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Your ice maker: Essential tips to keep it clean and running smoothly

When was the last time you cleaned your ice maker?

Chris Monroe/CNET

From luxurious party machines to basic fridge models, all ice makers share one thing in common. They need regular care and maintenance.

Without your TLC, they'll suffer from all sorts of preventable maladies. Luckily, many issues are preventable, and with a little work, you'll keep your machine happy and humming along for years.

Disclaimer: There are numerous styles and types of ice makers on the market. As such, this article is meant as a general guide. Always consult your product manual first for specific support, maintenance and troubleshooting advice.

Regular cleaning will keep your ice machine running well and looking good.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Keep it clean

Ice makers turn water into pounds of sparkling, frozen cubes daily. So, it may sound odd that they require frequent cleaning. These machines are just like any appliance handling food items. Unsanitary conditions promote germ growth, which in turn causes health risks.

Avoid this by periodically sanitizing your ice maker. Some manufacturers, such as Scotsman, sell their own formulas for the purpose. Others, including True Manufacturing, and FirstBuild (maker of the Opal), recommend you mix a diluted bleach solution yourself. Regardless what you use, the point is to flush your ice maker innards with the stuff. That, plus a good water rinse, should guard against biological contamination.

Refrigerators with built-in ice makers and water dispensers, don't need to be rigorously sanitized. Still, it's a good idea to give them a thorough cleaning every month or so. To do this, unplug the fridge, and empty both freezer and fresh food sections. Next, wipe down or hand wash all interior surfaces. Use mild soap and warm water, not harsh chemicals or abrasive tools. Also be sure every item is dry before your return it.

It also never hurts to keep the outside of the appliance clean. That'll keep your ice maker looking great, and prevent the build up of dirt and stains. Often, all you need is a damp cloth. To get rid of dried spills, a touch of soap and warm water does wonders.

Change the filter every six months or so to scrub impurities from your water supply.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Change the filter

You can't make quality ice from dirty water. Modern refrigerators equipped with ice makers also have a water filtration system. Typically they pass water through an activated charcoal filter, which removes common tap water impurities. Chlorine for example, can affect the taste and smell of your water and therefor ice.

Many standalone ice makers also rely on filters. Some merely improve water flavor and odor, while others can sort out volatile organic compounds. Many pro filtration systems, mainly for commercial use, have bacteriostatic effects that halt bacteria reproduction.

Regardless, always make a note for when it's time to swap in a new water filter. Check your manual too. It could be as frequently as 3 months, 6 months or every year.     

Fancy ice machines that make crystal clear ice can collect scale deposits quickly.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Don't forget to descale

Unless you invest in an RO (reverse osmosis) system, your ice maker will experience calcium deposits (also known as scale). Compared to standalone machines, ice makers inside refrigerators produce much less ice (4 to 5 pounds per day). As a result, scale buildup is less of a problem. Standalone ice makers churn out multiple times that amount over the same period.

For instance, the True Clear Ice Machine has a maximum, daily ice production of 70 pounds. At that rate, scale deposits can form quickly. If you don't remove them, they'll damage machine parts, ultimately shortening their lifespan. Combat this by descaling your appliance regularly.

True and Scotsman recommend you use their own proprietary descaling solutions inside their ice machine. For the FirstBuild Opal nugget ice maker, the manual says to use household vinegar to attack internal scale deposits.

Deal with clogs

Refrigerator ice makers are particularly prone to clogs. Over time, the ice dispenser chutes tend to jam. Typically it's smashed ice particles and frozen ice melt that's to blame. On newer fridge models with in-door ice makers, the fix is easy. First remove the ice bin, along with any stuck cubes. Now use a warm, damp cloth to clean the bottom of the bin and ice chute. Dry everything thoroughly, then replace the bin.

Older fridges with ice makers located in the freezer compartment, need extra help. Check the ice chute for blockages. If that's not the problem, cubes in the bin may have fused together. This tends to happen if you use the ice maker infrequently. Empty the ice bin every week or so to prevent this.

Keep the vents on your ice maker clear so it has proper air intake and exhaust.

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Room to breathe

Standalone ice machines need to have proper ventilation, otherwise they won't function at their best. Undercounter units from Scotsman, True and GE have vents on their bottom edges (front-facing side). Cool air enters on the vent's right side and warm air is expelled through the left. Make sure not to block or obstruct this venting. Likewise, Opal ice makers require at least 3 inches of clearance on their sides and back.

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