If you own a portable ice maker or want to purchase one, I explain everything you need to know about how they work in this article. I’ve owned portable ice makers for over eight years, so I understand the ins and outs of what makes them function. The portable ice makers I owned were of different sizes and designs and produced different types of ice.
Portable ice makers are far different than commercial or undercounter ice makers. One of the main differences of a portable ice maker is that it doesn’t need a waterline or a drain. Portable ice makers recycle the water from the melting ice back into the reservoir and use it to make more ice. This means no wasting water, but it also means that the water can get dirty over time.
The design of a portable ice maker is genius. There’s nothing to hook up, making them completely portable, but they’re not perfect. If you have a large gathering, they may be unable to keep up with the demand.
Yet, People can take a portable ice maker camping or in their RV. You can even take them to the beach. I actually did that once. I connected my VTOMAN power bank to my ice maker at the beach and made ice. It’s crazy, but it was cool.
How does a portable ice maker work?
Different Types of Ice Makers
Ice makers have made our world so much better. Whether it’s a commercial ice maker for a business or an ice maker for our home, they’re designed to produce a lot of ice quickly. Freezer ice cube trays are the worst. You never have enough ice, or someone forgets to refill the tray, leaving you with no ice.
There are several types of ice makers that you should know about. The main types of ice makers are commercial, undercounter, countertop, and portable ice makers.
Commercial ice makers are for businesses, undercounter ice makers are for adding to your kitchen cabinets, countertop ice makers can be large or small, and portable ice makers don’t have any connections except for a power cord.
Commercial ice makers are perfect for restaurants and other businesses because they are larger and produce a large quantity of ice. These large ice makers can produce either clear ice or nugget ice. The problem with commercial ice makers is that they cost a lot of money, and not everyone needs 400 pounds of ice daily. You’ll also need to connect a commercial ice maker to a drain and waterline.
Undercounter ice makers are perfect for the person who is renovating their kitchen. These ice makers are designed to be built in your cabinets and are both elegant and functional. Most countertop ice makers produce clear ice, which is scooped from a large storage container. These ice makers need to be connected to a waterline and a drain as well.
Countertop ice makers come in both portable and non-portable designs. It’s common for hospitals and nursing homes to have large countertop nugget ice makers because the ice is less of a choking hazard and soft to chew. Smaller countertop ice makers are both portable and compact.
Portable ice makers are small, compact units that don’t need any drains or water lines. They are normally inexpensive to buy (at least compared to undercounter and commercial ice makers) and don’t keep your ice frozen. Commercial and undercounter ice makers drain melting ice water using a drain line, a portable ice maker recycles that water to make more ice.
I’ve personally owned a portable ice maker for several years and love its functionality. I use it for camping trips, outside BBQs, and just everyday use. We have our portable ice maker sitting by our kitchen sink right now, and we love using it.
How Does a Portable Ice Maker Work?
The first step to any portable ice maker is filling a water reservoir with clean water.
The water you add to the reservoir will be what makes the ice. You want to make sure that the water is clean. Commercial, fridge, undercounter, and some countertop ice makers may have a filtration system to ensure the water and ice are clean.
Most portable ice makers do not have any filtering system in their design. It’s because you have to add the water into the reservoir yourself. I guess you are the filtration system.
The next step is getting the water from the reservoir to where it produces ice. For this, the ice maker will have a water pump. The water pump will move the water from the reservoir to the ice tray.
There are several types of portable ice makers. Portable ice makers that make nugget, cubed, clear, and the typical hat-shaped or bullet-shaped ice.
Cold air is produced by an evaporator and is used to form ice.
Nugget ice forms shaved ice compacted into nugget-shaped ice and cut into manageable sizes that fall into a storage container. Nugget ice is far more complex than clear or bullet-shaped ice, so it is usually more expensive.
Clear ice is produced by water running over a steel grate, and ice is formed in layers, avoiding bubbles forming so that the ice is crystal clear. Commercial ice makers and portable ice makers that produce clear ice, produce it the same way.
Bullet-shaped ice is formed when prongs are submerged in fresh water and ice begins to form around them. When the ice maker detects the correct size, the ice is released by heat and falls; a sweeper attached to the water tray pushes the ice into a storage basket.
Every portable ice maker will have two primary sensors.
The first sensor will inform you when the ice maker’s storage container is full. This way, you don’t have an overflow of ice and make a mess.
The next sensor shuts down the unit when the ice maker’s water reservoir is empty, so you don’t burn out your water pump.
Issues With Your Portable Ice Maker
I’ve been writing about portable ice makers for a long time and have helped countless people get their portable ice makers working again.
If you’re having a problem with your portable ice maker, it’s probably one of the following issues.
If your portable ice maker is telling you that your ice storage container is full, but it’s not full, and if it’s telling you that you need water, but your water reservoir is full to the top, then it’s probably a faulty sensor.
I have seen faulty sensors time and time again. The frustrating thing about a faulty sensor is that it’s difficult to fix. Usually, you replace the entire portable ice maker.
I have seen people fix a faulty sensor by cleaning their ice maker with a descaling solution. Sometimes, but not always, water deposits can block the sensors from linking to each other, and they fail to operate. Cleaning your ice maker can solve that issue.
Another way to fix a sensor issue is by ensuring your water isn’t too pure. I had the light indicator tell me that I needed to add water, but the reservoir was full. I used filtered water, and the sensor couldn’t detect the water. I replaced the water with tap water, and it fixed the issue. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
I must be honest; I have recycled several portable ice makers because of a faulty sensor. It’s frustrating. The ice maker works perfectly fine but won’t begin the ice cycle because it thinks the ice storage bin is full or needs water.
Try the abovementioned solutions, but it may be time to replace the ice maker.
Power Supply Issue
You have your ice maker all ready to go, but you notice there’s no power indicator light on. I’ve been there too.
What to do? Well, I always start with the power supply. I made sure that the plug worked and that I didn’t pop a breaker. I test the plug to ensure there’s power in the outlet before turning my attention to the ice maker. You could plug another small appliance in the plug.
If the plug works, I try to find a reset button on the ice machine. You can check the user’s manual to see if your ice maker has one.
Typically, when the ice maker doesn’t power on, it’s probably a blown circuit board, which is a costly repair.
Once again, it may be time to replace the ice maker.
If your portable ice maker cannot pump water to where it makes the ice, it will not function correctly. You cannot make ice without water.
A loud whining sound means you need more water in the reservoir or your pump isn’t working correctly. This could be a blocked water line or a cracked water tray.
If you notice your ice maker leaking water, you should turn it off and look for a crack or a disconnected hose.
Portable ice makers that produce nugget ice have two water lines on the back of the unit; if these lines are disconnected, you’re ice maker will leak water and not work correctly.
Portable ice makers are inexpensive to purchase, producing anywhere from 28-48 pounds of ice daily, and are a perfect addition to any home. They are simple to operate, compact, and can be transported from one place to another.
Portable ice makers are also easy to maintain, clean and store away.
When it comes to making ice with a portable ice maker, the process is straightforward. It’s water, to freezing, to storage bin. It contains two sensors and, depending on what type of ice you’re producing, a sweeper and a water tray.
I love my portable ice maker, and our home wouldn’t be the same without it.
We’d love to hear from you. If you have questions about how portable ice makers make ice, use the comment section below.