Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Types of Ice Machines: Buying Guide

Picture - Types of Ice Machines: Buying Guide

From hospitals and restaurants to cafeterias and hotels, ice machines are used in a wide variety of places to make loads of fresh ice. If your business is looking for a new machine, there are many factors you need to consider. Our buying guide walks you through different types of ice machines and other important options, including ice types, condensers, bins and more.

Types of Commercial Ice Machines

So what makes each type of ice machine different? The key variances are construction, size and how much ice they produce. Below are the most common commercial machines on the market:

Self-Contained Ice Machines

Also known as an undercounter ice machine, a self-contained unit combines the ice maker and bin. The compact size gives you flexibility to store the unit in small areas.

  • Best for: Bars, coffee shops, cafes, small restaurants
  • Typical ice production: 75-500 pounds per day

Modular Ice Machines

Looking to produce large amounts of ice? Then a modular machine the right option for you. This unit is also designed to sit on top of a separate unit, such as an ice bin, beverage machine or ice dispenser.

  • Best for: Casual and fine-dining restaurants, fast food chains, hotels, movie theaters, schools, cafeterias
  • Typical ice production: 250-1,000 pounds per day

Ice Dispensers

This self-serve machine not only makes ice, but it also dispenses it right from the unit. Since a dispenser is designed for frequent usage, it's considered a sanitary option because the ice isn't expected to be stored for long periods of time.

  • Best for: Cafeterias, healthcare facilities, hospitals, hotels, lounge rooms, quick-service restaurants
  • Typical ice production: 75-500 pounds per day

Countertop Ice Makers

Designed as a compact, self-serve unit, this machine typically produces small, chewable ice. Select models that dispense water too, and it sits perfectly atop of tables and countertops.

  • Best for: Healthcare facilities, hospitals, lounge rooms, small cafeterias
  • Typical ice production: 50-400 pounds per day

Types of Ice Machine Condensing Units

There are three types of condensing units that are commonly used in commercial ice machines. Based on your business and local restrictions, you can choose which one is right for your establishment.


The most common type seen in commercial ice machines, air-cooled condensers are cooled by a fan that moves air through to cool down the equipment. If you choose this type of condenser, make sure you can provide at least 6 inches of clearance around the air intake so that it can function properly.


With water-cooled units, the condenser is housed within the machine and is cooled by water. Because of how this condenser is cooled, the unit will need a consistent flow of cool water to ensure it’s cooled properly. However, water-cooled condenser ice machines are perfect for commercial kitchens and businesses that can’t provide the space and clearance needed for an air-cooled machine.


If you cannot have an air- or water-cooled condenser ice machine, the third option is to choose a remote-cooled unit. With this set-up, the condenser is installed in a separate room or space from the actual ice machine. With a remote condenser, heat and noise are eliminated from the space, so remote-cooled ice machines are much quieter. Keep in mind, though, that remote-cooled condensers will need more care and maintenance, but if you can provide that, then this is the option for you.

Choosing an Ice Bin

While select units can dispense ice, many ice machines require separate storage to hold ice. An ice bin stores all the ice created from the machine. Some machines include a shut-off sensor that triggers when the bin is full, shutting off the machine and preventing overflow.

Below are two key factors to consider when buying the right ice bin:

  • Capacity – First, ask yourself how much ice your establishment goes through over the course of a day. Once you determine that, build at least a 15-20% buffer for capacity to handle during peak hours. For example, if you use 500 pounds of ice a day, choose a bin that can hold anywhere from 575-600 pounds.
  • Frequency – Does your location go through hundreds of pounds of ice a day? Consider either a large capacity bin or full-size dispensing unit. Does it take more than 24 hours to cycle through 200 pounds of ice? Opt for a smaller bin that holds about 100-200 pounds to avoid overflow or old ice from staying in the machine too long.

Remember: do not buy an ice storage bin that is too big. An oversized bin could cause ice to melt or stagnate if the ice isn't used frequently. Also, be sure to clean and sanitize the bin at the same time you clean the machine. It's important the bin is always properly disinfected to prevent the spread of bacteria in the ice.

What Size Ice Machine is Right for You?

Sizing an Ice Machine

Ice machine sizes are based on how much ice they can produce in 24-hour period, or 24 hour yield. Obviously, based on the size of the ice machine you choose depends on the amount of ice it will yield. Once you decide on what type of ice machine you’ll need for your business, then you can properly size it. Check the section above about the various types of ice machines to determine which one you’ll need. Each type of ice machine will produce different amounts of ice.

How Much Ice Will I Need?

The amount of ice needed per person is generally determined by the type of establishment the ice machine is being used in. To calculate how much you’ll need, use these estimates:

  • Restaurants: 1.5 lb per person
  • Water Glasses: 6 oz per 12 oz glass
  • Cocktail Bar: 3 lbs per person
  • Hotels: 5 lbs per room
  • Self-Service: 3 lbs per person
  • QSR:
    • 5 oz per 7 to 10 oz cup
    • 8 oz per 12 to 16 oz cup
    • 12 oz per 18 to 24 oz cup
  • Patient Ice: 10 lb per patient
  • Nursing Home: 6 lb per patient
  • School Cafeteria: 1 lb per person

Types of Ice

Ice machines are often designated by the type of shaped ice they can produce. Each type of ice has a unique purpose, and are commonly used in various commercial kitchen segments. Depending on the commercial kitchen you run, you'll want to consider which type of ice will suit the needs of your guests, customers or patients. Explore the various kinds of ice and what they’re best used for:

Flaked Ice

  • Also known as “shaved ice”
  • Soft and chewable
  • Used to cool down products
  • Great for produce, seafood, meat and salad bars
  • Commonly used in healthcare (hospitals, nursing homes and physical therapy facilities), buffets and grocery stores.

Half Cube Ice

  • Used for beverages, dispensing and bagging
  • Smaller than full cubes
  • Cools down drinks quickly without watering them down
  • Commonly used in restaurants, bars, hospitality and convenience stores

Full Cube

  • Used for beverages, dispensing and bagging
  • Cools down drinks quickly without watering them down
  • Commonly used in restaurants, bars, convenience stores, hospitality and catering.


  • Also known as “cubelet ice” and “pearl ice”
  • Soft and chewable
  • Used for beverages
  • Commonly used in restaurants, bars, healthcare and hospitality


  • Half-moon shaped
  • Used for beverages, dispensing and bagging
  • Commonly used in restaurants, bars, convenience stores and caterers


  • Top-hat shaped that’s either cylindrical or octagonal
  • Larger than typical ice cubes for cocktails and alcoholic beverages specifically
  • Commonly used in restaurants and bars

Cleaning & Maintaining an Ice Machine

Like other pieces of commercial equipment, an ice machine requires routine cleaning and preventative maintenance. No matter which type of ice machine you choose, here are some ways to make sure it's always running in peak condition. 

Weekly Recommendations

  • Wipe down the exterior the machine and bin with a soft cloth, mild detergent and warm water.
  • Remove ice from the bin and scrub down the interior walls and cover with manufacturer-recommended cleaner and sanitizer at least once every two weeks.

Monthly Recommendations

  • Remove ice from the machine and conduct a thorough cleaning using manufacturer-recommended cleaner and sanitizer at least once every two months.

Check out our ice machine cleaning and sanitizing guide for more instructions.

We use cookies to give you a great online experience. Everybody loves cookies! Okay, they're not those kind of cookies, but they're still great. Learn more