Finding, Identifying, and Cleaning an Ice Machine Evaporator

Reading Time: 7 minutes Ice Machine Care, Ice Machines 101

ice maker evaporator plate

The function of all ice machines is, at its most basic, the same: to produce ice. However, the wide variety of brands and types of ice creates a broad variance in how that ice is technically produced inside the machine. One of the most important components of ice making is the ice machine evaporator assembly. There is more than one style of evaporator assembly, and if you want to deep clean your Hoshizaki or other brand name ice machine, you first need to know which evaporator type you’re dealing with.

Below, we explain how to identify the evaporator assembly in your ice machine. If you choose to perform an ice machine deep clean yourself, you may also use this blog to learn how to specifically clean the evaporator. For information on how to clean the entire ice machine, read these brand-specific guides:

Purpose of Ice Machine Evaporators

An ice machine evaporator may also be referred to as an ice freezing surface, ice plate, or ice tray. Evaporators are the cold surfaces within the ice maker where ice is formed. There are two components of ice machine evaporators: refrigeration tubing and the surface the water freezes to.

Styles of Ice Machine Evaporator Assembly

The style of evaporator assembly is linked to the kind of ice the machine produces. There are two styles of evaporator – plate and barrel – and two variations on the plate style.  If you know your ice type and the brand of your ice machine, you can determine whether your ice machine contains a barrel or plate style evaporator.

Ice Machine Evaporator Barrel

The barrel evaporator, also called a cylinder evaporator, can be found in ice machines that produce flake ice or nugget/Cubelet ice. In these evaporators, refrigeration tubing wraps around the outside of evaporator cylinders, and ice freezes inside the cylinder.

Hoshizaki, Manitowoc, and Scotsman evaporator barrels are made of stainless steel, which is important because that means you don’t have to use a nickel-safe scale remover on them during the cleaning process.

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Ice Machine Evaporator Plate

Most machines producing other types of ice contain an evaporator plate. Manitowoc ice machine evaporator plates can be found on machines that produce dice, half dice, or regular cubed ice. Hoshizaki ice makers with plate evaporators produce crescent ice. And Scotsman ice making machines that contain evaporator plates produce small cubes and medium cubes. There are two styles of evaporator plates:

  • Grid cell plate (Manitowoc, Scotsman)
  • Refrigeration tubing serpentines back and forth on one side of it
  • Made of nickel-plated copper
  • Flat surface plate (Hoshizaki)
  • Refrigeration tubing is sandwiched by two plates, both of which are ice producing surfaces
  • Made of stainless steel

Accessing the Evaporator Assembly

To identify and clean your ice machine evaporator, which is a component of the ice machine, you will need to access the ice maker interior. To do so, read How to Access Inside Ice Maker Components.

Evaporator Cleaning Set-Up

When we use the term “deep clean,” we are referring to what is actually a three-step cleaning process:

  • Descaling
  • Disinfecting
  • Sanitizing

Descaling is the process of removing mineral deposits (also called limescale, calcium carbonate, or calcium deposits) from where they have built up on the internal components of ice machines. Evaporators are especially susceptible to the accumulation of scale. It’s important that all scale is removed during the cleaning process, as failure to do so will allow it to spread more quickly.

Disinfecting is the process of killing microbials like bacteria, viruses, and fungi that may be on the ice machine.

Sanitizing rids the surface area of bacteria and creates a barrier that protects against contamination.

Ice Machine Cleaning Solutions

You will use a different solution for each step of the deep cleaning process. It is critical to use the proper solution in the way we describe, as they are not interchangeable.

Descaling solution is called descaler. You can find this online, and or you can purchase it from the manufacturer of your machine.

Disinfectant solution requires a higher concentration of chemicals and at least 10 minutes of wet contact time to enable it to kill dangerous microorganisms, not just sanitize the surface of them. Wet contact time refers to the amount of time a solution remains in contact with the ice machine component without drying. Once wet contact time is fulfilled, the solution must be rinsed away.

Sanitizing solution contains a lower concentration of chemicals and is left to air dry on the ice machine component. Scotsman and Manitowoc both sell ice machine sanitizer to be used with their specific machines, but you do not have to purchase their recommended solution.

For information about how to mix and dilute disinfectant and sanitizer, refer to instructions on whichever product you purchase. Take care to mix accurately for disinfecting (higher chemical ratio) and sanitizing (lower chemical ratio).

How to Descale an Ice Machine Evaporator

The cleaning blogs linked at the top of the blog give detailed instructions for descaling an ice machine, but there is one critical item to note about how evaporator construction varies by brand.

