How Ice Makers Work

Gary Johnson
Written by
Last update:

The History of Ice Making

The history of the ice business in the world began in the 18th century, in the United States of America.

Before that, ice had been a luxury that only rich people could buy. Ice cut from water accumulations were transported to private homes or public buildings by horse-drawn carts. Icy ocean air seemed to be an impossible way to create a wholesale ice production, and that's why ice mongers mined lakes and ponds in the winter and brought them to huts where they were stored in ice wells.

In the late 18th century, an entrepreneur from New England, H.S. Fawcett, set up an ice factory. His first big success was his punch (a mixture of alcohol, fruit juices and spices). He produced this ice using water from ponds and rivers, a very slow way to produce it.

Fawcett understood that it was very easy to produce ice with sea water, thanks to the low temperature of it since it was near the freezing point.

Soon after that, another businessman created an ice factory using a similar principle. The ice he produced was the first of its kind for domestic refrigerators and for food storage.

The 19th century was the most important for the ice industry in the United States. Big ice factories were created and one of the biggest, in terms of its size, was commissioned in 1851. It began operating on the ice pond in New York.

Understanding the Refrigeration Process

The refrigeration process works on the principal of simple thermodynamics. Let’s use a simple example to understand the working of an air conditioner. The example shows how heat can be moved from one place to another depending on the difference between the two temperatures.

Heat always moves from a place of higher temperature to a place of lower temperature, i.e., from a place where it gives more energy to a place where it gives less energy. The process of heat transfer can be done only if there is a pathway for heat to flow.

The heat flow path between the high temperature and low temperature is called heating or cooling medium as it carries heat. For transferring heat, there must be a temperature difference between the mediums. If there is no temperature difference, the heat will not move between the two mediums.

Now, let’s consider a simple example. Suppose we place a piece of ice and a spoon of hot water in a closed box. The water heats up and changes into vapour. The vapour is the heat carrying medium between the low temperature of the ice and high temperature of water. The heat travels from the heat source i.e. hot water to the ice, which is at a lower temperature.

Basic Components of an Ice Maker

This is the most basic type of ice, and you can cut it and cube it to get whatever shape you want. It is also usually the cheapest type of ice you can buy.

Cubed Ice

This is the most common type of ice in commercial settings. Most ice machines create cubes that are 1-inch in size. The cubes are then placed in a holder where they are accessible for scooping. You can also buy ice cube trays that make these cubes at home.

Flake Ice

Flake ice is also a good choice for commercial settings. This ice is made by putting water into a super-cooled state. The water freezes, expands, and turns into flake ice.

This is a great choice for commercial settings because the flake ice is the only type of ice that can cool something down quickly without diluting it. For example, if you were to drink a beer that was cooled in flake ice, you wouldn’t have to wait for the beer to cycle from cold to room temperature.

Nugget Ice

This ice is very dense, which makes it a great choice for use in ice fillers. A common use for this ice is in soda fountains.

How Ice Makers Work

Ice makers are pretty simple appliances. Their only job is to make ice, and they just keep churning out ice cubes until there’s an empty ice tray in there. Considering that the typical ice tray will only make at least one cubic foot of ice, that means an ice maker will produce 25 pounds of ice per day.

An ice maker uses the water exiting the dispenser and puts it through a heating and cooling process to freeze it into cubes. As the water cycles through the machine, it becomes colder and gets frozen into the cubes.

The water doesn’t come out completely frozen. After the water gets cooled inside the ice maker, it gets pushed through a tray full of ice cubes. A heater that’s near the front of the ice maker keeps most of the water melted so that it keeps flowing through the machine.

This process cools the water again, and the ice cubes get built up on the sides of the conveyor belt. A little paddle takes those cubes off the belt and into the tray, which then gets refilled with water and put back on the conveyor belt.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What about a gadget like an ice maker? It is possible to save water and ice by using an ice maker with a small footprint.

An ice maker uses about 26 gallons of water to make a day's worth of ice.

To make one pound of ice, one gallon of water is required. An ice-making machine will make up to ten pounds of ice per day which means it will use about 260 gallons of water a day. So to make fifty pounds of ice each day, an ice machine will consume 1,500 gallons of water.

The amount of ice melted from an ice maker in relation to the amount of water used will greatly vary. You can cut ice maker consumption by making full use of ice trays and then moving the ice to the ice maker.<

Where possible, use a clothes washing machine with a small load size and a low temperature setting.

If you are a heavy user of water, or will be in times of drought, you could switch over to a hand-powered clothes washing machine. They use as little as 14 gallons of water per one full load, compared to an electric washing machine that will use up to 50 gallons of water


A common question we get asked is how they work. How do they make such a small machine capable of keeping up with the demands of a long list of thirsty guests?

The small piece of machinery is quite simple to operate. Fill up the reservoir with a little bit of water and then flip the switch that is located on the controller area. This will then kick start the whole process.

The whole process can be broken down into three main phases.

First, the water is filtered and melted. The water will then flow to the ice maker. As the name suggests, this is essentially a giant cube of ice. The ice cubes will continue to flow out of this giant cube until it is empty.

At that point, the cycle will begin again. In essence, that is how a portable ice maker works, but there are some specifics that you should know.