Solving Top 7 Commercial Ice Machine Problems

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Investing in a commercial ice machine is a big step for any food service business. However, as robust as these pieces of equipment may seem, they are not immune to various issues that can disrupt your service and incur significant repair costs. To help you tackle these challenges head-on, we’re zeroing in on the most prevalent problems that can plague your ice production and providing actionable insights to overcome them. Whether you’re an experienced HVACR technician or a manager taking proactive steps to safeguard your ice machines, this deep-dive into the top seven commercial ice machine problems equips you with the needed knowledge.

small commercial ice machine

Water Inlet Valve Woes

Identifying the Issue

The water inlet valve is a crucial component for filling the freezing tray, but it’s also an area where several problems can arise. Debris buildup can scratch the valve’s internal surfaces, leading to leaks or hindered water flow.

Actionable Solutions

If you suspect a water inlet valve issue, start by checking the filter for any blockages. Regular cleaning and maintenance of your machine’s water system can prevent these problems. Replacing the valve or its related parts may be necessary if cleaning doesn’t resolve the issue.

Understanding the Risk of a Sticking Water Inlet Valve

A water inlet valve that remains open or “sticks” signifies a severe malfunction with the potential to cause extensive property damage, akin to leaving a hose running unattended in a kitchen. This condition leads to continuous water flow into the machine, which can overflow and flood the surrounding area. The constant, unchecked introduction of water risks damaging the ice machine itself and can also affect nearby equipment and the structural integrity of your premises. Immediate action is required to address this issue to prevent water damage and associated costs.

Ice machine water inlet valve

Troubles with the Purge Valve

Navigating Purge Valve Problems

The water purge valve is responsible for expelling impure water and maintaining the purity of the ice. This process is critical, particularly in preventing the buildup of scale and mold. A misaligned purge valve can lead to drainage issues and bacterial growth.

Operational Directives

Start by confirming if the purge valve is mounted correctly and the tubing isn’t kinked or damaged. Ensure the valve isn’t stuck open or closed; otherwise, you risk over-purging or not purging at all. A thorough visual inspection and cleaning should be part of your regular maintenance routine.

Ice machine water purge valve

Splash Guard Scenarios

Why They Matter

Splash guards are often overlooked components crucial in preventing water seepage into the machine’s mechanisms. Damaged or missing splash guards can lead to internal component corrosion and short circuits in electrical parts. This component is pivotal for determining when the ice slab is ready to drop from the evaporator. Without it, the ice machine will likely shut down with a ‘harvest error.’

Guarding Against Issues

Inspect splash guards during every cleaning cycle. Be sure to put them back on! Tech support teams have often observed videos of an ice maker not working with the splash guard sitting atop a shelf (or worse) laying the ground. Ensure they are intact and appropriately positioned. If you notice any damage, replace them immediately. Regularly checking for proper installation will prevent future problems that could be much more challenging.

Ice machine water splash curtain

The Critical Role of Ice Thickness Control

A common yet often underestimated problem in commercial ice machines involves the ice thickness sensor. If the sensor is misaligned, dirty, or faulty, it impairs the machine’s ability to gauge ice slab thickness correctly. Consequently, the ice machine will likely fault within a cycle or two since it cannot determine when the ice slab is ready to harvest.

Proactive Measures

To address this, regularly inspect the ice thickness sensor for any signs of misalignment or accumulation of scale and dirt. Cleaning the sensor according to the manufacturer’s instructions can often rectify minor issues. However, if problems persist, consulting with a technician for a professional assessment and possible sensor replacement is advisable.

Ice machine cuber ice thickness sensor

Refrigeration Compressor Woes

Figuring Out the Fault

A leaking compressor can disrupt the refrigeration cycle, causing fluctuations in ice production and leading to warmer ice. Compressor issues often manifest through strange noises, high energy consumption, or reduced cooling efficiency.

Diagnostic Steps

If you suspect a compressor issue, closely monitor your ice production and machine behavior. A trained technician should thoroughly inspect the refrigeration systems. Compressors are often changed only to find another problem was creating the symptoms. For instance, a leaking harvest solenoid can create a very high suction temperature the compressor otherwise needs for cooling. As a result, the compressor cycles on the thermal overload – but it is not defective.

ice machine hermetic compressor

Low Ambient Control Challenges

Importance of Proper Settings

Low ambient control devices are vital for maintaining the optimal operating conditions of the ice machine in cold environments. Without them, your compressor might be at risk of damage from liquid ingestion and, in turn, fail or affect the ice quality and quantity until it fails. The minimum TXV differential pressure might be insufficient resulting in a complex of the refrigeration cycle.

Correcting Common Mistakes

Improper adjustment or the absence of these controls can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘compressor floodback.’ Correctly setting up or adjusting low ambient controls or ensuring they are installed is vital for protecting your ice machines’ compressors. Are two headmaster valves installed, one within the head and another in the remote condenser?

Flooded condenser control AKA headmaster valve

Solenoid Valve Issues

The Flow of Troubles

Solenoid valves help control water and refrigerant flow within your ice machine. The solenoid valves could be the culprit if you experience water flow issues, reduced ice production, or warmer ice than usual. The ice machine is more complex than the average commercial refrigeration appliance, from water control, refrigeration control, and harvest control.

