How Do Ice Makers Know When To Stop?

If you’ve just got an ice maker, you’ve likely spent at least the last 48 hours marveling at its frosty abilities.

At first, you don’t care how it all works.

You just drop a couple of ice cubes in your white Russian, take a sip, and assume it’s all magic.

But you’re an inquisitive person, and steadily, questions begin to creep up in your mind, questions like…How does my ice maker know when to stop making ice?

Next, you’re wondering if it ever will stop making ice and worrying that you’ll wake up tomorrow in a straight-up igloo.

Well, to put your mind at ease, so you can enjoy your cocktail to the fullest extent, I’m going to answer all your ice maker-related queries right here, right now.

Do Ice Makers Stop making Ice Automatically?

I’ve got some fantastic news for you.

As long as your ice maker isn’t from the dark ages, there’s a very good chance that it has some sort of baked-in auto-stop function, so your fears of waking to a frosty tundra in your home are unfounded.

Having said that, if your ice-slinger is quite an old model, bought 2nd, 3rd, or even 10th hand, you may have to control it manually using an activation/deactivation lever.

If you’re not sure if your ice maker has an auto-stop function, simply look inside it or around it for anything that signifies a manual control.

Should you find one, you’ll have to monitor it closely as it works.

If not, then you can go about your day, feeling smug that your ice maker is basically a robot genius.

Okay… But How Do Ice Makers Actually Know When Enough Is Enough?

Manufacturers currently use one of two methods to imbue their ice makers with a bit of self-control.

The first method, and the one most commonly found on lower-end ice makers, is mechanical in nature.

A wire or bar of some kind juts down below the surface of the ice bucket.

As the bucket fills, the ice eventually comes into contact with this component, and slowly but surely, pushes it back into the enclosure.

When the bar reaches a certain stage, it triggers a switch within the enclosure that cuts off the voltage to the water inlet valve, and with no water, there can be no more ice, and so the cycle is terminated — pretty clever, right?

When you take some ice out, the bar can thread back through to the bucket, disengaging the switch, reestablishing the voltage to the water inlet valve, and kicking your ice maker back into action.

The second method is a lot more flashy and futuristic, but ultimately, the results are the same.

Fancy ice makers rely on optical sensors to gauge how full their bucket is.

Most of the time, these sensors use infrared technology, but this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Unlike the mechanical method, in which the mechanism is in amongst the ice-making components, optical sensors are usually fitted on either side of the bucket.

One is a transmitter and the other is a receiver.

The transmitter shoots a laser through the transparent ice bucket and into the eye of the receiver.

The receiver then converts the light into an electrical signal to the water inlet valve, thereby initiating the ice-making cycle.

When the ice reaches “laser level”, it obscures the beam, preventing it from reaching the receiver, and with no light to convert into an electrical signal, the receiver cannot power the water inlet valve.

There’s usually some sort of indicator on the transmitter that informs you that the beam has been broken. Usually, a solid light begins to blink, changes color, or turns off completely.

ice maker machine dispensing ice

Right, I Get it, But…How Reliable Is My Ice Maker’s Auto-Stop Function?

Despite being the premium auto-stop feature of the two, it’s the optical sensors that cause the most trouble, but the good news is that they won’t get stuck in some sort of unstoppable, ice-making frenzy.

On the contrary, they’re actually far more likely to prevent your fridge-freezer or standalone unit from making any ice.

The most common thing that can go wrong with these sensors is a blockage of some kind.

It’s not only ice that will obscure the beam, but pretty much anything.

Now, I’m sure you keep a very clean fridge, but for argument’s sake, let’s imagine you didn’t.

A rogue spinach leaf, some plastic vegetable wrappers, or even some wayward ketchup could find its way to either the transmitter or receiver, blocking the beam.

Sure, giving them a wipe down from time to time can prevent this impromptu ice strike, but, much like anything in this world, electro-optical sensors can also just wear out over time.

Luckily for us ice enthusiasts, their control boards can be purchased for a very reasonable price, and switching them out is nowhere near as difficult as you might think.

Can I Increase Or Decrease The Ice Level That Triggers The Auto-Stop Function?

Fridge-freezers and ice machines are never really brimming with variable controls, so for the most part, you’re stuck with whatever the laser beam or mechanical bar gives you; however, there is sometimes a way that you can “hack” the system.

That’s right, folks, get your despondent voice and vacant, dead-eyed stare ready because we’re going to Mr. Robot our ice makers!

But, instead of a bunch of cool cyber espionage, we’re just going to be turning the water adjustment screw clockwise.

Less exciting, I know, but we have to make the most of what we’ve got, and we’ve got ice makers.

By giving that screw a little twist, we limit the water flow to the ice maker, and thus, reduce our overall ice yield, or slow down production, anyway.

Do bear in mind, though, that altering the stock water flow can affect the shape of the ice, and it may end up hollow in the middle.

Why Is My Ice Maker Making Too Much Ice?

If the reason you wanted to alter your water flow and limit your ice production is that your ice maker has gone haywire, producing more ice than it should, it usually just means the bucket is slightly out of place. Sometimes, however, the problem is more severe.

You’ll rarely witness this issue with optical sensors, but arm and switch mechanisms do break from time to time, which can lead to an overactive ice maker, but, just like optical sensors, they can be repaired — hooray!

Final Thoughts

There you have it — most modern ice makers use either mechanical or electro-optical sensors to gauge how much ice has been made and when they need to, well…put it on ice.

Optical sensors have a habit of playing up from time to time, halting your ice production altogether, and mechanical sensors can break as well, leading to an excess of ice, but both issues are easily remedied.

If you’re having a particularly hard time with a misbehaving ice maker, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer.

Ice machines can be pretty temperamental, so they probably have whole teams on standby just waiting to look into it, solve the problem, and make it so you’ll never have to suffer through an iceless mojito ever again!