Cleaning and Maintaining a Commercial Ice Machine

Why It’s Important to Clean an Ice Machine

Ice is used in almost every food service setting; from restaurants, bars, cafeterias, and coffee shops to nursing homes, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. Since ice is such an important part of the food service industry, it’s important for professionals to know how to clean an ice machine. In fact, these machines are often some of the dirtiest pieces of equipment in the kitchen. While every ice machine has its own special maintenance requirements, most follow a basic overall process. This article will take you through a detailed, step-by-step explanation of the ice machine cleaning process.

stand alone ice machine

Health Safety

Ice is considered a food, according to the FDA. This means it must be handled and cared for in the same manner as other food products. No matter what type of ice machine your establishment operates, it’s imperative that you clean, sanitize, and maintain it. Any part of the unit that has contact with water can develop scale, slime, or mold at any time, which will contaminate your ice and potentially harm your customers.

Maximize Efficiency

You should clean and sanitize your ice machine at least once every six months to maximize efficiency.

The maintenance process is two-fold:

  • Clean the machine to remove lime, scale and mineral deposits.
  • Sanitize the machine by disinfecting the unit.

Ignoring routine maintenance can cause scale buildup which makes ice stick to the evaporator plates. This hinders heat transfer and creates freeze-ups, longer harvest times, reduction in capacity, and costly repairs. Not cleaning your machine can cause damage to the unit, but it can also lead to the formation of dangerous slime and mold. Learn more: Reducing Commercial Ice Machine Energy Costs.

bucket with cleaning supplies

How Do I Know When It’s Time to Clean My Machine?

If you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, it is time to clean your ice machine:

  • Is your ice machine slow to harvest or does it not release ice at all?
  • Has it stopped cycling into harvest mode?
  • Is the ice quality poor (soft or not clear)?
  • Does your machine produce shallow or incomplete cubes?
  • Does it have a low capacity?

General Maintenance Tips

There are several basic things you can do to maintain your ice machine and keep it working properly. While most of these tips are common sense, they can easily get overlooked. Ignoring the small things can lead to bigger problems, like inefficient ice production or long-term damage. Copy this list, mark it on your calendar, and set reminders. It will be worth your money and time.

  • Clean your ice machine every 6 months.
  • Follow the instructions written out in your ice machine’s manual.
  • Follow your manufacturer’s requirements for recommended cleaner and sanitizer solutions.
  • During the cleaning and sanitizing process, all ice that is produced must be discarded. We suggest that you throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning as well.
  • Keep cleaner and sanitizer solutions separate—do not mix them together.
  • Wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when handling cleaning and sanitizing chemicals.
  • Follow the instructions and note any warnings listed on the solution bottles.
  • Do not leave the control switch in the service position for an extended period of time during cleaning—this will cause damage to the water pump.
  • Know your equipment and your machine’s general make-up—this will help you use the correct cleaning chemicals that won’t cause damage to your machine both internally and externally.
  • Is your machine in need of more frequent cleanings? If so, consult a qualified service company to test your machine and your water quality.

How to Clean Your Ice Machine

Now that you’ve reviewed the ‘why’ behind ice machine cleaning and maintenance, it’s time to walk you through the ‘how.’ The goal of regular cleanings is to remove scale build up. Scale build up affects the efficiency of your machine. If left unmanaged, it can cause costly repairs and poor quality ice that could be contaminated.

Here are the basic steps in the cleaning process:

ice machine cleaning solution
  1. Remove or dispose of ice prior to cleaning.
  2. Clean the machine’s water system, following the instructions laid out in the instruction manual. The cleaning cycle typically takes at least 20 minutes.
  3. Disconnect the power.
  4. Remove all parts for cleaning.
  5. Inspect air filters. Your machine’s manual will guide you on the appropriate ratio of cleaning solution and water to mix. There is usually a chart that shows the correct proportions for each product line.
  6. Use half of your cleaning solution to clean all the removed parts and the other half to clean all food zone surfaces of the ice machine, bin, and dispenser. This includes the side walls, base (area above the trough), and evaporator plastic parts (top, bottom, sides).The solution will foam when it comes in contact with lime, scale and mineral deposits. Once the foaming stops, carefully use a nylon brush or cloth to clean all the parts. Rinse all parts with clean water.
  7. Check the water filtration system, observing if the water pressure drops due to any restrictions.
  8. Visually inspect the machine’s components: the evaporator, cube sizing controls, water sensors, thermistors, water distributor parts, water hoses, and water pump or reservoir.

