What to do when your ice maker stops working?
First things first, check that the fridge itself is still cooling. Often times, if the fridge cooling has stopped working, the ice in the ice maker melts and puddles on the floor. While the initial thought is a faulty ice maker, the real cause is often a tripped or blown compressor or similar issue. Open your fridge, ensure that the lights still turn on (so you still have electrical power) and that your fridge is still cooling (some fridges have convenient built-in temperature sensors) Your fridge should be a frosty 4 degrees C or 39 degrees F.
Open up your ice-maker and inspect the ice holder. If there is a lack of ice or ice cubes that are tiny shards, it is a symptom that your water line supply is partially or completely blocked. Here are 4 things to do:
1. Check the valve
The valve for your fridge is typically in your furnace room underneath your kitchen. Head into the room below your fridge and look for this valve.
In older homes, your water lines might be made of copper. If so, you might have a “saddle valve” installed, which are very prone to leaks or blockages. (If your water lines are plastic, typically white in color, move on to step 4). While not ideal, these saddle valves are easy to install and can be installed by non-plumbers. They work by piercing a tiny hole in the copper pipe to allow a small trickle to pass. The issue being, after years of service, the hole may enlarge and leak or simply crust over and be blocked.
So, the first thing to do is take a look at the valve. You’re looking for any green discoloration or white crystals on the valve itself. This is a tell-tale sign that it has been leaking and could be on the verge or failure and lead to a flooded room.
If you see this, you can replace the saddle valve quickly and safely using parts from your local hardware store. No plumbing tools required. Alternatively if you wish for it to be done professionally by adding in a proper soldered valve, contact your local plumber.
2. Shut off the valve
If there is no water leakage or discoloration on the saddle valve or copper pipe, shut off the saddle valve completely by turning the valve handle counter-clockwise. The valve stem might be crusted over on the inside so the handle might be difficult to turn.
Apply gentle pressure and turn the handle back and forth to loosen the stem and its connected mechanisms. Once you are able to turn the valve all the way closed counter-clockwise, re-open the valve clockwise all the way. If water leaks from the packing nuts during the process, this is normal and it can be tightened up with an adjustable wrench. Repeat the process as often as needed until the saddle valve handle can move smoothly and there is no water leakage from the valve itself.
3. Check your fridge ice maker
Head back upstairs and check your fridge ice maker. Ideally, you would like to hear water filling inside the icemaker’s ice tray or you could visually check that the tray is indeed filled with water. If so, problem solved and you did it! Great job!
4. What to do with plastic water lines
If your water line is plastic, be mindful of the color. White (or colored blue, the water line should never be red as that is meant for hot water. If it is red, call your appliance repair technician right away to get it remediated, as hot water into the ice maker line will damage your fridge long term) water lines mean it is made from cross-linked polyethylene or PEX for short. PEX is the gold standard for water lines in recent years.
Its predecessor was colored grey and is made from poly-butylene, and has been discontinued from use due to weakness to UV rays from sunlight. If you have grey water lines visible, it is highly advisable to get them replaced as a burst water line due to UV light aging is an actual risk.
Either way, both types of lines will typically have a standard quarter turn ball valve. It may be shut or crusted over internally so turn it back and forth a few times to loosen it up. The direction of the handle should point in the same way as the water flow.
If checking your valves don’t work, then the next thing to look at is the water line – Another common issue is the water line from the valve to the fridge. Thankfully, this part is the easiest and most straightforward step. The water line has two types; either a thin copper tubing that uses compression fittings, or a much stronger, simpler braided stainless steel tubing.
Oftentimes, the reason for an ice maker not working is simply this copper tubing getting pinched shut, either due to a recent fridge movement or it was pinched long ago and slowly crusted shut.
There are countless articles out there on how to salvage these copper lines, how to redo the compression fittings, how to buy parts and so on. Please do not bother at all with this. Simply replace the entire water line with a modern braided stainless steel one. Not only is it far easier to install and resistant to being pinched, it is also the cheaper option. By the time you buy the tools to redo a compression fitting with proper flaring, tools you likely will never use again, it is far cheaper to just buy the modern version.
