Informational Guide

Air Cooled Vs Water Cooled Ice Machines

by Ian Haynes

Hotels, restaurants, commercial businesses, and hospitals depend on a steady ice supply for various reasons.  

However, buying an ice machine isn't that simple: When you choose the type of machine to buy for your establishment, you will most likely have to choose between air-cooled vs water-cooled ice machines.  

Though before selecting one, you must understand the difference between the two: 

Air Cooled Vs Water-Cooled Ice Machines 

Now that we've discussed the highlights of both types, how do they perform in comparison? 

Water Consumption 

Water-cooled ice machines use a continuous cold water flow (temperature around 40 to 50°F). So in a commercial setting, for every 100 lbs. of ice produced, your water-cooled ice unit uses approximately 100 gallons of water.

Moreover, it also must be installed near a drainage outlet to facilitate removal. In contrast, air-cooled machines are free of these complexities and are much more utility-bill efficient.

Energy Efficiency 

A water-cooled ice machine uses five times more water to produce a similar quantity of ice than an air-cooled unit.  

In addition, higher running time leads to increased energy usage, making it a costly option for commercial establishments.  

In contrast, most air-cooled ice machines carry US EPA Energy Star ratings, depicting more energy-efficient than their counterparts. 

Ice Machine Unit Cost 

In terms of unit cost, the air-cooled ice machines can cost between $2,000 to $6,500 depending on their size; whereas, the water-cooled units cost around $3,000 and can even go up to $10,000.  

Even though water-cooled units are more expensive, they are ideal if you are located in a place with lower ventilation.  

The extra cost will not seem much if you buy an air-cooled machine in that hot climate and then have to get it fixed every other day.  

which is better air cooled or water cooled ice machine

Operating Cost 

A typical commercial ice-maker, whether it is air-cooled or water-cooled, uses about 350 kWh monthly.

Considering the average rate of 0.06 USD per KWh would roughly translate to 21 USD per month.

However, one thing discussed prior was that water-cooled ice machines require a longer running time than air-cooled. So obviously, the higher running time can lead to increased operating costs. 

Ease Of Cleaning And Maintenance 

Between air-cooled versus water-cooled ice machines, when discussing easy cleaning, then water-cooled units come out on top.  

Air-cooled units have vents in which lint and dust can get trapped; this translates to you cleaning them often. 

In comparison, the water-cooled machines can be cleaned easily because they don't have any pieces that can trap dust.  

Related Article - How To Clean A Scotsman Ice Machine

Ease Of Installation 

Both air-cooled ice machines VS water have some challenges to their installation process. If you have an air-cooled unit, you need to install it in a place with increased ventilation.  

This creates a problem for people who do not have that type of space in their kitchen. Consequently, if you have a water-cooled unit, the challenge of finding a properly ventilated area is solved, but you have to install it near water drainage.  

Read More - How To Replace Ice Machines (Installation Guide)

Air-Cooled Ice Machines (Overview + Pros & Cons)

This ice machine works by expelling heat as its vents, and internal fans help circulate the air. Its process is quite simple: 

  • Air flows through condenser coils to remove the internal heat 
  • This heated air then exits the machine via vents on the sides or rear of the ice machine 

Meanwhile, air-cooled ice machines have gained more popularity than their water-cooled counterparts. And this is because they are cheaper to operate.  

Furthermore, since most air-cooled ice machines consume lower energy, they carry the Energy Star seal of approval.

air cooled ice machine vs water

As a result, they exhibit optimum functionality in a temperature-controlled and clean environment.  

If you use them in a hot room, the already warm air will pass over condenser coils that will not effectively remove heat instead of cooler air; ultimately, it slows down the ice production rate.  

If you put it in a closed space with limited ventilation, the recirculating air will continue heating until your machine shuts down due to overheating.  

If you run your air-cooled ice machine in a warm room, it will lead to an overworked system, reducing your ice machine's life.  

As mentioned above, keep your air-cooled ice machine in a temperature-controlled environment to get the best results.  

  • Easy to install 
  • Cheaper than water cooled ice machines 
  • Since it does not use water, you can save money on utility bills 
  • Energy efficient 
  • Since the unit expels air, you need adequate space to ventilate properly 
  • Exhaust air can heat your kitchen since it is expelled into the surroundings 
  • Chances of dust build-up in vents are high 

Water Cooled Ice Machines (Overview + Pros & Cons) 

The critical difference between air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines is that the latter transfer heat by using water.  

The machine has a water coil running alongside the condenser coil, it releases heat in the water, and the heated water is drained out of your unit.  

This effectively removes heat from your machine and allows it to maintain its temperature.  

The water-cooled ice machines are popular in areas where temperature control is an issue. However, as mentioned, an air-cooled machine's performance relies significantly on the air temperature. 

difference between air cooled and water cooled ice machine

In contrast, a water-cooled machine is not dependent upon air to expel heat. This helps it to operate in warmer temperatures or crowded spaces without lowering machine output.  

The one challenge people face with water-cooled units is water consumption. They usually require five times more water to produce the same quantity of ice than an air-cooled machine.  

Of course, if your residence contains a cooling tower and a recirculating water system, you can use it to re-use the water. But this is not that common in many places, especially in older buildings.  

  • They don't rely on air temperature 
  • They are quieter since they do not have any fans 
  • Can be placed anywhere regardless of concern for ventilation 
  • Water-cooled ice machines use a lot of water 
  • Require a separate water line for installation 
  • There are restrictions by some municipalities on their use 

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Why is an air-cooled ice machine remote cooled? 

In many cases, remote air-cooled ice machines are used because their condensing unit is in a different location, keeping the atmosphere cool. This makes it better than non-remote models.

Can you convert a water-cooled ice machine to air cooled? 

No, you cannot. This is because both the units have entirely different structures, and they cannot be converted. Therefore, you should ideally do your research before investing in one. 

What is the average life of a commercial ice machine? 

A commercial ice machine has an average life of around 4 to 5 years. However, regular maintenance can give you 10+ years if you have cleaned and kept it properly.  

How long does it take for a commercial ice machine to make ice? 

It takes around 90 minutes for commercial ice machines to produce ten cubes of ice; it then continues the process until the ice cube bin is full.  

Related Article - How Long Does An Ice Machine Take To Make Ice


So to answer the question "Which is better, air-cooled or water-cooled ice machine?" it is the air-cooled models.  

They are energy efficient, use fewer utilities, and can be set up quickly. Furthermore, there are restrictions by various municipalities on the use of water-cooled ice machines due to their high water usage.  

So if you do not reside in an area that cannot handle an air-cooled unit, it is better to get one! 

Check out our guide to the best commercial ice makers here!

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.