Once your ice machine is clean, then you can move on to the sanitizing process.

How to Sanitize Your Ice Machine

  1. Mix a solution of ice machine sanitizer and lukewarm water. Just as with the cleaning solution, the owner’s manual should provide a chart that shows the correct ratio of sanitizer to water.
  2. Use half of the water/sanitizer mixture to sanitize all the components and parts you’ve removed. You can either use a spray bottle to liberally apply the solution to all surfaces of the removed parts, or you can soak the removed parts in the solution. Note: DO NOT rinse parts with water after sanitizing.
  3. While the components are soaking, use the other half of the water/sanitizer mixture to clean all food zone surfaces of the ice machine, bin, and dispenser. Again, use a spray bottle to liberally apply the solution. Pay attention to the side walls, base (area above the trough), and evaporator plastic parts (top, bottom, sides).
  4. Replace all removed components. Refer to your manual once more for proper restructuring.
  5. Wait 20 minutes. This allows the sanitizer to properly disinfect.
  6. Power on the ice machine. Press your unit’s “clean” or “wash” button.
  7. Wait until the water trough refills and the display indicates to add chemicals. Add the proper amount of sanitizer to the water trough.
  8. Set your machine to automatically start making ice after the sanitizing cycle is complete. This will usually take at least 20 minutes.
  9. Observe 2 cycles and monitor the freeze and harvest cycle times.
  10. Throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning and sanitizing.

Mild cleaning cloth

How to Clean the Exterior of Your Machine

The exterior of your ice machine and the area around the unit should be cleaned as often as necessary. This will help maintain sanitary conditions and optimal operation. Exterior maintenance is easy. Simply wipe surfaces down with a damp cloth rinsed with water to remove dust and dirt from the outside of the machine. Never use anything abrasive to clean the outside of the unit. If a greasy residue remains, a mild dish soap and water solution can be used. Always consult your machine’s manual for restrictions on cleaners. For example, some nickel-plated machines require nickel-safe solutions. Never use chlorinated, citrus-based, or abrasive cleaners on exterior panels or plastic trim.

How to Clean the Condenser and Filter

As with the ice machine as a whole, the condenser, and the filter should be cleaned every 6 months. A self-contained ice machine has a washable filter that traps dust, dirt, lint, and grease. Rinsing the filter with mild soap and water will sufficiently clean it.

Once the filter has been cleaned, you can move on to the condenser. When a condenser is dirty, airflow is restricted. This causes higher operating temperatures which can lead to reduced ice production and shortened life expectancy of your machine.

Steps to Cleaning the Condenser:

  1. Turn off the power to both the ice machine head section AND the remote condensing unit.
  2. Check for dirt between the fins of the condenser by shining a flashlight through it.
  3. To remove dirt, blow air through the condenser hose. You can also rinse it with water from the inside out.
  4. If dirt still remains, contact a service agent.
Ice machine condenser

Regular cleaning and sanitizing of your ice machine will ensure that your unit produces sanitary ice and runs optimally for a long time. Whether you’re producing ice for drink service or using it to chill foods and keep them fresh, you want to know that your ice is clean. Regular upkeep – cleaning and sanitizing your machine, keeping the exterior of the unit clean, and maintaining the unit’s condenser and filters—will improve your ice machine’s efficiency, decrease energy costs, and keep your ice clean, safe and ready to use!

Learn more: What to Know Before Purchasing an Ice Machine.

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