Your Ice Maker Is Actually Disgusting—Here's How to Clean It

The only ice maker I ever had growing up was my mom, and she grumbled about how none of us ever filled the ice cube trays or transferred the cubes to a bin she kept in the freezer. It wasn’t until I moved into my own home that I had an ice maker right there in the freezer. Yet those cubes were N-A-S-T-Y. They tasted funky, and smelled even worse.  

I tapped an expert at Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville, PA, to find out what was up with my icky ice maker (and, more importantly, what could be done about it).  

Turns out, even if you don’t have smelly cubes, you should be giving your ice maker a full scrub-down (which I definitely haven’t been doing). “Ice makers should be maintained at least twice a year,” says Kevin Keeler, instructor of Heating/Air Conditioning & Refrigeration at LCTI.  

And if you have hard water—which can cause buildup and decrease the functionality of your machine over time—you should consider cleaning your ice maker even more often. “Deposits from hard water can form on the coil, and impact the ice-making process by preventing the coil from freezing the water,” Keeler says. 

But before you get to cleaning, clear unwanted items from your fridge and freezer. A clean appliance produces the best-tasting ice, and one unexpected culprit of smelly, cloudy, or weird-tasting cubes could be those questionable leftovers lingering in the back of your fridge from last week. Food can transfer odor and taste to ice, so it’s important to keep tabs on what’s in your fridge.

Once you’ve wiped up spills and tossed out any smelly items, you can get to cleaning your ice maker. Here’s how to do it.

Unplug the refrigerator.

Unless you’re doing this in the extreme heat of summer, or plan to leave your house midway through cleaning, you don’t have to transfer everything to a cooler.

The cleaning process won’t take long, but you don’t want the machine making ice while you’re in there. Depending on the model, there might be an arm or lever you can lift to shut off the maker, or there could be an on/off switch on the side or in the back. (But your safest option is to unplug it completely.)

Clean your ice cube bin.

Your ice cube maker bin might pull out like a kitchen drawer, or you might have to lift it up before you can remove it. Dump the ice in the sink (or garbage disposal). If there’s anything else you can easily remove without hardware, such as a drip tray, go ahead and do that now.

One important note: Plastic pieces from your freezer should be hand washed—never put them in your dishwasher. Use a washcloth and warm soapy water, or a couple tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in a gallon of warm water, to wash and wipe any of the removed parts. Rinse well and set aside to air dry; they will need to be completely dry before they’re returned to the unit. 

Remove ice.

If there’s any ice frozen to the ice maker itself, use the warm water on a washcloth to melt and help dislodge it. You could also (carefully!) use an ice pick to break up the ice, being cautious not to damage the unit.

 When the ice is gone, use the washcloth and warm soapy water, or a solution of 50/50 water and distilled white vinegar, to wipe down as much of the exterior of the ice maker as you can. Then turn to a toothbrush to access any parts you can’t reach with the washcloth.  

Use a dry washcloth to wipe any residual moisture from the ice maker. It should be dry before you reassemble.

Check your filter.

You might not realize that your ice maker has a water filter. If it becomes clogged from all those minerals, it won’t let as much water through, impacting the machine’s performance. An old filter—likely my own ice maker’s culprit—can affect how ice tastes. “Water filters should be changed every six months,” advises Keeler. Follow your manufacturer’s guidelines. (A good way to remember is to do it when you change the batteries on your smoke detector.)

Run a few cycles.

Plug the refrigerator back in, or turn the ice maker back on. Allow the ice cube cycle to run two or three times and discard the cubes. In fact, clean out and dump unused ice cubes every few months from now on, as they absorb whatever odors are in your freezer.

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