How to Clean an Ice Machine Condenser

Reading Time: 6 minutes Ice Machine Care, Ice Machines 101

clean ice machine condenser

As part of our goal to be the number one resource for ice machine information, we created this ice machine condenser cleaning blog, as well as other guides. This blog will explore how to determine which condenser is in your ice machine, and if it’s a self-contained air-cooled condenser, how it should be cleaned.

Dirty air-cooled condensers are one of the leading causes of ice equipment service calls. It’s possible to avoid condenser-related repair costs and service fees by ensuring your air-cooled condenser is cleaned regularly, though the frequency of “regularly” varies based on the environment. We’ll touch on that later.

Business owners tend to save money and time in the long run by entrusting their ice machine deep cleaning to a qualified service provider. If you prefer to perform your ice maker deep cleaning, refer to these three brand-specific ice machine cleaning guides for cleaning guidelines with links to component-specific information:

Keep reading to identify which ice machine condenser you have.

Determine Which Ice Machine Condenser You Have

There are three styles of ice machine condensers:

  • remote air-cooled
  • self-contained water-cooled
  • self-contained air-cooled

Remote Air-Cooled Condensers

The easiest to identify is the remote air-cooled. As the name indicates, it is located remotely, or away, from the ice machine. These condensers are often placed on the roof. There are several reasons to put a condenser on the roof, such as a small, very hot kitchen environment that would prevent the condenser from being able to do its job in a city with municipal regulations preventing the use of a water-cooled machine.

If your business has a remote air-cooled ice machine condenser, do not attempt to clean it yourself. Instead, hire an ice machine technician to clean and service the remote condenser.

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All other ice machines will have a self-contained condenser that is either air-cooled or water-cooled. There is quite a difference between air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines. If you have a water-cooled condenser, there is no need to learn how to clean it. It will be wiped out during basic ice machine maintenance; these condensers do not become clogged by contaminants in the air like air-cooled condensers.

If your ice machine contains an air-cooled condenser, this blog provides instructions on how to clean it. Keep reading to learn how to determine which condenser you’re dealing with.

Water-Cooled Condenser Ice Machines

Self-contained water-cooled condenser ice machines use water to move heat out of the unit. You will know if you have a water-cooled condenser ice machine, because there will be an output drain for hot water to be expelled.

A water-cooled condenser releases heat into outgoing water. Then the water flows out of the unit, taking the heat with it. Water-cooled ice machines are recommended for environments where ambient temperature control is unlikely or not possible. Unfortunately, water-cooled condensers use about five times the water of air-cooled. Some municipalities do not allow water-cooled units to be installed due to water restrictions.

Air-Cooled Condenser Ice Machines

Self-contained air-cooled condensers use air to push out heat from the ice machine. You will be able to tell if your ice machine has an air-cooled condenser, because there will not be an output drain for water. Instead, hot air will flow out of an air-cooled condenser through vents in the paneling.

Air-cooled condenser ice machines are installed more frequently than water-cooled, because they are usually less expensive to operate and are more energy efficient. Most air-cooled ice machines qualify for the ENERGY STAR program from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Air-cooled ice makers require a temperature-controlled environment and a specific amount of space for ventilation, so that the air that comes in through the condenser is not too warm for it to cool.

Air-cooled condensers put out more heat, as measured in BTUs, than water-cooled. An ice maker relies on surrounding ambient air temperatures to cool the refrigerant (a necessary component to the ice making process). Thus, air-cooled machines should not be installed in some spaces, such as small rooms or locations near a grill or another hot appliance, where they cannot get enough ventilation to function.

When Should an Air-Cooled Condenser Be Cleaned?

The air-cooled condenser is where extremely hot refrigerant vapor cools and turns back into a high-pressure liquid. It’s a vital component of the ice making process. 

Unclean or obstructed ice maker condensers can cause a variety of issues. A number of calls ice machine technicians receive for broken ice makers are related to dirty or clogged condensers.

Some environments, like office buildings, do not provide much opportunity for an air-cooled ice machine condenser to become clogged or dirty. It may be sufficient to clean these condensers only during each of the biannual deep cleans. However, in environments with many air-born contaminants or sources of potential debris, like yeast in a bakery, sawdust in a factory, or grease in a kitchen, an air-cooled condenser may need very frequent cleaning, even as often as once per week. Speak with your ice machine service provider to determine your ice machine cleaning schedule.

A clogged air-cooled condenser may look like this:

how to clean ice machine condenser

Best Practices for Air-Cooled Ice Machine Condenser Cleaning

  • A clean appearance is not a good indicator of ice machine condenser cleanliness, as existing clogs, grease, or dust may not be visible.
  • The condenser must be cleaned during the biannual deep clean, regardless of how clean it appears from the outside, as well as anytime it appears dirty or clogged.
  • The condenser must be completely clean for the ice machine to produce at expected capacity.
  • You may need to remove the fan assembly to remove some ice machine condensers. This will require the removal of panels.
  • If you are not sure how to remove the fan assembly, consider having an ice machine technician perform the whole ice machine deep clean for you. It can be complicated depending on what ice machine you have. If you still choose to attempt the process on your own, learn more here about accessing the inside of your ice machine.

Instructions for Cleaning an Air-Cooled Ice Machine Condenser

dirty ice machine condenser will increase the risk of service calls dramatically. Luckily, self-contained air-cooled condensers are not particularly difficult to clean.

Clean dry material from condenser.

  • Matted material may catch in the condenser. Remove it by scrubbing with a nylon bristle brush or a wire welding brush.
  • Important: brush with the condenser fins, not against them.
  • Then comb any bent or smashed fins.
  • After you’ve removed any matting, blow out and clean according to the directions below.

Blow out the condenser.

  • You must blow it out from the entering air side only.
  • Consider using compressed air to blow it out.
  • Contain the mess by draping a towel over the side you’re blowing toward. This will catch much of the dust.
  • Never use oxygen to blow out an air-cooled condenser. It is explosive and dangerous to use.

Alternative to blow out: Clean the condenser with water.

  • If you do not have compressed air or a similar alternative, the condenser can be washed out with a water hose or sprayer.
  • Spray the condenser from the entering air side.

Clean grease from condenser.

  • Choose a condenser cleaner that is specifically meant for handling grease. This does not include all coil cleaners, such as those used for air conditioners. Do not use an oven cleaner. 
  • Treat the condenser with degreaser, and let it soak.
  • Brush condenser in the direction of fins with a nylon bristle
  • Rinse condenser.
  • Repeat these steps until all grease is gone.

Save on Costly Repairs by Keeping Your Ice Machine Condenser Clean

Invest in biannual ice machine deep cleaning from an ice machine expert to prevent expensive and unnecessary repairs down the road. Maintenance and service are critical to keeping an ice machine in prime shape, helping it produce up to spec and endure as expected or even longer. That’s why we include biannual deep cleaning and maintenance for free in our ice machine subscription program. We take care of our customer’s ice machines, and their ice machines take care of their ice supply for years longer than the manufacturer-estimated lifetime. A well-maintained machine also requires fewer repairs, which reduces time waste and ice loss from service calls.

The Easy Ice subscription is the single easiest way to access the consistent ice supply your business needs. However, if your ice machine is still going strong, countless resources in our blog, like this one, can help you sustain its production.

Our team is available to help you get started today!
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