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How to Clean an Ice Machine

How to Clean an Ice Machine

Last updated on 7/16/2017
Ice is used in almost every foodservice setting, from restaurants, bars, cafeterias, and coffee shops, to nursing homes, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. Since ice is such an important part of food service, 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.

Why It’s Important to Clean an Ice Machine

The FDA defines ice as a food, which 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.

Your ice machine should be cleaned and sanitized at least once every six months for efficient operation. This maintenance process requires you to first perform a cleaning procedure to remove lime, scale, and mineral deposits, followed by a sanitizing procedure to disinfect the unit and remove algae and slime. If you don’t keep up on maintenance, scale buildup can cause ice to stick to the evaporator plates, which can impede heat transfer and result in freeze-ups, longer harvest times, reduction in capacity, and costly repairs. Not cleaning your machine can also lead to the formation of dangerous slime and mold.

If you experience some of the following issues, it may be time to clean your ice machine:

  • Ice machine does not release ice or is slow to harvest
  • Ice machine does not cycle into harvest mode
  • Ice quality is poor (soft or not clear)
  • Ice machine produces shallow or incomplete cubes
  • Low ice capacity


Now we’ll get into the proper ice machine cleaning and sanitizing procedures, but first, let’s go over a few guidelines and tips.

  • Your ice machine should be cleaned every 6 months.
  • If you notice it’s requiring more frequent cleaning and sanitizing, consult a qualified service company to test your establishment’s water quality. Water treatment may be required.
  • Be sure to follow the proper instructions written out in your ice machine’s manual.
  • Some manufacturers require specific or approved cleaner and sanitizer solutions to be used with their machines.
  • All ice produced during the cleaning and sanitizing procedures must be discarded. It’s also highly suggested to throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning.
  • Do not mix cleaner and sanitizer solutions together.
  • Wear rubber gloves and protective safety glasses when handling cleaner and sanitizer solutions.
  • Read and follow any instructions and cautions listed on the solution bottles.
  • To prevent damage to the water pump, do not leave the control switch in a service position for an extended period of time when the water tank is empty during cleaning.
  • Know your equipment. Nugget and flake machines typically have more moving parts that require additional attention. Also, know your machine’s material construction so you don’t use chemicals that will harm it.


How to Clean an Ice Machine

  1. Open the front door to access the evaporator compartment. All ice must be removed from the evaporator during the cleaning and sanitizing cycles.
  2. Remove all ice from the bin or dispenser. To remove the ice, follow one of the methods below:
  3. Either press the power switch at the end of the a harvest cycle after ice falls from the evaporators, or press the power switch and allow the ice to completely melt.
  4. Press the “clean” or “wash” button, depending on your machine's labeling. Water will flow through the water dump valve and down the drain. Wait until the water trough refills and the display indicates to add chemicals. This typically takes at least 1 minute. Then add the proper amount of ice machine cleaner per your manual.
  5. Wait until the clean cycle is complete. This will typically take at least 20 minutes. After the cycle is complete, disconnect power to the ice machine and the dispenser.
  6. Remove parts for cleaning. For safe and proper removal, refer to your machine's manual. Once all parts have been removed, continue to the next step.
  7. Mix a solution of cleaner and lukewarm water. Refer to your machine's manual for an appropriate amount of solution. It should provide a chart that has the correct ratio for each product line. A general water to cleaner ratio is 1 gallon of water to 16 ounces of cleaner. Depending on the amount of mineral buildup, a larger quantity may be required.
  8. Use half of the water and cleaner mixture to clean all components and parts you've removed. Most solutions will start to foam once they come in contact with lime, scale, and mineral deposits. Once the foaming stops, use a soft-bristle nylon brush, sponge, or cloth to carefully clean all parts. All parts except the ice thickness probe can be soaked when heavily scaled. Rinse all components with clean water.
  9. While you wait for the components to soak, use the other half of the water and cleaner mixture to clean all foodzone surfaces of the ice machine, bin, and dispenser. Use a nylon brush or cloth to thoroughly clean the following ice machine areas: side walls, base (area above the trough), evaporator plastic parts (top, bottom, sides), and the bin or dispenser.
  10. Rinse all areas with clean water. This will help remove chemicals to prevent ice from becoming contaminated.

How to Sanitize an Ice Machine

  1. Mix a solution of ice machine sanitizer and lukewarm water. Refer to your machine's manual for an appropriate amount of solution. It should provide a chart that has the correct ratio for each item number. A general water to cleaner ration is 3 gallons of water to 2 ounces of sanitizer. 
  2. Use half of the water and sanitizer mixture to sanitize all components and parts you've removed. You can 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 you wait for the components to soak, use the other half of the water and sanitizer mixture to clean all foodzone surfaces of the ice machine, bin, and dispenser. Use a spray bottle to liberally apply the solution. When sanitizing, pay attention to following: side walls, base (area above the trough), evaporator plastic parts (top, bottom, sides), and the bin or dispenser.
  4. Replace all removed components. You may need to refer to your manual once more for proper restructuring. 
  5. Wait 20 minutes. This allows the sanitizier to properly disinfect.
  6. Reapply power to the ice machine. Press your unit's "clean" or "wash" button. 
  7. Wait until the water trough refills and the display indicates to add chemical. 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 typically take at least 20 minutes.
  9. Upon completion, it's highly recommended to observe two cycles and monitor the freeze and harvest cycle times. Make sure you throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning and sanitizing.

Exterior Cleaning

  1. Clean the area around the ice machine as often as necessary. This will maintain cleanliness and efficient operation.
  2. Wipe surfaces down with a damp cloth rinsed in water to remove dust and dirt from the outside of the ice machine. Never use an abrasive pad or brush.
  3. If a greasy residue remains, use a damp cloth rinsed in a mild dish soap and water solution. See your machine's manual for restrictions. Some nickel-plated machines require nickel-safe solutions. You will never want to use chlorinated, citrus-based, or abrasive cleaners on exterior panels and plastic trim.

Cleaning the Condenser and Its Filter

The washable filter on a self-contained ice machine is necessary to trap dust, dirt, lint, and grease. To clean the filter, simply rinse it with mild soap and water.

Now, you can clean the condenser. If this condenser isn't washed, airflow will be restricted, resulting in high operating temperatures, which can shorten your unit's life and lead to reduced ice production. Like the other components of your ice machine, this filter should be cleaned once every six months.


  1. Disconnect electric power to the ice machine head section and the remote condensing unit. There should be switches to turn these off.
  2. Shine a flashlight through the condenser to check for dirt between the fins. These fins are sharp, so proceed with caution.
  3. Blow compressed air through the condenser to remove dirt. You can also rinse it with water from the inside out.
  4. Recheck for remaining dirt. If dirt still remains, we recommend that you contact a service agent.

Whether you're using ice for drink service, packaging it for retail purposes, or filling up salad bars to keep food chilled, it's important to always use fresh, clean ice. By completing the cleaning and sanitizing procedures outlined above, you'll be able to maintain your commercial ice machine's efficiency, prevent increased energy costs, and keep clean and safe ice ready to use! Remember to clean and sanitize at least once every six months, and don't forget to refer to your ice machine's manual for special instructions!

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