The Essential Guide to Choosing the Best Commercial Ice Maker

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Whether you operate a busy restaurant, lively bar, convenience store, healthcare facility or other business, having abundant ice on hand is absolutely essential. From fountain drinks to chilling beverages, medical uses to food preservation, ice has endless applications for commercial settings. But with so many ice maker options on the market, how do you select the right machine?

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything to consider when choosing a commercial ice maker for your business. Learn about the various types of ice and ideal uses for each. Calculate needed ice production capacity based on your peak demand. Understand key features like advanced sanitizing, size configurations, and tech add-ons. Get tips on proper maintenance to maximize uptime. And compare leading commercial ice maker brands like Hoshizaki, Scotsman, Manitowoc, and more. Let’s find the perfect machine to keep your ice supply fully stocked!

Types of Ice and Intended Uses

Unlike simplistic home ice makers, commercial machines produce ice in various forms, each suited for different applications:

Cubes come in small, medium and large sizes. Good for drinks, keeping foods cold, medical uses. Different cube sizes maximize drink chilling versus storage capacity.

Nugget ice is soft, chewable pellet ice. Popular for smoothies, fountain drinks, making ice wraps, rehabilitation therapy. Allows portion control.

Flake ice has a snow-like consistency. Used to pack seafood, line salad bars, and display fresh fish. Flake’s large surface area speeds cooling.

Crushed ice is finely shaved particles. Ideal for cocktail drinks, soda and tea fountains, salad bars, patient ice packs. Crushes easily.

Specialty ice like gourmet cubes, crescent cubes and other shaped geometries suit drinks where slower melting is desirable.

Consider the applications where you mainly need ice. This will guide what ice types are prioritized in your ice maker selection.

Ice Production Capacity Requirements

Before shopping units, determine your business’s ice requirements:

  • Peak demand periods – When is ice use highest? Lunch rush? Summer months? Account for maximum need.
  • Pounds of ice needed daily – Estimate average and max daily demand. In food service, assume ~1.5 lbs ice/person. Up to 2 lbs/person for bars.
  • Harvest rates – Ice production speed in lbs/day. Undercounter units produce ~50-100 lbs daily. Larger freestanding machines up to 1000+ lbs per day.
  • Identify periods of low use – Cycle machine off or lower output to save energy during slow business periods.

Crunching usage numbers ensures you size the ice maker properly and don’t fall short on capacity during peak times. Undersizing leads to constant ice shortages and frustrated customers.

Sizing and Footprint Considerations

The available space in your facility is another major factor:

Undercounter Ice Makers

  • Designed to tuck under counters and bartops.
  • Typically produce 50-100 lbs daily. Best for lower volume settings.
  • Require only 22-24” of clearance. Can frequently retrofit existing space.

Freestanding Ice Makers

  • Floor models produce anywhere from 200-1500+ lbs daily.
  • Start around 3 feet wide. Larger models 5+ feet wide.
  • Require height clearance for loading storage bin.

Stackable Ice Makers

  • Allow doubling ice production in the same footprint.
  • Side-by-side or top and bottom configurations.
  • Require condensed air cooled units or remote condenser.

Remote Condensing Units

  • Separate cooling unit allows versatile machine placement not limited by ventilation needs.
  • Condenser unit can be located up to 20 ft away.

Measure floorplan space and model required clearances to find units that fit. Stick to undercounter or compact freestanding in tight spaces. For very high volumes, consider stackable or multiple units.

Key Features to Compare

Here are some of the top features and add-ons to look for with commercial ice makers:

  • Sanitation cycles – Regularly clean and sanitize with hot rinses to prevent bacteria.
  • Smart diagnostics – Advanced models self-monitor for problems and needed maintenance.
  • Self-contained or remote air cooled – Impact installation requirements.
  • Drain pumps – Drain water so unit doesn’t require gravity drainage.
  • Storage bin capacity – Bigger bins extend time between refills.
  • ADA compliant heights – Lower output chutes meet accessibility standards.
  • Built-in water filtration – Ensure incoming water is clean for better ice and machine longevity.
  • Indicator lights – Clear display notifies when bin is full, needs service, out of water, etc.
  • Technology integration – Options like internet connectivity, soft ware updates, mobile app controls.

