Water is the definition of purity. It’s clear, cold, and necessary for supporting life. Despite water’s reputation, it’s full of minerals and deposits. These deposits aren’t harmful to people, but they can cause problems for ice machines. As time passes, certain deposits can create scale buildup which can affect your ice machine’s production.    

In this article, we’ll talk about scale buildup, how to prevent it, and how to descale an ice machine.    

What is Scale Buildup? 

Scale buildup is a direct result of your water quality. 

Water is known worldwide as the universal solvent because it breaks down solids into smaller particles at the molecular level.    

As water flows, it carries all manner of minerals and sediment with it, called TDS (total dissolved solids), but of all the particles, it’s calcium and magnesium are responsible for scale.   

When water rich with calcium and magnesium passes through tubes and changes temperature abruptly, it sheds the minerals it’s carrying. Over time, the calcium and magnesium particles accumulate and harden, creating scale.    

Calcium and magnesium ions are small enough to pass right through ice machine water filters and collect in the unit. Popular areas where scale builds up are water distribution tubes and evaporator plates. 

What Can Scale Do to an Ice Machine? 

When scale builds up too much, it causes problems for your ice machine – some of them costly. These include:  

  • Broken evaporator plates 

When scale buildup forms on the evaporator plate, it hinders heat transfer and the even flow of water. In this state, ice cubes don’t fall off the evaporator properly during harvest, leading to odd shaped cubes.    

Scale can also cause ice to stick to an evaporator, where it continues to build, creating a large chunk of ice. In severe cases, the chunk of ice can grow so large that is cracks the evaporator plate, destroying the machine in the process.   

How to Prevent Scale 

There are a few ways you can limit the effects of calcium and magnesium in your ice machine’s water supply.    

Phosphate filters are an excellent way to prevent the formation of scale. These filters feed natural phosphates into the water and tie up the magnetic bonds of calcium and magnesium ions. The phosphate atoms satisfy the ionic bonds of calcium and magnesium. When this happens, it becomes much harder for the ions to bond together to form scale on the surfaces of your ice machine.   

Another way to limit scale is to get a water softening system installed. Water softeners use salt to “soften” the water, meaning it removes calcium and magnesium ions from water and replaces them with sodium ions which won’t form scale.    

Finally, a reverse osmosis system can also do wonders. Reverse osmosis systems use a semi-permeable membrane to trap minerals and other contaminants. The membrane’s small pores allow water molecules to pass through, but not larger particles like calcium and magnesium.    

How to Clean Scale 

If you already have a scale problem, there are some best practices for how to descale an ice machine, but it’s not as easy as using soap and water. The best way to clean scale is with an acid-based de-scaler. Before you run out and buy one, it’s important you know what type of ice machine you have.     

Hoshizaki ice machines have stainless-steel evaporator plates that hold up to harsh acid-based de-scalers without being damaged.  

For ice machines that don’t have stainless-steel evaporator plates, you’ll need to use a nickel-safe ice machine cleaner. Nickel-safe ice machine cleaners don’t work as well as acid-based de-scalers, but they are safe to use on nickel-plated evaporator plates found in many ice machine brands.     

Keep in mind that de-scalers (acid-based or otherwise) are harsh and if not handled properly, can cause skin and eye irritation. For this reason, it is best to have a professional cleaning service come out and to remove scale buildup from your machine, especially if there is a high concentration.    

If you have an Easy Ice subscription, we perform regular preventive maintenance that includes:    

  • Complimentary water tests to measure calcium and magnesium levels 
  • Free phosphate filters for customers in areas with mineral-rich water  
  • Professional ice machine cleaning – including regular de-scaling of your machine 

If you are interested in our Easy Ice subscription program, give us a call at 866-easyice.