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Ice Maker Buying Guide - Enjoy Delicious, Odorless Ice at Home

Learn what you need to know to enjoy high-quality ice at home.

Why Buy an Ice Maker?

An icy beverage on a hot day is one of life's simplest pleasures. It may come as a surprise that it's also a relatively new luxury. Now that we don't have to wait for ice shipments from the Arctic, it's easy to take ice for granted. That is until our stockpile runs dry.
If you've ever hosted a cocktail party, you know how important ice can be. Once your supply dwindles, even freezers equipped with ice makers are unlikely to keep pace with demand. Ice trays won't be much help either as they generally take hours to freeze a small batch.
With an ice maker, you can have a new batch of ice in minutes rather than hours. Many even include storage bins, ensuring a surplus of ice for any occasion. If you've ever encountered an ice shortage at one of your gatherings, or you find yourself buying bags of ice with any regularity, buying an ice maker is a perfect solution. And if you're a connoisseur of clear/gourmet ice (yes, that's a thing), you already know precisely how important a quality ice machine can be.
Whether you're after quantity, quality, or both, this Ice Maker Buying Guide will help you make sense of the world of ice makers. Read on to learn how to select the best ice maker for your specific needs.

Before You Buy

If you've never owned an ice machine, it's important to understand the benefits as well as the pain points of bringing one into your home. Since you've found your way to this guide, there's a good chance you already understand that the quality of ice from a high quality ice maker can greatly exceed that of the ice from your freezer. However, it's important to understand that there are two distinct styles of stand alone ice makers: Traditional & Clear/Gourmet Ice.
Traditional ice makers work almost identically to the icemaker in any normal freezer. The only real difference is the shape of the ice. Clear ice makers, on the other hand, produce cleaner, better-tasting, gourmet ice. If all you care about is quantity, a traditional ice maker will suffice. If quality is what you're after, you'll need a clear ice maker.
The difference in quality is a result of the freezing process. Traditional ice makers work off the same basic principle as an ice cube tray. First, they fill a mold with water. Then, they freeze the stationary water. When the ice has fully formed, a sensor signals the machine to release the ice into the storage bin. A second sensor monitors the storage, ceasing ice production once the container is full.
Clear ice makers freeze water by running a slow, steady stream of water over a surface that's been chilled to precisely 32°F. This forms the ice cube from the inside out, growing the cube to the ideal size much like the way a snowball grows as it rolls down a hill. And because only pure water freezes at exactly this temperature, gravity works to remove the impurities which are then funneled or pumped out to a drain.
Once the clear ice reaches the appropriate size it's released into a storage bin that typically does not have its own cooling unit. Without a cooling unit in the in the storage bin, the ice slowly melts. So to keep the container full, clear ice makers never stop making ice. The sporadic sounds of new batches of ice tumbling into the storage bin and the pump clicking on and off to move melted water to the drain can be distracting to some people. Because of this, you may not want to install a clear ice maker in a living or entertainment room if you're sensitive to noise.
It's also important to understand that clear ice makers need to be cleaned at least once every 3-6 months. The procedure for specific models is usually printed on the inside door of the machine and is almost always available online and in the instruction manual. Typically, the process involves removing all of the ice from the bin, then running a special cleaning solution through the machine. While cleaning an ice maker isn't especially difficult, it does take time. As long as you know what to expect, owning an ice machine is a great way to improve the quality of your favorite drinks.
Types of Ice Makers

Types of Ice Makers

Ice makers are categorized by the locations into which they can be installed. Although the names of the various types of ice makers give you a good sense of where they'll fit, it's helpful to see the differences spelled out:

Built-In Ice Makers / Undercounter Ice Machines

  • Generally 25 - 35" tall, 12 - 18" wide, and 23 - 25" deep
  • Designed to fit flush with the surrounding cabinets under a countertop.
  • Finished front panel or no panel at all, allowing you to add a custom panel
  • Requires a water line
  • Produces 20 - 100+ lbs of ice over 24 hours
  • Includes insulated collection bucket to store 20 - 50 lbs of ice
  • Front Venting

Freestanding Ice Makers

  • Similar in size and shape to built-in models
  • Designed to fit anywhere
  • Finished front, rear, and side panels
  • Requires a water line
  • Produces 20 - 100+ lbs of ice over 24 hours
  • Includes insulated collection bucket to store 20 - 50 lbs of ice
  • Front or rear venting

