Commercial Ice Machine: Repair and Maintenance Tips

This article is meant to help you get to the bottom of your commercial ice machine problems and what you can do to repair it, or calling TPH Mechanical in the Phoenix Area to help.

We’ll start with a few facts about ice machines and ice makers, and then we will get down to business.

Ice machine problems fall into one or more of several categories. The most drastic problem, i.e. “won’t make ice” is probably the easiest to fix, but there are other problems or complaints that we hear that we will address here, such as, ice maker water leaks, makes ice too slowly, ice machine too noisy, electric bill too high, and of course the “stinky ice” syndrome.

A few of these problems you can fix yourself but many require the assistance of a trained HVAC technician.
First, A Few Commercial Ice Maker Facts
Did you know that fully 10% of all the electricity used in commercial refrigeration is used by ice maker machines? It’s true. What does that tell you about getting an energy efficient model? And, did you know that these devices work round the clock, 24 / 7, and that is hard on any piece of machinery. The lifespan of commercial ice machine is about 10 years.
Also, it is important to know that 60% for all ice machine repair calls are for water related problems. By water related I mean, poor ice taste or smell, plugged water filter, or even slime in the ice maker!
There are basically two main types of commercial ice makers:

Air Cooled and Water Cooled
Air cooled ice machines are cheaper but they are noisier and they will heat up the room they are locate in because the fan in the refrigeration unit blows across the coils and sends the hot air right out into the room.
Water cooled ice machines are much quieter and don’t heat up the room, but they will cost you more on your electric bill. They are also much easier to install.
Now that we have learned a little about the commercial ice machine, what kinds of problems might we encounter during the normal lifespan of the unit?
Won’t Make Ice

An obvious problem is if the ice machine just won’t put out ice. This can be caused by several issues. Fortunately most are easy to fix. Your friendly TPH Mechanical technician can usually spot the problem quickly and get it fixed.

Here are some of the possible problems you could encounter.

The water line is stopped up. This can happen if the screen filter in the line is plugged with deposits. Along the same line, the water filter can be plugged up. A properly functioning Water filter is very important the quality of the ice. Without a water filter you will get organic and chemical debris in tour ice, yet with a plugged water filter you get no ice. Changing this filter periodically (or having your TPH Mechanical technician change it) will keep the clean water flowing, and customers coming back for more.
I know it sounds obvious, but if the unit is not running you won’t get ice. So check to see if it is running, and if it is not, then make sure someone hasn’t unplugged the power cord out of the wall socket. The next step would be to see if someone switched the unit off. A faulty power cable will also keep your ice maker from running. I that is you problem, you should let your TPH Mechanical Technician repair it.
Another cause for your commercial ice machine to not make ice is if a fuse or circuit breaker has blown. If this is the case, it usually means that some part of the system is overloaded. It may be some other piece of equipment on the same electrical line or “circuit”. Or, it could be a faulty electrical part in the ice maker itself. If whoever installed your ice maker did a poor job of grounding the unit, it could cause this problem. It might be a worn power cable, that allows the wire to short out, or even a short circuit in your ice machine’s internal electrical system. All problems of this nature should be referred to your local HVAC company. TPH Mechanical in the Metro Phoenix Area has a staff that is well trained in this area.
Sometimes a mechanical part in the ice machine gets frozen, locked up, or just broken. And, of course, if the thermostat is broken and the unit won’t cool, you won’t get ice.
Ice Machine Too Noisy
We often get complaints about noisy commercial ice machines. The truth is, if you have an air cooled unit it is just going to be noisy. On the other hand, if you have been used to a certain noise level and your unit begins to get a lot noisier, a service call may be in order.

