If you’re planning a holiday party or a family get-together over the next few weeks, you want to ensure you have plenty of ice cubes to keep the beverages chilled. What should you do if you find your refrigerator ice maker is making ice cubes that are too small, ice cubes that are hollow on the inside, or not making ice at all? Repair Clinic has some advice on how you can fix a broken refrigerator ice maker yourself. It all starts with understanding how a refrigerator ice maker makes ice when it’s working properly…
Three requirements needed for the refrigerator ice maker to make ice
There are three requirements that need to be met for the refrigerator ice maker to successfully make ice:
1) Incoming voltage to both the ice maker and the refrigerator’s water inlet valve.
2) A reliable water supply to the ice maker tray.
3) The proper air temperature inside the refrigerator.
Refrigerator ice makers use 120 volts of alternating current
Refrigerator ice makers use 120 volts of alternating current to power the ice maker as well as open the refrigerator’s water inlet valve to allow water to fill the ice maker tray. Provided the temperature in the ice maker tray has been cold enough to freeze the water, voltage will be sent to the ice maker motor which, on many ice maker models, will turn an ice ejector arm to scoop out the ice cubes or cause the ice tray to flex to dump out the ice. At the end of this cycle, the ice maker will allow voltage to be sent to a solenoid in the water inlet valve which opens the valve to refill the tray.
20 to 120 pounds per square inch of water pressure is required
The home’s water supply line, which is attached to the water inlet valve input, needs to provide water pressure between 20 and 120 pounds per square inch (PSI) for the inlet valve to function properly and allow the appropriate amount of water to be sent to the ice maker tray. If the home’s water pressure is below 20 PSI, the ice cubes will likely be too small or hollow.
Air temperature should be zero degrees Fahrenheit for optimal ice making
For optimal ice-making, the air temperature inside the freezer compartment should be between 0° and 5° Fahrenheit (- 18° and -15° Celsius). A higher air temperature that can’t be lowered by adjusting the temperature control thermostat indicates there is a cooling problem within the refrigerator.
How the air temperature, water pressure, and voltage work together to make ice
As long as the air temperature inside the freezer compartment is cold enough (close to 0° F or -18° C) to allow water to properly freeze, the ice maker will be prepared to cycle provided it’s on/off switch is in the “on” position and it’s shut-off arm, if applicable, is in the down position. The ice maker will only cycle when a thermostat or thermistor senses the temperature in the ice tray is cold enough to have frozen the water in the tray (around 15° F or – 9° C). Depending on the model, the ice maker motor, powered by 120 volts of alternating current, will then turn an ice ejector arm to scoop out the ice cubes or cause the ice tray to flex to release the cubes. If the ice maker model makes crescent-shaped cubes, a heater on the bottom of the tray will be energized to help release the cubes. In these models, small “fingers” are used to keep pressure on the ice cubes until they release. The ice cubes are deposited into a storage bin, which may be a standard ice bucket that can be removed to retrieve the ice or it may have an auger installed that will rotate to push the ice cubes down an ice dispenser chute in the refrigerator door.
At the end of this cycle, just before the ice ejector arm or flex tray return to its original position, the ice maker allows voltage to be sent to the water inlet valve solenoid which opens the valve for approximately seven seconds. The water pressure will then allow water to flow through a water line to a fill tube positioned directly above the ice maker’s tray. The water exits the fill tube into the tray where, once again, the water will freeze. The ice-making cycle will continue until the amount of ice in the bin causes the shut-off arm to lift up, or an ice sensor beam to be interrupted, to automatically shut off the ice maker.
6 reasons why the refrigerator ice maker is not working
Is your refrigerator ice maker not making ice at all? Are the ice cubes thin or hollow on the inside? Repair Clinic has six reasons why the refrigerator ice maker is not working properly:
- Freezer temperature is too high – The ice maker will not produce ice cubes efficiently if the freezer air temperature is too high. As noted above, the ideal air temperature is between 0° and 5° Fahrenheit. If the freezer air temperature stays above 15°F, there is probably something wrong with the refrigerator’s cooling system. This can be caused by the accumulation of dust, dirt, and debris on the appliance’s condenser coils which prevents the coils from properly dissipating heat (a requirement for refrigeration), the failure of the condenser fan motor to properly circulate the air within the appliance, or the evaporator coils being frosted over resulting in restricted air flow. The evaporator coils frosting over indicates a failure in the refrigerator’s defrost system which can be caused by a broken defrost control, heater, or thermostat.