Scotsman grid cell ice machine evaporators are made from nickel-plated copper. Nickel can be damaged by harsh chemicals, so you must use a nickel-safe cleaning solution. Manitowoc evaporators require a metal-safe cleaner, which you can purchase from the manufacturer to ensure you’re getting the right one. You can use a stronger chemical with Hoshizaki plate evaporators, because they’re made of stainless steel.

How to Disinfect and Sanitize an Ice Machine Evaporator

Disinfecting, and sanitizing processes are performed similarly; however, they differ in the three ways we mentioned above:

  • Dilution rates of chemicals
  • Wet contact time
  • Rinse vs. air dry

How to Start Cleaning an Ice Machine Evaporator

Once you have found the ice machine evaporator assembly, check to make sure there is not any ice stuck to it. If your ice machine has a grid cell evaporator, you may need to remove the water curtain to see if there is ice stuck to the evaporator. If so, you can initiate a manual harvest.

This can be done on newer machines via the touchpad or touch screen. If you have an older machine that doesn’t have an obvious way of initiating a manual harvest, consider having an ice machine tech clean the evaporator for you during an ice machine service appointment.

How to Descale, Disinfect, and Sanitize Your Grid Cell or Flat Surface Plate Evaporator

Turn the ice machine switch to the “clean” or “wash” position, which will allow the water reservoir to fill with water. Newer ice machines will have a “clean button” on the touchpad or touch screen. If your ice machine has neither a toggle switch nor a button that indicates cleaning or washing, refer to the ice maker manual to determine how to fill the water reservoir.

Once the water reservoir is full, follow these steps:

  1. Add the manufacturer-approved solution into the water reservoir where it will circulate through the water circuits. Reminder: The solution you use is different for each step. Refer to solutions section above.
  2. After going through this cycle, initiate the water reservoir to fill and rinse three times, which in some cases will be automatic based on your machine brand and model.
  3. Next, disassemble the water circuit components. Take parts to the sink and do a thorough clean by spraying them off with a spray bottle filled with a 50/50 solution of descaler and water, scrubbing them with a brush, and rinsing them.
  4. Re-assemble once all visible scale is gone.

How to Disinfect a Grid Cell or Flat Surface Plate Evaporator

To disinfect the ice machine evaporator, perform steps one and two from above but this time, use the disinfectant solution. Ensure that it circulates for at least 10 minutes. This 10-minute wet contact time is imperative for disinfection to occur. It is also critical that you perform the rinse cycles, as this higher concentration of chemical must be rinsed away before the ice machine is used again.

Be sure that you are still following the cleaning guidelines in our brand-specific blogs to disinfect the other components of the ice machine and bin. These instructions only apply to the evaporator.

How to Sanitize a Grid Cell or Flat Surface Plate Evaporator

To sanitize the ice machine evaporator plate, circulate the sanitizer solution for two minutes of wet contact time. Do not perform the rinse step afterward, as this solution is intended to dry on the surface of the evaporator. Let all components air dry before beginning ice production again. Discard the first batch of ice produced.

How to Descale, Disinfect, and Sanitize a Flaked or Soft Ice Evaporator

The process for flaker, nugget, or Cubelet ice machine evaporators differs slightly. Follow these instructions for each stage (descaling, disinfecting, and sanitizing) using the appropriate solution for each.

  1. You will add the solution to the water reservoir before filling it with water. When you initiate, the water will fill the reservoir and the evaporator barrel.
  2. You will let each solution sit for the appropriate amount of time per stage of the process: 20 minutes for descaling, 10 minutes for disinfecting, and 2 minutes for sanitizing.
  3. You may disassemble, scrub, and reassemble the ice machine components, including the ice shoot and ice spout, during the descale step just like with the evaporator plate instructions above.
  4.  Be sure to do a triple rinse (fill and drain) after both the descaling and disinfecting stages.
  5. One other difference is that we suggest discarding the first 10 minutes of ice production after the cleaning process has been completed.

Having the Ice Machine Experts Clean Your Evaporator is Cool

We know how troublesome it is to try to follow an ice machine cleaning schedule and maintain the ice maker on top of running your business. Our expert technicians care for ice machines all day, year-round, and they know just what your ice machine needs to continue producing reliably. If you own your ice machine, contact our 24/7 customer support team to find out if we have service coverage in your area. We would love to show you how our ice machine maintenance best practices and dedication to excellent service promote the longevity of your ice maker.

If you’re in the market for a new ice machine, the Easy Ice subscription couldn’t make it easier to have the ice you want without the hassle you don’t. We install the unit and then perform maintenance, service and cleaning, and ice machine repairs. For one low monthly subscription rate, you’ll get the ice you need – guaranteed.

Our team is available to help you get started today!
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