Water Cooled vs Air Cooled Ice Makers – the Different and Which’s the Best

Before you can figure it out the type if ice maker machine that is best suited for your needs you must first take into consideration some and few things. In order to help you understand which type of ice machine you want to buy, we’ve compiled the pros and cons of having an air-cooled vs water-cooled ice makers. 

Ice makers working hard by churning out ice and keeping the water frozen is exacting and demands constant effort (energy). This energy produces heat, a byproduct that must be released. Without a way to cool itself, an ice maker would overheat and wear out quickly. To avoid this, engineers that design ice makers incorporate cooling condensers. Ice maachines use one of two methods to cooled:

  1. Air cooling
  2. Water cooling

Here, we’ll examine these two types of ice machine condensers, water cooled vs air cooled ice makers. Gaining some background information about both air cooling and water cooling can help you make the right choice for your unique needs.

Air-cooled Condenser Ice Makers

Small commercial establishments use ice makers with air-cooled condensers. Picture intimate establishments like local delis or some coffee shops. Have you ever been in a hospital waiting room? Or gone behind-the-scenes in a commercial kitchen?

Did you happen to visualize a self-serve drink dispenser with a large silver or black container on the top, humming quietly or noisily, depending on your location and the machine itself? Most people are aware that the sizeable component working away is the ice maker, but beyond that, few give it much thought.

Ice maker condensers like the ones just described use an air cooling method. Simply put, they draw in air from the surrounding area and use it to cool the hot condenser coils. Using fans and vents to pull in air and release energy waste back out, it circulates air throughout the condenser.

Air-cooled condensers are easy to install, and you’re not restricted by the placement of water lines as you are with water-cooled machines.

As does everything, air cooling ice makers have some disadvantages. These include:

  • Heat emissions, which can create discomfort in already-warm areas like professional kitchens
  • Electricity costs increase because the machine must stand in an area that is always cool, which can result in your having to continually run your air conditioner at low temperatures
  • Difficulty keeping the surrounding air cool because of the heat the condenser releases

Some of these disadvantages can be minimized. Consider these recommendations to offset the weaknesses.

Envision yourself lounging on a scorching summer day. To avoid sunburn, you settle into a chair in your small storage shed. You’re hot, so you grab a fan. The fan, however, does nothing more than circulate the unbearable air and blow it in your face. You’re miserable, can’t cool yourself, and are in danger of heat stroke.

This scenario is similar to what happens to your ice maker if you place it improperly. Consider these tips:

  • A well-ventilated surrounding area is a must to move hot air away
  • Surrounding air temps should be regulated to avoid fluctuations and, especially, hot air
  • To help with electricity costs, look for air cooling condensers that have the ENERGY STAR rating
  • Clean and maintain the ice maker and the condenser for best performance and lower risk of overheating

Water-cooled Ice Machine

In addition to air cooling condensers in ice makers, there are also water cooling condensers. The main difference is evident in the names: one uses air to cool the condenser, while the other uses water. There are finer nuances to the distinction between each type.

Water-cooled ice machine can produce more ice using less electricity, the negative side is its high water usage. However it is not impacted by high-temperatures that may reduce the efficiency of an air-cooler ice machine nor produces any heat which won’t require any additional space for air flow. It’s also won’t produce noise around the ice machine.

The way it works is by pumping water through the condensing unit which will absorb the heat and carried away. Some models aren’t hooked up to a closed-loop water system, so the warm water is dump down the drain, which raises your water bill. This ice machine types is being outlawed due to its waste of clean water.

If a cooling tower is available, circles through the tower and runs through its own coils, cooling through exposure to the outside air before it’s circulated through the system again.

Difference Between Air-cooled and Water-cooled Ice Maker

Both ice maker cooling systems serve the same function: to remove the energy waste -excess heat- created during the ice-making process. If an ice maker didn’t have a way of cooling itself consistently, it would become dangerously hot and then stop working.

Heat is removed via a condenser system which is either air cooling or water cooling. While both cool the ice maker so it can operate properly, they have different features and functions.

Mechanism of Action

An air-cooled condenser uses air drawn in from around it. It circulates that air to cool the system, and then it expels air through vents.

A water-cooled condenser circulates cold water to cool the machine. When pumped into the condenser, it flows through to lower the internal temperature. After one cooling run, it exits the system and goes down the drain. For every 100 pounds of ice made, it takes about 100 gallons of water to cool the system sufficiently.