Countertop and Portable Ice Makers

  • Roughly the size of a toaster or breadmaker
  • Designed to rest on a countertop
  • Fully finished look
  • Does not require a water line– water must be added manually
  • Some models include collection bucket to store 2 -5 lbs of ice, many do not
  • Produces 10 - 30 lbs of ice over 24 hrs
  • Venting depends on the model, often side or rear

Ice Maker Kits

  • Generally 8 - 10" tall, 12 - 16" wide, and 5 - 8" deep
  • Designed to fit inside an existing freezer
  • Requires a water line
  • Produces 3 - 5 lbs of ice over 24 hours
  • Stores 3 -5 lbs of ice
If the simplicity of an ice maker kit appeals to you, make sure your freezer has the capacity for it. Learn How to Prevent Frost Buildup in Your Freezer to prevent its capacity from shrinking over time.
For folks interested in adding an ice maker to an outdoor kitchen or bar area, look for Outdoor Ice Makers. These models are nearly identical to freestanding and built-In models in terms of size, shape, and features. However, they're built with components that can withstand the stresses of the elements.
Those looking to make as much ice as possible will want a Commercial Ice Maker. These appliances, commonly found in restaurants and hotels, are significantly larger than the other devices, producing and storing hundreds of pounds of ice every day.
Types of Ice - Ice Maker Buying Guide

Types of Ice

Like ice makers themselves, the different types of ice are named for their form. However, deciding between the types of ice makers largely boils down to where you plan to install them. Deciding which type of ice you want, on the other hand, is a far more subjective undertaking.
You may have heard the anecdote about Inuits having 50 different words for ice. Once you start investigating the different types of ice, you'll realize English isn't far behind. Here's a breakdown of some of the most common types of ice that you'll find in an ice maker:

Cube Ice / Dice Ice

  • 7/8" on all sides
  • Melts slowly
  • Cools drinks quickly
  • Commonly used for bagged ice, soft drinks, and mixed drinks
  • Best multi-purpose ice

Half Cube / Half Dice / Small Cube

  • 3/8" x 7/8" x 7/8"
  • Melts slowly
  • Cools drinks quickly
  • Commonly used for bagged ice and self-service ice machines
  • Good for blending drinks and iced coffee

Crescent Ice / Half Moon Ice

  • 1 1/2" x 1 1/8" x 1/2"
  • Melts slow
  • Cools drinks moderately quickly
  • Commonly made by freezers with ice makers
  • Its shape prevents splashes when adding it to drinks

Clear Ice / Gourmet Ice / Top-Hat Ice

  • 1 3/8" x 1 3/8" or 1 1/4" x 1 1/8" x 7/8"
  • Slowest melting
  • Cool drinks slowly
  • Virtually tasteless and odorless
  • Often used for sipping drinks, especially whiskey
  • Only available on high-end models

Nugget Ice / Cubelet Ice

  • 3/8" - 1/2"
  • Melts Quickly
  • Cools drinks quickly
  • Commonly used for carbonated drinks
  • Ideal for those who like to chew ice

Pearl Ice / Bullet-shaped Ice

  • 1 1/2" x 1 1/8" x 1 1/8"
  • Melts quickly
  • Cools drinks quickly
  • Common to portable ice machines
  • Ideal for blended drinks, 2nd best for chewing

Flake Ice

  • Shaved ice, similar to that found in snow cones
  • Melts very quickly
  • Cool drinks very quickly
  • Often used for seafood and fresh food displays
  • Best ice for cooling and maintaining the temperature of perishables
As you can see, there are distinct benefits to each of the various forms of ice. All of them can cool drinks and preserve perishables, but their unique shapes alter the speed at which they'll melt. Ice with a large surface area tends to melt more quickly, cooling drinks at a faster rate. However, these fast melting cubes also dilute the flavor of the beverage more quickly.
If you're looking for ice to cool drinks as fast as possible, look for an ice maker that can produce flake or nugget ice. Want to preserve the taste of your drink longer? Consider an ice maker that outputs clear, gourmet ice.
Ice Production & Storage - Ice Maker Buying Guide

