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Commercial Ice Machines-A little attention saves big dollars

Bill Wickert - Friday, August 08, 2014

The average restaurant or bar operator has no idea how their ice machine works, and usually pays no attention to the ice machine until IT STOPS MAKING ICE!
I get it.  The only thing an operator wants to see is a "full bin" of ice whenever they need a scoop of ice.  However, a commercial ice machine needs some regular TLC to make sure it runs efficiently, produces the maximum amount of ice daily, and does not break down.  In the world of ice machines, a clean machine is a happy machine.

Some refrigeration repair specialists will tell you that 90% of all ice machine issues are self-inflicted. They could have been prevented.  Whatever the number is, we know that generally this is true.  So what can the operator do?

Regularly cleaned ice machines will produce more quickly, have harder cubes and in greater quantity per day.  Here are some easy things to do.
         1) Clean your ice bin every month - If you haven't cleaned in a while you might be surprised at what you find at the bottom of the bin, assuming you don't run out of ice on a regular basis.
               * Remove the old ice and store in a walk-in freezer.
               * Clean the inside of the bin with a solution of warm water and a mild detergent.  You may add a 1/2 cup of
                  bleach to this solution to remove any "brown slime" that has formed.  Rinse completely after washing and dry
                  the bin. NOTE: Some ice machines, like Ice-o-Matic, have all these parts impregnated with AGion, an
                  anti-microbial which prevents the buildup of mold and other microbes.

          2) What is "brown slime"? -  It develops from specific types of yeast like airborne yeast from beer or baking yeast.  This is especially common in bars.

          3) Change your water filter every 6 months - This insures your machine gets pure water to freeze and the purest water freezes first.
               * If you don't have water filtration in the building or at the ice machine...get a water filter for your ice machine.
               * Follow the instructions carefully when replacing your water filter.  For example, if you use certain filters they
                 need to be "pre-activated".  That means you need to run it for a period of time (usually 5 minutes) to activate
                 the charcoal in the cartridge.  Not activating the filter can cause the filter to be 50% less efficient in
                 removing minerals and other substances.  There are exceptions...3M water filters, for example, do not
                 require "activation".  This critical step is often missed so the operator ends up spending money on a filter
                 that is not doing the job it was designed to do.  So pre-activate your water filter or buy 3M water filters...
                 it is that simple!

          4) Clean the evaporator every 6 months -  The evaporator is the plate that the ice forms on.  When minerals begin to deposit (precipitate) on the evaporator the ice will not fall off the plate (harvest) as easily as it should.  So it runs longer, production drops, and other problems can occur.  A sign that an ice machine evaporator needs to be cleaned is that the ice in the bin is "bridging" that is to say, several pieces of ice are connected together.  A cleaning of the evaporator or a quick adjustment by a qualified service agent will fix that problem.. If you have bridging, your ice machine is working at less than optimal conditions.

               * Use a "nickel safe" cleaner and sanitizer to clean your evaporator.  Your cleaning supplies provider
                 will have a suitable product.

          5) Conditions - Make sure your ice machine is located in a "cool place".  Often times they are tucked into corners of rooms or in small rooms (like hotel ice dispensers) where they "eat their own heat".  The higher the ambient air temperature and the water temperature the less ice your machine will make each day.  In the winter you may get 50F water out of your tap, but in the summer, the temperature is 70F from the tap.  It will make a difference in production.

          6) Clean the condenser coils - Often times ignored, these are located on the side or back of the machine.  The hot gas which carries heat goes here to condense back to liquid.  It gives up the heat that it took from the water to make ice.
The basics of any refrigeration system is "it does not make removes heat".  The condenser removes the heat.  If it isn't clean or becomes clogged they need to be cleaned with a coil cleaner.

So it isn't difficult to keep your ice machine running in top form.  It just needs some attention.  In the final analysis, the easiest way to accomplish this is to get on a PM program with a commercial refrigeration company in your area that will come out and do all of these things for you an a regular scheduled basis.  It's not expensive and it saves you money!


Anonymous commented on 31-Mar-2015 09:35 AM
Great info, didn't realize how often the filter needed to be changed.
Anonymous commented on 19-Nov-2015 03:18 PM
Hi Bill, this is some fantastic information. It is absolutely integral to regularly clean and service ice machines, to ensure they are producing ice efficiently, and have a long life.
Anonymous commented on 28-Jun-2016 07:15 PM
The "Brown Slime" reminded me of something I watched on TV a while back. Robert Irvine from the TV Show Restaurant Impossible laid into a restaurant owner because he had not cleaned his ice machine in months. And YEP! There was a ton of the "Brown Slime". I thought Robert was gonna punch the guy. LOL!!
Chris commented on 13-May-2017 11:41 AM
Great write up! Like with most machines, whether restaurant related or not, a certain degree of TLC is required. If an owner/operator does not facilitate an in-house ice machine cleaning program regularly, I suggest enlisting our local service agent. As Bill eludes to, it's worth your investment.
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Pacific Ice Services commented on 09-Aug-2017 12:51 AM
The information here are all correct. Better maintain your ice machines regularly to help save you from spending for a machine equipment. Thank you for your insights.

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