What you need to know before purchasing an ice maker


Ice is an important commodity in most people's daily li […]

Ice is an important commodity in most people's daily lives, whether it's chilling a beverage, keeping food fresh, or treating a sprained ankle. However, it can be challenging to produce ice on demand.

A popular solution to this dilemma is a dedicated ice maker. An ice maker holds fresh water in a reservoir, then fills a special compartment with a freezer component. Within minutes, several pounds of solid ice fall into an insulated well, ready to be served to party guests or packed around fresh food in a cooler.

Portable or countertop ice makers also make it possible to produce ice on boats, RVs, and campsites, as long as there's a reliable supply of fresh water and electricity.

What you need to know before purchasing an ice maker

It's fair to say that an electric ice maker only does one thing, but it does that one thing very well. A portable ice machine holds fresh water in a reservoir until ice is required. Water is drawn into a freezing chamber where metal rods work as heat exchangers. Ice forms around these rods, often in the shape of hollow bullets. A quick reversal of the heat exchange encourages the ice to fall into an insulated container. This cycle repeats as long as new ice is required.

One important consideration is the speed of the freezing cycle -- ice cubes form at the speed of the heat exchange. Most models produce the first batch of ice in approximately ten minutes, although some can create small bullets in as little as six or seven minutes. This means that a portable ice maker requires a long lead time to reach the same volume as a 10-pound bag of commercial ice, but the cycle may be continuous. A typical ice maker can produce up to 26 pounds of ice in a 24-hour period.

The shape, size, and quality of the ice is also a factor. Bullet-shaped ice cubes are common because of the freezing process with metal rods, though some ice makers can also produce cube-shaped ice. It's possible to select the size of the cubes on certain machines, although this can affect the overall freezing speed. The condition of the water can also affect the clarity of the finished ice, so a water filtration system is a good companion piece to a dedicated ice maker.

While an ice maker does a great job of producing ice on demand, most models are not equipped to keep the ice frozen indefinitely. The storage container is usually insulated and protected with a lid, but it doesn't contain a freezing element. Ice that isn't consumed immediately can refreeze into a solid mass when moved to a freezer. Many ice makers recycle excess water to form new ice cubes.

The price of a portable or countertop ice maker varies from $100 to $500 or more. The difference is more in capacity and ice quality than technology. A basic ice maker produces enough ice to meet the average needs of a family, but a higher-end model can produce up to 35 pounds a day for social events and wholesale food preservation.


Q. Why should I invest in an ice maker when I can buy bagged ice at the store?

A. One advantage of an ice maker is availability -- you can produce ice cubes on demand without having to store or break up large bags of premade ice cubes. Another plus is the practicality, since an ice maker is often less wasteful than an oversized bag of ice.

Q. Can I store excess ice cubes in an ice maker overnight?

A. In most cases, no. Many portable or countertop ice makers have insulated storage compartments, but no actual freezing units. The ice should stay cold for several hours, but it will eventually melt unless you transfer it to a freezer.

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