit them almost anywhere.
If you want an ice maker for camping trips or tailgating, this is your best bet.
If you want an ice maker for your kitchen but you can't afford to give your ice maker its own personal spot, then get a portable ice maker.
You can bring them out when needed and easily store them away when you no longer need them.
Personal Ice Makers
The personal ice maker is just a subset of the portable ice maker.
These are handheld and usually rechargeable using 115V (wall plug) or 12V (car charger)..
Personal ice makers are ideal for camping and boating, where you will only need enough ice for one or two people infrequently.
These are usually the same price as a portable ice maker.
I can't recommend buying one of these unless you are a serious camper who needs to carry as little weight as possible.
Built-In Ice Makers
The built in is a combination of the countertop and under the counter.
This is the type of ice maker most home builders install in a high-end kitchen.
A built-in ice maker is designed to fit under your bar or kitchen counter.
Most built-ins make a relatively small amount of ice - maybe 20 or 30 lbs a day, max - but they have insulated or refrigerator ice storage, so whatever ice they make is kept cold.
In contrast, portable and countertop ice makers don't keep ice frozen.
Built-in ice makers are about the size of a mini-fridge and are fed with a water line. They can't make a tremendous amount of ice, and they will keep it frozen overnight.
They use water filter systems that require regular cleaning, which may require disassembling the unit to get to the parts.
Built-in ice makers are expensive - usually they cost over $1,000 - and even that would be a real bargain.
An ice maker is a simple contraption but it's a mechanical machine which is prone to a number of common issues.
It doesn't matter what kind of an ice maker you need, all ice machines need to be cleaned well.
When you first purchase your ice maker, there is a little cleaning ritual that is imperative. Run a water vinegar solution through the entire machine for a few cycles. This will not create ice; it will just clean the machine a little bit.
After you have done this, make sure to run plain water through the ice maker for at least a few cycles. Once this is done, your ice maker is ready to go.
There are two other potential problems.
The first is that fans can come loose. This will cause rattling and other annoying noises. To correct this, it's usually simple enough to open the unit up and adjust your fan - or you can contact customer service and let them know about this common problem, if you are still under warranty.
The next common problem has to do with sensors.
If you find that your ice machine seems to be fine, but it just won't make more ice there is a good chance your ice machine thinks it's full due to a faulty sensor.
This is a common problem for people who leave the ice in their machines for prolonged periods of time. Water will freeze and stick to the sensor, giving your sensor the impression that the device is filled with ice.
To fix this problem, wipe your sensor clean now and then. Easy to do.
So now you know everything you need to know about ice makers.
You understand how they function, and what parts to pay attention to.
Just make sure you're buying the right size and type of ice machine for your home or business.
Pay attention to ice size, daily capacity and speed of ice production.
Decide whether you're OK using a dedicated water line or refilling the unit by hand.
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Vicky Norris is a legal professional who enjoys researching, reviewing and writing about the latest developments in home appliances. A fan of saving money, Vicky started icemakershub.com when it became clear that a whole new class of less-expensive portable ice makers began replacing what used to be a really expensive built-in kitchen appliance.