Managing the Malfunctions

Have the refrigerant system professionally inspected and diagnosed. Sorting out the operation of the solenoid valves is in the professional realm, accompanied by the factory service manual.

Refrigeration solenoid valve

Rethinking Refrigerant Charging Practices

Lastly, we need to address the practice of using refrigerant charging manifold gauges as a diagnostic tool for assessing the operational status of ice machines. Attaching these gauges indiscriminately to determine if an ice machine is functioning correctly is misguided. This method can introduce air and moisture into the system and reduce the refrigerant charge, compromising its integrity and leading to refrigeration issues.

Professional Development Reminder

If technicians resort to this method without considering its potential repercussions, it might be time for them to reassess their approach to refrigeration maintenance. Either reconsidering their career choice is advisable or, more constructively, pursuing further formal training in the intricacies of refrigeration technology and proper diagnostic techniques. Understanding the precise methodologies for troubleshooting without causing harm to the system is crucial in maintaining the longevity and efficiency of commercial ice machines.

Opening the refrigeration system

Ensuring Modern Practices Post-Refrigeration System Repairs

Once your technician has opened the refrigeration system, adhering to modern practices is critical to ensure system integrity and performance. Post-1970 practices emphasize the importance of preventing contamination and ensuring precise refrigerant charge. It boggles our minds to see the things that great-great-great grandfathers taught to the new upcoming techs still being practiced as the norm.

  • Vacuum – Evacuation: An evacuation procedure must be performed to remove any air and moisture that may have entered the system during opening. This is essential for preventing corrosion and moisture freezing within the system. Five hundred microns is the metric. Analog gauges cannot measure microns of vacuum. Digital gauges should be equipped with a micron gauge. In any case, micron gauges are required to measure the suitable vacuum. Any other procedure is synonymous with “beer can cold.”The refrigerant charge can never be correct without starting at the correct vacuum.
  • Leak Testing: Conduct a thorough leak test using electronic leak detectors or dedicated methods, like a nitrogen hold test, to ensure no new leaks have been introduced. A micron gauge is helpful for precise sealed system integrity checks.
  • Refrigerant Charging: Accurately measure and reintroduce the refrigerant based on the manufacturer’s specifications. Over- or undercharging causes inefficient system operation, possibly poor ice quality, and system damage. All factory charging instructions state that the refrigerant should be weighed using an accurate scale or competent practices. If you don’t use a scale, the refrigerant charge will unlikely be correct! If you added “a squirt of refrigerant, the charge is probably no longer correct. It will be incorrect without some superhuman intuition if you’ve connected a charging manifold with 6-foot hoses to insert the refrigerant charge.
  • Brazing: If you used brazing to repair or replace components without using a nitrogen FLOW, you’ve condemned the refrigeration system to an early end. Copper oxide forms on the inside of the copper and eventually plugs components with small orifices (every solenoid valve, including the TXV or capillary tube).
  • System Monitoring: After reassembly, closely monitor the system for several cycles to ensure it operates correctly and efficiently in real-world conditions.

Adhering to these updated and meticulous procedures maintains the system’s longevity and optimizes its performance, aligning with modern refrigeration maintenance standards.

Challenge: Conduct measurements of your machine’s performance 30 days post-repair, without adhering to these modern and meticulous practices, and again at 60 days. Compare the two measurements to the factory’s performance standards. You are likely to find your results disappointing. The deviation from expected performance metrics underscores the importance of following widely taught refrigeration maintenance protocols to ensure the system operates correctly and meets its service life expectancy.

IMG 5349 Copy scaled


By understanding these common commercial ice machine problems and their respective remedies, you’re taking significant strides in maintaining your equipment functionality. Remember, staying proactive with regular maintenance, training your staff on proper usage, and seeking professional help are all part of the equation for a trouble-free operation.

Stay vigilant, stay informed, and don’t hesitate to contact qualified professionals for any issues you’re not confident in addressing.

For professionals seeking to further their commercial ice machine maintenance expertise, offers world-class training tailored to all career stages. Their comprehensive program is designed to equip HVACR technicians, managers, and anyone involved in the maintenance of commercial ice machines with the latest techniques and best practices. Whether you’re just starting or looking to refine your skills, checking out the resources available at can significantly enhance your knowledge and service capabilities.


Complete Resources Available for You: Commercial Ice Machine Training

  • Understanding and implementing modern refrigeration maintenance practices to prevent system damage and maintain efficiency is emphasized.
  • Vacuum Purging, Leak Testing, and Refrigerant Charging are highlighted as critical steps following the opening of a refrigeration system to ensure its integrity and performance.
  • Using Digital Gauges for measurements and Brazing with Nitrogen Flow are essential techniques to avoid pitfalls like undercharging or system contamination.
  • Continuous System Monitoring post-repair is crucial for verifying proper operation and efficiency in real-life scenarios.
  • Failure to adhere to these practices may result in disappointing performance metrics when comparing post-repair measurements to factory standards, showcasing the necessity of modern maintenance protocols.
  • The piece concludes by urging professionals in the ice machine maintenance field to seek further training and resources, such as those available through, to enhance their skills and operational efficiency.
Commercial Ice Machine training program by eTech Academy


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