It could be something as simple as a loose panel or other component vibrating. That is an easy and cheap fix. However, it could be that the compressor is laboring and ready to fail. In this case, you need to get the TPH Mechanical technician out as soon as possible. If your ice machine fails when you need it most, it could cost you a lot of business. Sometimes noise is the best indicator of impending problems. Get any unusual noises checked out.
Makes Ice Too Slowly
Another indicator of problems ahead is if the ice maker, especially a commercial ice machine, doesn’t make ice as quickly as it used to. Typically “colder” equates to faster production, so if your ice machine is not making ice as fast as it used to that could be an indication that the thermostat needs replacing. Also, it could mean that the heating unit that loosens the ice and allows it to drop may be at fault.
Water Leaks Outside of the Machine
If you have water on the floor around the ice maker, it probably means that there is a bad connection between the unit and the water utility hook-up. You can probably check this out yourself if you don’t mind taking the time from your business day. The fault is usually the water line itself or a cracked or worn fitting where the connections are made. To get the job done quickly and to get your entire unit checked out, call TPH Mechanical today at (602) 845-9899.
Commercial Ice Machine Energy Consumption is Too High
If your electric bill seems too high, and you are suspicious of your commercial ice machine, you should get it checked out. If you have seen a spike in a bill that has been relatively constant it may mean that the unit has a problem – perhaps a thermostat problem or one of the others we have mentioned above.
If you have a recently moved up to a water cooled unit, you should expect a little higher bill. That’s just due to the technology involved.
Here’s a tip that is worth it weight in gold. If you are in the market for a new “air cooled” commercial ice machine, pick one that is ENERGY STAR rated. The water cooled ice makers are not rated yet. Your HVAC technician can help you with this.
Stinky Ice Syndrome
This is my own special term: “Stinky Ice Syndrome”. In restaurants people complain about the water, soft drinks, coffee, etc. There are restaurants that I refuse to eat at because of the awful tasting drinks. Why should I waste my money while suffering through a meal with that awful taste? YUCK!
The problem is not the water! The real problem is, in most cases, the ice. It’s a problem that can kill a business or turn one around. And, if your customers could look in the icebox, what they would see could prompt a call to the health department. In some cases, the problem is so bad that slime is everywhere in the box.
What is it? The quick answer is mold and / or fungus – the residue of growing bacteria.
Why does it happen? If you are constantly in and out of the ice machine, moisture is bound to cling to the surfaces around the machine. If these surfaces are not dried regularly, bacteria will grow. Once it gets into your system and by that I mean inside the box, fittings and water lines, etc. I this most often happens with ice machines that are part of a soda fountain.
Is it dangerous? The quick answer is no. It just looks bad, causes foul tasting ice, foul tasting drinks, and lost customers. However, having said that, people with auto immune diseases, the very young and the very old may be affected by this mold and fungus. So, there are health issues to take into consideration. Let this problem exist at your own risk or get it fixed to be safe.
How can I fix this problem? The good news is that, if the problem is fairly new, you can just clean everything up and repeat on a regular basis. The bad news is that if the fungus and mold are in the water lines and fittings you will have to get that replaced. It’s not that expensive when you consider the cost of serving “bad” drinks and the loss of customers involve there.


Here are some things you can do.


  1. Defrost and clean the ice box regularly. Put the ice in a separate ice storage container while cleaning the unit.
  2. Several times a day, keep the lid and the inside of the box wiped dry from all condensation.
  3. Wipe down the inside of the box twice a week with a “sanitizer wipe”.
  4. DO NOT USE BLEACH! Although a good disinfectant, the chlorine in the bleach reacts chemically with the stainless steel of the box.
  5. The best cleanser is quaternary ammonium chloride (QAC) at 200 parts per million. You can find it at appliance parts stores.
  6. Remember that slimy mold and fungus can linger in the hoses and fittings. If you just can’t make it go away, have your HVAC technician change out the hoses.

In summary

Here is a recap of what we learned.

There are two types of commercial ice machines: air cooled and water cooled. Water cooled units are more expensive to run but are easier to install and easier to live with (less heat and noise). Most likely 10% of your electric bill is for the ice machine so it is good to keep it tip top shape. There are several things that can go wrong with your commercial ice machine, as with any electro-mechanical device. Some are easy to fix, some be avoided by preventive measures on you part, and some require the assistance of a qualified professional HVAC technician.

TPH Mechanical sells, installs services and repairs several major brands of commercial ice makers.


About Commercial Repair Guru

TPH Mechanical has been serving the Metro Phoenix Area for the past 23 years. We are a customer service orientated business, just like yours. We are not 100% satisfied until each and every customer is 100% satisfied! We have 6 licensed and trained technicians to work on all of your Commercial HVAC and Restaurant Equipment Repair needs. Reliable, On Time Guarantee and knowledgeable technicians. For honest and reliable service our technicians are non-commissioned based. Most companies will fix either the hot side or cold side of your business……We happen to do both hot and cold equipment.
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