Prevent Scale Buildup and Protect Your Ice Maker

Reading Time: 4 minutes Ice Machine Care

Although water is nearly synonymous with clarity, the truth is it’s full of minerals and deposits. These particles aren’t harmful to people, but they do cause problems when they get into your ice machine. Certain deposits create what we call scale, which clings to vital ice-making components and affects your overall ice production.  

In this article, we’ll discuss what causes scale buildup and how to prevent and clean it.  

What Causes Scale? 

If water is present in your ice maker, scale can form inside of it, but your area’s water quality determines the level of scale that will form over time.  

Water is called the universal solvent for a reason. It dissolves more solids than any other liquid on the planet. As it passes over solids, it breaks them down into smaller particles and carries them as it flows from place to place. As a result, water carries all kinds of particles, but it’s calcium and magnesium specifically that causes scale.  

When calcium and magnesium-rich water pass through distribution tubes and change temperature, it sheds those minerals. That’s why you’ll often find scale deposits on faucet and showerhead openings. As the water exits the water line and releases into the colder air, it drops its minerals, which builds into scale and clogs openings.  

The same process happens in your icemaker. Water travels through distribution tubes and across your evaporator, depositing calcium and magnesium which forms into scale. The worst part is water filters can only do so much, many calcium and magnesium ions are small enough to travel through water filters without much trouble.  

How Does Scale Affect My Ice Machine? 

As scale builds, it starts to cause some real problems for your ice maker – which will end up costing you money to fix. Some problems include:  

  • Freeze ups 
  • Smaller or odd-shaped cubes 
  • Evaporator plate damage 

Scale buildup on your evaporator plates limits heat transfer and causes the water to flow unevenly across the plate. Heat transfer is necessary to release ice cubes off the evaporator plate during the harvest cycle, which will lead to abnormally shaped ice cubes.  

Scale will also cause ice cubes to stick onto the evaporator plate, where they continue to grow until they form a large block of ice. If this block gets too large it can end up cracking your evaporator plate altogether.  

The Best Ways to Prevent Scale 

Luckily, Chicago’s municipal water supply has low levels of calcium and magnesium, but that doesn’t mean scale can’t still form in your ice maker. Your first line of defense against scale buildup should be preventing it in the first place.  

Phosphate filters feed phosphate into the water, which prevents the chemical bond between calcium and magnesium ions. The phosphate atoms satisfy the ionic bonds, making it much harder for calcium and magnesium to bond together to create scale.  

If your area has particularly hard water, a water softening can help prevent scale from forming. Water softeners add salt to the water, which removes calcium and magnesium ions from the water and replaces them with sodium ions.  

Another option is to add a reverse osmosis system to your water supply. Reverse osmosis systems use a thin membrane with small pores that tie up calcium and magnesium ions but are large enough to let water molecules to flow through them.  

How to Descale Your Ice Maker 

If scale is already present, you’ll have to clean it out with chemicals. How to descale an ice machine largely depends on the type of evaporator plate your unit has.  

Manitowoc ice machines are nickel-plated, and many acid-based de-scalers can end up damaging them. To clean a Manitowoc ice maker’s evaporator plate, you’ll need to get your hands on some nickel-safe ice machine cleaner.  

Hoshizaki ice makers have evaporator plates made of stainless-steel. These evaporator plates can hold up to strong acid-based cleaners without any damage.  

It’s important to note that if you choose to clean your evaporator plate with an ice machine cleaner, acid-based or otherwise, you need to have the proper equipment. Ice machine cleaners can cause severe eye and skin irritation.  

As long as ice machines use water, scale buildup is possible. With the right preventive measures, you can limit the amount of scale that forms in your machine. If you choose to clean your own ice maker, make sure you use the right cleaner and take the proper precautions.  

A better alternative is to get a professional cleaning. Here at Automatic Icemakers, our technicians have years of experience servicing and cleaning ice machines. If you have a high concentration of scale in your machine, our team can get your ice maker looking brand-new. Our ice maker leases come complete with regular preventive maintenance which includes:  

  • Water testing to measure calcium and magnesium levels 
  • Free phosphate filters for cubers installed in areas with mineral-rich water 
  • Ice machine cleaning by one of our expert technicians 

We also provide a Service Agreement for the machines you already own which also covers everything listed above.  

Call us today for a quote at (773) 975-2005 

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