Prioritize features that enhance sanitation, usability, and automation to get the most value from your investment. Check that output and capacities meet your operational needs.

Maintenance Tips for Commercial Ice Makers

Consistent maintenance ensures reliable ice production and longevity:

  • Daily exterior wipe-downs – Keep unit clean and free of dust.
  • **Regular deep cleanings **– Descale, disinfect, and de-lime quarterly per manufacturer.
  • Check and replace water filters – Every 6 months prevents mineral scale buildup.
  • Inspect for leaks – Fix any water leaks immediately to prevent mold and algae.
  • Monitor and adjust – Ensure unit produces preferred ice types and capacities.
  • Schedule annual servicing – Professional tune-ups improve lifespan.

Following the manufacturer’s maintenance protocol is essential. Built-in cleaning reminders on some models prompt when servicing is due. Stay on top of maintenance for fewer costly repairs down the road.

Leading Commercial Ice Maker Brands

The most trusted commercial ice machine brands include:


Top seller globally, known for:

  • Reliable performance even under heavy use
  • Innovative technologies like variable soft freeze process
  • Durable stainless steel construction
  • Models for all business sizes and ice needs


Popular for:

  • Huge daily production capacities up to 2300 lbs
  • Foodservice optimized undercounter and cuber units
  • Advanced diagnostics and sanitation features
  • Rugged durability to perform in any environment


Known for:

  • Efficient scale inhibiting systems
  • Prodigy line optimized for restaurants
  • Hotel ice maker models
  • Reliable service network nationwide


Trusted for:

  • Cost-effective models for low to mid-range outputs
  • Specialty ice production like Chewblet nugget ice
  • Self-cleaning technologies
  • Customizable accessories like storage bins


Recommended for:

  • Innovations like Pearl Ice flake machines
  • Highest reliability ratings across models
  • Solid mid-market freestanding and undercounter models
  • Strong technical support resources

Stick with commercial brands like these proven to withstand heavy duty use. Don’t skimp on quality for critical equipment.

Should You Choose Commercial or Consumer Models?

Commercial ice makers differ from consumer/residential models in a few key ways:

  • Engineered for reliability under heavy, constant use. Continuously cycle without failure.
  • Parts and components are heavy duty and replaceable. Easy to service and repair.
  • Meet standards for public commercial facilities. Certified for safety and sanitation.
  • Designed to produce higher volumes reliably. Don’t lose cooling performance over time.
  • Come with longer and more comprehensive warranties.

While consumer models cost less upfront, commercial grade ice makers are worth the investment for businesses. Their optimized performance results in fewer hassles, repairs, and downtime in the long run compared to short-lived consumer machines.

FAQs About Commercial Ice Makers

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about commercial ice makers:

What should I look for in an undercounter ice maker?

Focus on daily production rate, storage bin capacity, dimensions, ease of maintenance, and reliability ratings. Add in preferred features like special ice types, sanitizing modes, and indicators.

How often should maintenance be performed?

Monthly deep cleanings are recommended to keep the system spotless. Replace water filters every 6 months. Schedule professional tune-ups annually.

What ice type is best for fountain sodas?

Nugget ice provides the best chilling, slow melt rate, and chewable consistency favored for fountain drinks. Flaked ice also works well.

How long should a commercial unit last?

Around 5-8 years is typical for quality commercial units with proper maintenance. Top-tier brands like Hoshizaki may last 12-15 years.

Can I extend the life of my ice maker?

Yes, just follow the manufacturer’s guidance for cleaning and maintenance. Replace wear items like water filters as specified. And install a water softening system if you have hard water.

What production rate is needed for a busy bar?

Plan for 1.5-2 lbs of ice per patron. For a crowded bar averaging 250 people, size for an ice maker producing 400-500 lbs daily minimum.

Investing in a properly sized commercial ice maker saves huge headaches. Don’t gamble with consumer models in your business. Consider the ice capacity you need, features that add convenience, and top brands known for durable performance. And don’t forget proper maintenance for maximum longevity!

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