“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is one rule contractors know to never live by. But how many of your customers follow this misinformed mantra? Even though ice machines ensure the delivery of a clean food product in restaurants, nursing homes, processing plants, and medical facilities around the world, too often they are left out of a business’s preventive maintenance plans.

Developing and sticking to a consistent cleaning process for ice machines, though, not only helps guarantee customers a clean food product time and time again, but it also enables them to reap the most from their investment for many years to come.

Know Your Equipment

Business owners should refer to their ice machine’s instruction manual when scheduling maintenance, as each machine has its own set of cleaning guidelines. Nugget and flaker ice machines tend to have more moving parts that require more attention, while cube ice machines use specific cleaning solutions depending on the type of evaporator plates installed. For example, machines with nickel-plated evaporators should be cleaned only with nickel-safe solutions, as anything stronger could cause damage to the plates’ surfaces. However, stainless steel or tin-dipped evaporators can handle more stringent cleaning solutions as long as the solutions are composed of 30 percent or less phosphoric acid (the main chemical used in ice machine cleaners).

The Basic Process

While each ice machine has its own unique functions and features, most follow a basic cleaning process. Removal of scale is the main objective, since buildup can cause ice to stick to the evaporator plates’ surface, which can impede heat transfer and result in freeze-ups, long harvest times, reduction in capacity, and costly repairs. Therefore, all parts of a machine that are in direct contact with water need to be closely inspected for any signs of scale, slime, or mold.

Here are seven basic steps in the cleaning process:

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.

3. Remove and inspect air filters.

4. Check the water filtration system, observing if the water pressure drops due to any restrictions.

5. Visually inspect the machine’s components, including the evaporator, cube sizing controls, water sensors, thermistors, water distributor parts, and water hoses and water sump or reservoir. Don’t forget the water valve, because it could have debris on the inlet side, causing water restriction to the ice machine.

6. It’s highly suggested that you sanitize the machine after cleaning, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to clean and sanitize the storage bin or dispenser as well.

7. Upon completion, it’s recommended to observe two cycles, replacing all parts and panels and checking the freeze and harvest cycle times. Make sure you throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning.

Cleaning times and frequencies can vary depending on the water quality and conditions of where the unit is installed. (Special care must be taken when bread or foods containing yeast are being prepared in the vicinity of the ice machine, since yeast-type bacteria could impact the machine’s operation.) Typical between-clean times average 30, 60, or 90 days (again, consult the user’s manual) to ensure the unit runs at its highest operating efficiency — the ultimate goal of any preventive maintenance measure.

Publication date: 9/16/2013