The Effects of Hard Water in Your Ice Maker

Reading Time: 4 minutes Ice Machine Care, Ice Machines 101

Hard water in your ice maker

Many places in the US suffer from water with increased concentrations of minerals, otherwise called hard water. While hard water isn’t hazardous to people, it can cause some severe problems in ice equipment. Let’s discuss what happens when you have hard water in your ice maker.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that has high mineral content. It’s formed as water percolates through the soil, picking up calcium and magnesium deposits on the way.

The type of soil in your area is the main factor that determines water hardness. Water that flows over volcanic (igneous) rock is softer, while sedimentary rock like limestone, chalk, or gypsum will harden water.

Several places in the US have varying degrees of mineral deposits. The highest concentrations reside in:

  • Nevada
  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Kansas
  • Southern California

Hard water is not dangerous to drink. In fact, some studies suggest it has multiple health benefits. Still, it causes many problems for industrial ice making equipment.

Can Hard Water in Your Ice Maker Cause Damage?

When there’s hard water in your ice maker, the calcium and magnesium deposits bond to create scale. Scale ranges in color and hardness, but it generally has the consistency of chalk and binds strongly to surfaces.

The presence of hard water in your ice maker can lead to serious problems that will result in your ice machine not making ice. Scale caused by hard water binds to vital ice machine components, like floats switches and evaporator plates, and can lead to expensive ice maker repairs. It’s important to make sure that ice machines or ice dispensers that reside in areas with hard water have the proper water treatment to prevent scale from forming in the unit.

How Do I Treat Hard Water in My Ice Machine?

There are a few ways to deal with hard water and prevent scale buildup in your ice maker; they include:

1. Salt-Based Water Softeners

As the name suggests, salt-based water softeners use salt to reduce the levels of minerals in the water supply. They use a process called ion exchange to swap calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions.

What results is a water supply low in magnesium and calcium and high in sodium. This poses issues with people who want the benefits of magnesium and calcium and don’t want increased sodium in their diet.

2. Salt-Free Water Softeners

Salt-free “water softeners” is actually a misnomer. Technically, the water that passes through these systems is not “softened,” but rather treated.

These systems work by crystallizing calcium in the water so that it can’t adhere to surfaces. This maintains the levels of magnesium and calcium in the water but prevents it from forming scale.

3. Phosphate Filters

Phosphate filters are one of many common ice machine water filters. These filters treat hard water in ice makers so that calcium and magnesium don’t bond. This is done by satisfying the ionic bonds between magnesium and calcium, so they never combine to form scale.

Phosphate filters don’t work well in hot water conditions, but since ice machines use cold water, they are perfectly suitable for most commercial cuber ice machines.

While all these hard water filters work to prevent scale from forming in your ice machine, but they do not work to clean scale that is already there. It’s best to call a professional ice machine technician to clean scale out of your ice machine. Professional ice machine cleaning requires using harsh acidic cleaners that can cause skin and eye irritation.

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Dealing with Hard Water in Your Ice Machine?

If you’re in a hard water region and need an ice machine, there are a few options that can help keep your ice maker running for years to come. At Easy Ice, we make sure to install the right type of water filter for your ice maker to combat hard water in your ice maker. The best part, our ice machine subscriptions include professional cleaning to take care of any scale that forms inside the unit. We have experience installing ice machines in hard water areas and keeping them running in top condition. Contact us today for a quote!

2 Comments on “The Effects of Hard Water in Your Ice Maker”

  1. Avatar

    Hello I am currently running my supply water through a salt bath before it gets to the ice machine. Will this affect the quality of ice because of the salt?

    1. Mike Sallustio

      Hi Craig,

      That would depend on the type of ice machine you own. If it is a typical “cuber” (like a Hoshizaki crescent or square ice machine) – the purest water freezes first – based upon the way the ice machine freezes. If you own a flaker or cubelet ice machine, the machine will freeze 100% of what enters the unit. So if salt water enters, it will freeze all of the salt.

      Hope this helps.

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