- Defective water inlet valve – As the component that allows water to be sent to the ice maker tray, the refrigerator’s water inlet valve can fail both mechanically and electrically. A mechanical failure could be caused by the build-up of mineral deposits which can prevent the valve from opening. If the valve is clogged with mineral deposits, you will need to replace the valve with a new one; attempting to disassemble an inlet valve to clean it out is not recommended as this can further damage the part. To determine if the water inlet valve has failed electrically, you can use a multimeter to test the valve’s solenoid coils for electrical continuity – a continuous electrical path present in the coils. If one or more of the coils test “negative” for continuity, the inlet valve will need to be replaced.
- Low water pressure – As we mentioned earlier, the refrigerator ice maker requires the home’s water pressure to be at least 20 PSI to successfully make ice. To help determine if your home has sufficient water pressure, shut off the home’s water supply valve, detach the water supply line from the refrigerator’s water inlet valve, and hold the line over a bucket. Turn the water supply back on and observe whether or not there is a strong flow of water jetting out of the line. A weak flow indicates a problem with the water line or the home’s water supply valve. A strong flow will indicate the problem is probably caused by an obstruction in the refrigerator’s water inlet valve or a defective valve solenoid. BONUS TIP: If your refrigerator uses a water filter, that filter can become clogged with deposits if left in the refrigerator too long. This can also impede the water flow to the ice maker tray. Be sure to replace the water filter regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid this problem.
- Clogged fill tube – Insufficient water pressure or a defective inlet valve can cause the fill tube to become clogged with ice, preventing water from exiting the fill tube into the ice maker tray. You can thaw out the ice clog by using a hair dryer to heat up the fill tube, but if this problem reoccurs, you will likely need to replace the inlet valve or find a way to correct the home’s low water pressure.
- Faulty door switch – Here’s something to be aware of that has nothing to do with whether or not the ice maker is actually making ice since it may prevent you from getting that ice. On most refrigerator models, a door switch will disable the ice dispenser when the refrigerator door is open. If the door switch is faulty, the ice dispenser may not work at all even with the door fully closed. As with the water inlet valve solenoids, you can use a multimeter to test the door switch for electrical continuity to determine if the part has failed or not.
- Malfunctioning ice maker – Is there ice in the ice maker tray that isn’t being ejected? Then it’s likely that one of the components inside the ice maker (such as the motor) is malfunctioning. Since these components are usually not sold separately, you’ll probably need to install a new ice maker, provided you’ve ruled out the other probable causes.
Additional repair resources courtesy of Repair Clinic
As your repair partner, Repair Clinic can assist you in fixing your broken ice maker. Visit the Repair Clinic website and enter your refrigerator’s whole model number in the “Videos & Articles” search bar to find specific repair help for your appliance, including a video showing how to replace an ice maker fill tube on a KitchenAid 5-Door Refrigerator (model KRMF706ESS01) and a video and a step-by-step guide showing how to install a new ice maker in the model ED2KVEXVB01 Whirlpool Refrigerator.
Repair Clinic stocks genuine OEM refrigerator parts
In addition to offering you an exhaustive library of repair help content, Repair Clinic.com also stocks all of the replacement parts you need to fix your ice maker, including ice maker mold heaters, ice maker control modules, ice ejector bars, fill tubes, water lines, and thermostats. Enter the full model number of the refrigerator in Repair Clinic’s “Search Parts Online & Get Answers” search bar to see a complete list of compatible OEM parts from such manufacturers as Samsung, Frigidaire, KitchenAid, GE, Kenmore, LG, Maytag, Whirlpool, and more. You can then use the “Part Category” and “Part Title” navigation filters to narrow that list down to find the exact part that will fix your refrigerator’s ice maker.