It’s easy to overlook the role ice plays in your community. But when you need it for beverages, buffet lines or even physical therapy, you want to make sure you have a commercial ice machine that’s up to the challenge. From types of ice machines and types of ice cubes to certifications and ice machine maintenance, we’ve broken down 8 key factors to consider when selecting the best commercial ice machine for your residents, staff and community.

1. Types of Ice Cubes

Cube ice is hard and clear. Depending on the size you select, cubes can be difficult to chew and can pose a choking hazard. Cube ice melts the slowest of the 3 types and has a maximum cooling factor.

Flake ice consists of small, soft pieces. It melts fairly quickly but is perfect for displaying products and hand scooping into drinks.

Nugget ice (or sonic ice) is smaller and softer than cube ice. It is still an effective coolant and is hard enough to be dispensed without hand scooping, but soft and small enough to chew. Because nuggets are somewhat dry, they are great for blending. 

Senior Living tip: Nugget ice is great for residents who like to chew ice as it’s less of a choking hazard. Flaked ice melts too quickly and cube ice is too hard and bad on the teeth. It can also be used in cold therapy, in beverages and to make blended drinks. It may be referred to differently across different brands: Scotsman and Manitowoc call it chewable nuggets and Hoshizaki calls it cubelets.

2. Types of Commercial Ice Machines

Floor standing commercial ice machine

Floor-standing commercial ice machines (also called modular units) can usually generate enough ice to be the primary source of ice for most communities. Ice production can be limited by available ice storage space, so a floor-standing machine should be coupled with a properly sized bin or dispenser. Hotel-style bins offer touch-free dispensing and are available for floor-standing and countertop commercial ice machines.

Undercounter commercial ice machines take up less space and feature built-in ice bins but are generally best suited for supplemental ice production or as a primary source for smaller communities.

Undercounter Commercial Ice Machine
Countertop Commercial Ice Machine

Countertop commercial ice machines are appropriate for low-volume ice requirements and can be used in nurses’ stations, resident self-service locations and therapy rooms. Touch-free options are available to reduce the risk of cross-contamination but require a specific hand placement on the drinking glass to activate the flow of ice.

3. Maximum Production

The listed maximum ice production is the most amount of ice a commercial ice machine is able to produce in 24 hours (based on 70°F air and 50°F incoming water temperature). Estimated maximum production capability of a commercial ice machine can be lowered by factors including:

  • A warm or overcrowded location
  • Warm incoming water
  • Small storage bin

Because of this, you should estimate actual ice production at 85% of the unit’s listed maximum ice production.

Determine your community’s individual daily ice needs with a simple formula:
Daily Ice Consumption = 7 lbs. x Residents + 2 lbs. x Staff Members

When factoring in this formula, consider peak usage. For example if you use 60% of your daily ice requirements between 12 and 5 pm, you need to have enough ice on hand to meet those numbers, regardless of what total ice production is at the end of the day. The safest and surest way to make sure you get enough ice per day when you need it is to make more ice than you think you need.


4. Bin System/Capacity

Ice machine bins come in numerous options to help you store and dispense ice:

  • Built-in bin
  • Built-in dispenser
  • Add-on bin
  • Add-on dispenser

When determining what sort of bin you need, look for a storage capacity greater than or equal to 75% of the machine’s production capacity. This will prevent the storage bin from filling up prematurely and interrupting ice production.

Commercial Ice Machine Bin

In self-service locations where residents and non-foodservice staff have access to the commercial ice machine, touch-free dispensing bins should be used to protect ice from contamination. Some states require touch-free dispensers for all ice that is consumed, even in locations where only foodservice staff have access.

5. Cooling System


Air cooled

Air-cooled commercial ice machines typically require 8″ of clearance on the sides and top to operate properly, so they are not a good choice in smaller spaces or in hot kitchens. In temperatures over 90°F, air-cooled machines will not reach full production capacity. Air-cooled units can cost less to operate over the life of the machine, saving money in the long run. Some air-cooled units are ENERGY STAR® qualified.

Water cooled icon

Water-cooled commercial ice machines use a once-through water system where the water used to cool the machine is subsequently dumped down a drain. This wastes a significant amount of water and may result in a higher water bill. However, water-cooled machines work well in tight spaces without ventilation, such as a closet or in a hot kitchen with temperatures over 90°F.

Regulatory Tip: If you are considering a water-cooled machine, be sure to check your local regulatory codes. Some states, including California, prohibit the use of water-cooled machines.

6. Ice Machine Maintenance

Regular ice machine maintenance and cleaning will prolong equipment life and increase your return on investment. Many machines have indicator lights or interactive displays to help you make tasks like descaling and sanitizing easier to remember.

Look for the following features that can help make ice machine maintenance easier.

Air Filter Placement: Look for a commercial ice machine with an air filter and components that can be easily accessed from the front or side to make routine cleaning easier for staff.

Auto-Clean: Auto-cleaning features can help ensure that the machine is cleaned consistently.

Alert System: Some machines feature an alert system that notifies the end user of the operating status of the machine, including when to clean and if there is a water shortage.

Auto-Purge: An auto-purge system controls the amount of scale buildup between cleanings by purging mineral laden water out of the machine.

7. Water Treatment Systems

70% of commercial ice machine maintenance issues are related to water problems. Most of these problems can be eliminated by the proper use of water filters and scale reduction systems. Have your water tested so you know what you’re working with. Your local municipality can provide a report on local water quality.

Filter systems reduce sediment and chlorine from the water, resulting in equipment protection and cleaner, better-tasting ice. Regularly replace filters as recommended to maximize system performance.

Scale elimination systems reduce scale throughout your kitchen, resulting in fewer service calls, lower maintenance costs, improved energy utilization and longer machine life.

8. Certifications

Certifications can help you determine the best commercial ice machine that meets your needs for safety, performance, maintenance and efficiency.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tests products and certifies that they meet established safety standards.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is an independent nonprofit organization that certifies products meet standard for design, performance and cleanability.

ENERGY STAR® products are independently certified to save energy, save money and protect the environment. Depending on the type of machine, ENERGY STAR ice machines are 10% to 16% percent more energy efficient and 20% more water efficient when compared with standard models, saving anywhere from $75 to $145 annually on utility bills.

Commercial Ice Machine FAQ:

What are the different types of ice machines?

The three different types of commercial ice machines are Floor-standing commercial ice machines, Undercounter commercial ice machines, and Countertop commercial ice machines.

How do you determine which commercial ice bin storage bin to use?

When determining what sort of bin you need, look for a storage capacity greater than or equal to 75% of the machine’s production capacity. This will prevent the storage bin from filling up prematurely and interrupting ice production.

What are the different types of ice machine ice cubes?

The different types of commercial ice machine ice cubes are cube ice, flake ice and nugget ice. Each ice cube type provides its own unique benefits.

Rely on Direct Supply for commercial ice machine selection, support and service!

From types of ice machines and types of ice cubes to certifications and maintenance, these 8 key factors can help you select the best commercial ice machine for your residents, staff and community.

Shop our full selection of quality commercial ice machines or contact us to discuss options for your community.