Best Operating Locations

Air-cooled condensers are finicky and require precise conditions. They must reside in cool, well-ventilated locations. Don’t stick an air-cooled ice machine in a corner so it’s out of the way or it will become permanently out of the way when you have to throw it away because it overheated and broke.

Perhaps surprisingly, the region in which you live matters, at least if you want to use an air cooling device. Because they use the ambient air to cool the machine, climates that are hot and humid aren’t conducive to the mechanics of air cooling. The machine needs to intake cool air to work best.

Your location is crucial in another way, too. Some cities have regulations specifying which type of system must be used. New York City, for example, requires all establishments to use water cooling systems and city water. Check into ordinances, regulations, and laws before purchasing.

Other than needing to have a separate water line installed and placement near enough to a drain that the hose doesn’t trip everyone walking by, a water cooling system has no location restrictions. It doesn’t need lots of ventilation space surrounding it, it’s impervious to air temperature fluctuations, and it can withstand any climate.

Cost of Operation

The bottom dollar varies from location to location and time to time, so giving financial numbers here would be useless and inaccurate. We can look at the cost of operation in general terms, however.

With an air cooling machine, you pay for the electricity to operate it. Until there’s an air tax, you don’t have to pay for the air it sucks in. Your electric bill could climb when you start using a commercial ice maker due to the running of the machine itself and because you have to run your air conditioner to keep the air in the room sufficiently cool.

A water cooling system will produce high water bills. This variety uses a great deal of water every single day, and your water bill will reflect the excessive use.

Environmental Impact

Each of these commercial ice makers has a somewhat negative impact on the environment. Air coolers draw significant amount of electricity day after day as does your air conditioner.

Ice makers cooled by water don’t use much electricity, either directly or indirectly. These machines aren’t sensitive to their surroundings. You can place them pretty much anywhere without worrying about ventilation or overheating.

Despite their efficiency with electricity, the water cooling machines will never receive an ENERGY STAR rating because it wastes such high volumes of water. Daily.

This type is such a heavy water user that use in some states is banned. If you haven’t yet decided which system will best meet your needs, check into your state and local regulations right away. Make sure water cooling ice makers are allowed where you live.

One other type of ice maker cooling systems is available: The remote air-cooled condenser.

Remote Air-Cooled Condenser

Some people prefer air-cooled vs water-cooled ice makers condensers but have practical limitations. One of the most significant challenges to this type of ice machine is the requirement of a cushion of cool space surrounding the equipment on all sides.

Having places to put the ice maker that have significant surrounding gaps isn’t always practical. You have many logistics to take into consideration, and letting your ice machine monopolize space isn’t the best option.

If you’re in this situation, you might look into an alternate option, the remote air-cooled condenser. This is a separate unit that you place away from the ice maker. Some people mount it on the roof of their building or put it along the side. The primary goal is to install it where surrounding temperatures won’t be problematic.

Admittedly, these remote air cooling condensers are more suited for large commercial operations than small ones. Supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, fast food joints, and other large-scale commercial locations favor ice makers with water-cooled compressors.

These ice makers won’t heat up your kitchen or dining area because the energy waste is vented far away, outside of the building. This means that operation is quieter, too, with no fans humming and vents inhaling.

The costs are a consideration to weigh. Over time, your electricity use will be less (the machine doesn’t have to work as hard as it does in a hot, enclosed space). It will be lower still when you purchase an ice maker with an ENERGY STAR rating. See other tips for energy-efficiency in air-cooled ice makers.

While you may save money in the long run, you will, however, spend more money up front. Rather than buying one piece of equipment that makes the ice and contains a cooling system, you’re buying each piece separately. Further, you have to install the remote air-cooled condenser, and given the hosing that must run safely and inconspicuously between machines, that can be quite difficult even for professionals (thus, spendy).

Air-Cooled Ice Machines Pros and Cons


  • Affordable
  • Easy installation
  • Low water cost


  • Ice production affected by environment
  • Less energy efficient
  • Higher electricity bill

Water-Cooled Ice Machines Pros and Cons


  • Consistent ice production
  • More energy efficient
  • Quieter


  • More expensive
  • Inconvenient installation
  • Not feasible in many areas


When you need a commercial ice maker, you can choose between water cooled vs air cooled ice makers. If you select the air cooling style, you have another choice: an all-in-one unit or a unit with a remote condenser for keeping the system cool.

Consider the size of your operation, your interior space, your climate, and your level of environmental conscientiousness when making your decision. Either way, you and your customers will have a steady supply of fresh ice.