Ice Production and Storage Capacity

After deciding on a type of ice maker and a type of ice, the next step is figuring out how much ice you need. To do so, you need to consider two different criteria: the speed of ice production and the storage capacity of the machine.
If you use lots of ice on a regular basis, an ice maker's production rate will be more important than the size of its ice bucket. If you're planning to buy an ice maker to have a supply for cocktail parties or to fill coolers for occasional excursions, look for models with a high storage capacity.
One pound of ice is roughly enough for three drinks. So, with a little math, we can see that an ice maker that offers 20 lbs of storage will allow you to make about 60 drinks. And if it can produce 30 lbs of ice in a day, that works out to roughly 4 drinks worth of ice every hour.
If you're filling a cooler with your ice, plan on a 2:1 ice-to contents ratio. 10 lbs of ice provide the perfect amount of cooling for 12 canned drinks. So if you like to take weekend excursions with a group of friends and want to avoid buying bagged ice, consider an ice maker that can store 20+ pounds of ice.
Keep in mind that the ice production stats for any given machine are based on ideal conditions. If the ambient temperature around the ice maker is higher than 70° F, expect production to slow. Similarly, if the ice machine doesn't have proper ventilation, it will produce ice at a slower rate. As a rule of thumb, ice machines should have 1" of clearance on all sides for proper ventilation.

Drainage

Most ice machines don't waste energy keeping their storage containers at a freezing temperature. Instead, the abundance of ice keeps these insulated boxes cool. However, over time, some of the ice will melt.
As a result, undercounter, freestanding, and outdoor ice makers require a drainage line to dispose of the melted ice. Portable and countertop models, on the other hand, tend to feed the melted ice back into the ice maker to be refrozen.
There are two options for drainage: drain pumps and gravity drains. Gravity drains can work well if you plan on installing your ice maker within a couple of feet of a drain. But even then, gravity drains only make sense if your drain is lower than the ice machine.
Thus, it often makes sense to choose a model with a drain pump. While you can purchase a drain pump separately for some gravity drain ice makers, it's generally easier to buy a model with a built-in pump.
Ice Maker Water Filter

Water Filters

If you're looking for the cleanest ice possible, consider installing an in-line water filter with a clear ice maker. The filters help remove sediment and other contaminants from the water before turning it into fresh ice. Doing so can improve the taste of the ice as well as its smell. As discussed above, the process by which clear ice makers freeze water already removes impurities. So it's often not necessary to add a filter into the mix. And while a select few ice makers come with a built-in filter, the vast majority do not.

Energy Efficiency

Making ice is hard work. As a result, ice makers tend to use a lot of energy. To keep utility bills low, look for ENERGY STAR certified ice makers. These machines will use significantly less power than the competition, helping you save money while reducing your environmental impact.
Ice Maker in Kitchen

Style / Design

With the functional decisions out of the way, it's time to consider the aesthetics of your new ice maker. Most models offer finishes similar to those found on standard kitchen appliances. So expect to see black, white, and stainless steel options. For a more personalized look, panel-ready models allow you to add a custom front panel to match the look of your surrounding cabinets.

In Summary

When choosing an ice maker, deciding where you plan on installing it is the first step. Doing so will help you decide which type of ice maker will work best in your space. Freestanding models can be installed anywhere, making them a great all-around choice. But if you're looking to conserve space, a countertop or portable ice maker might be right for you.
Next, consider the kind of ice you want to make. If you're looking to cool drinks quickly and like to munch on ice from time to time, nugget ice is probably the best choice. For those looking to cool drinks without diluting their taste, clear/gourmet ice will do the trick.
It's also important to select a machine that can produce and store enough ice for your needs. If you need a steady supply of ice every day, pay more attention to ice production stats. Folks that use a large amount of ice for special occasions should focus more on the storage capacity of the ice machine.
With those decisions made, you only have a few more features to consider. When thinking about drainage, choose a model with a drain pump unless your ice maker will be located directly next to a drain. If you want the cleanest ice possible, you can add an in-line water filter, but if you have a clear ice machine filters aren't really necessary. And to help save money on electricity bills, look for ENERGY STAR certified models.
Lastly, pick a style. Selecting a timeless stainless steel finish is an easy way to match the style of other kitchen appliances. Or if you'd prefer a more personalized look, go with a panel-ready ice maker. While there's no right answer when it comes to style, finding a model that matches your decor will make every ice-cold drink that much more refreshing.
If you still have questions, please reach out to our ice machine experts at 800-914-2061. We're committed to helping you find the perfect appliances for your specific needs and love to help any way we can. And for folks with a thirst for cool knowledge, keep learning with our article on How Cold a Refrigerator Should Be.

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