Common Problems with Ice Machines and Refrigerators

If you’re opening a restaurant for the first time, you may be unaware of the problems that can arise over time with refrigerators and ice machines. Both types of machines are pretty similar in design, so share many of the same issues. It’s good to know what things you’ll need to watch for as your machines get used.

Cleaning and sanitizing

The two most important regular tasks you’ll need to do is to clean and sanitize your equipment regularly. Cold does not kill most food-borne bacteria. It will only slow them down as long as there is water around for them to drink. In refrigerators and ice machines, there is plenty of moisture. The first place to turn is your owner’s manual and local health codes. They will give you the information you need to know about how to clean and sanitize your machines, what products to use, and how often it needs to be done to keep food-borne illness away.

Not enough air flow

Refrigerators and ice machines need an air gap around them to stay cool. However, it’s all too easy for a worker to stack things on top of an ice machine or shove a package of cups in between the ice machine and the wall. When there isn’t enough air flow, the machine has to work harder and use more electricity. It also hastens the need for servicing.

Another part of maintaining good air flow is regular dusting of the coils or changing the air filter of your machines, depending on your model. This should only have to be done about once a quarter. Check your manual for maintenance schedules and appropriate filter types.


As you use your new machines, listen to the sounds they make. A change in the hum of a refrigerator or ice machine can be an indication of an upcoming problem. A quick talk with a service representative, or a check in your owner’s manual, will tell you whether there might be a serious problem on the way.


Over time, seals will crack and fail. It may take many years but all seals eventually fail. A faulty seal is a nightmare for a restaurant. At least once a year, check seals for cracks.

Specific problems

Once again, the owner’s manual is your friend. In the back of the manual, you should see a list of troubleshooting steps. Read it before there is a problem so you can know the sorts of things to look for. For instance, if your ice cubes start looking funny then there can be serious problems with your ice machine head that must be addressed before the whole machine breaks down.

Set up a maintenance schedule after you get your machines so you can get a good return on the value of your investment. Commercial ice machines and refrigerators are not cheap! Keep them in good condition and they’ll serve you well.

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