How to Thoroughly Clean a Dirty Ice Maker?

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Last Updated on June 3, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated

to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

how to clean ice maker

Your ice maker is probably one of the appliances you think the least about, especially if it’s attached to your freezer system. Oft forgotten, the ice maker goes neglected for a very long time, until all of a sudden you distinctly remember it…and not for good reasons.

That first whiff or, worse, TASTE of “bad ice” is an unforgettable and altogether unpleasant experience. Whether it smells fishy, musty, or overall just “off” in some way, it’s definitely not what you want to be cooling off your glass of sweet tea or fresh squeezed lemonade. Thankfully, the process to clean your ice maker is fairly simple, though it does vary depending on exactly what kind of ice maker you have in the first place.

So, let’s go over the process real quick.

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1. Fridge Ice Maker

Fridge Ice

In most cases, cleaning out the ice maker in your freezer primarily means just cleaning out the tray. The tray is where by far most of the gunk builds up, though there are a few other problem areas you’ll want to check at the same time.

STEP 1: First though, be sure to turn OFF your ice maker, whether by unplugging the entire refrigerator, or by flipping whatever switch or lever prevents the ice maker from making more ice; most of these have a little metal lever that shuts off the ice maker when the tray fills up. Just flip this up and it should turn off the ice maker, so it doesn’t start spitting out ice while you’re fiddling with it.

STEP 2: Second, take out the tray. It should slide or pull out in some way, though it will vary by the freezer, as will the positioning (whether it’s in the bottom, top, or side of the fridge). The tray will generally be full of ice, which you should dump out.

If there’s any ice stuck to the sides, just run some hot water over it; the ice will quickly loosen from the sides, or if it’s really compacted and stuck on there, will eventually just melt. Dump out the tray again.

STEP 3: From there, start scrubbing the inside of the tray gently with a soap and water solution. Try not to use anything too scratchy (no steel wool or anything here), as most ice cube trays are plastic. Scratching the inside of the tray will encourage buildup of bacteria later, and make it harder to clean in the future.

If there’s some kind of stubborn stain or residue, upgrade to a mixture of water with a splash of vinegar and a couple tablespoons of baking soda. Never use astringent cleaning chemicals like bleach at this stage if you can help it. If you do, make sure to rinse insanely thoroughly so there’s no left over.

STEP 4: Once clean, set aside to air dry. So that any remaining liquid inside will just evaporate.

STEP 5: Go back to your freezer, and find the metal coil that provides the cooling for your ice tray. Take a wet washcloth with a bit of the vinegar and baking soda or soapy water solution and vigorously scrub until all hard water deposits and similar residue is removed from the coil.

STEP 6: Rinse and then DRY THOROUGHLY to prevent this water from freezing directly to the coil; if left alone it will expand and just cause its own awkward mess in the freezer.

STEP 7: Finally, check the filter. These usually need to be replaced every six months, so find out what kind of filter your freezer takes, and replace it.

And that’s it!

2. Standalone Ice Maker


This applies mostly to the smaller countertop or portable ice makers; for the larger standalone models your cleaning will more closely resemble the process for the refrigerator type.

In this case, much of the same advice applies. You want to check the filter here as well, and make sure to get a fresh one in there every six months.

STEP 1: Likewise, the process for cleaning the tray is pretty much identical. Take it out, dump it, and wash thoroughly with soap and water, or vinegar and baking soda if it’s being stubborn. Take a good whiff to make sure it’s clean and well rinsed (leaving a vinegar aftertaste in there is almost as bad as the gunk you removed, after all), then set aside for later.

STEP 2: Cleaning the interior is where things get interesting. Essentially, you can try to scrub and rinse everything you can reach. This includes the removable parts (which you can clean and set aside with the tray) and the interior portions like the ice mold and freezer mechanism. You can get into hard to reach places with a cheap toothbrush, or some other kind of cleaning brush; though only use something with particularly stiff bristles if you have a fully stainless steel ice maker. Something with a  plastic frame should be treated much more gently.

STEP 3: Once all those bits are scrubbed, fill the water reservoir with vinegar, similarly to if you we replanning to clean your coffee pot.

STEP 4: Run a full cycle. This may take a while, so feel free to step away and do something else. Repeat once more time with fresh vinegar (you can buy cleaning vinegar in bulk for very cheap at many places; as cheap as a dollar per quart at dollar stores). Then run a cycle with fresh, clean water and take a whiff of the interior.

If it still smells like vinegar, run another cycle with fresh water. Repeat as necessary until the interior smells clean.

STEP 5: And finally, reassemble the ice maker! It’s clean and ready to go, and should stay that way for quite a while.

This process can be time consuming, but it’s pretty easy since it doesn’t require all that much active participation on your part. Just don’t forget and leave the job halfway done!

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