To replace a copper water line, simply shut the water valve connected to your fridge, in the room below your kitchen. Using an adjustable wrench, unscrew the copper water line from the valve then head back upstairs. Unscrew the copper water line from your fridge. Screw on your new braided stainless steel water line. Then simply pull out your old copper water line and insert the new stainless steel line into the hole where the copper water line came out.
Head back downstairs, gently pull the new line in and connect back to the water valve. (You might need to push back the fridge for the water line to reach the valve) Be sure to buy the correct water line length. Typically, 6 to 10 feet is enough (buy longer lengths as needed or connect two water lines together with the appropriate fittings. Talk to your local hardware store about where to find the stainless steel water lines and fittings)
If the icemaker is still dry or only dribbles water, the issue could be the inlet tube froze shut due to the low or no water supply (which has been addressed by the earlier fix). So the next step is to thaw out the line so water can get by once again.
Typically this means allowing the fridge to be unplugged and thawed out naturally overnight. However, you may have a fridge filled with perishable food and this is not an option just to unplug your ice maker. So here is how you can thaw it quickly:
1. Pull out your fridge, such that you can reach behind and unplug it. Then if you need the room to work, push the fridge back in place. Otherwise, leave the fridge pulled out while you work.
2. As every fridge is different, inspect how the ice maker is attached to the fridge. Some are built into the door of the fridge. If so, there should be a small rubber tubing that is exposed to carry water from the valve to the ice tray. Give it a gentle squeeze and pull to see if it is flexible. If it has frozen up due to low water flow, it will resist and give a crackling noise.
If this is the case, use a hair dryer on the lowest air volume but highest heat setting. Keep the hair dryer far enough away from the rubber tubing such that the wind pressure does not push too hard on the brittle cold plastic. The idea is to gently warm up the valve assembly and rubber tubing as quickly as possible without exerting too much force. You want heat, not movement.
After 10 minutes, the frozen components should have thawed and hopefully the valve operates again. Close the fridge door and listen for the water valve opening and filling the ice tray. If you do hear the water hissing sound, you did it! Great job.
3. Some other fridge styles have the ice making tray built into the upper portion of the fridge. If so, there should be visible screws, typically with Phillips (+) head.
Remove any food in the fridge and lay down some towels. The towels are partly to catch any water spillage, but most importantly to catch any screws you might fumble and drop as you remove the ice making assembly. Nothing’s more frustrating than hunting down lost screws in tight spots.
After unscrewing the ice tray assembly, gently unplug the wiring harness and remove the ice maker. Behind it will be the water inlet tube that fills the ice tray. As with the previous door-based ice maker, use a hair dryer on the highest heat setting but lowest air flow to gently heat up the water inlet tube area. Be mindful not to place the hair dryer too close. The idea is to heat up the area slowly, not forcefully, lest you damage the water valve at the back of the water inlet tube.
If it indeed has frozen shut, water should be streaming out after a few minutes of heating. Continue to heat for 10 to 15 minutes till the water streaming out stops. Then replace the ice tray assembly. After reinstalling, close the fridge doors and plug the fridge back in. As before, listen for the water hissing sound as the valve opens and fills the ice tray. If you hear it, let it continue until it stops, then check to see if the ice tray has been filled with water. If so, great! Push your fridge back in place and you are done (after removing the towels and placing back all your food, that is!)
If you have reached this step and the ice maker still does not fill, it is likely that the water inlet valve itself is the issue. If you are confident in searching for the exact water inlet valve for your specific fridge and have prior knowledge on how to replace it, that’s wonderful. Go for it! For most homeowners, this is when it is time to call your local reliable appliance repair company.
While it may seem that you did a ton of work for nothing at this point, nothing could be further from the truth. It is the responsibility of a competent repair technician to check all the things you already ran through, and that takes time. Time that costs you. By eliminating these common issues, the technician just needs to do a cursory inspection of your previous work and quickly move on to the issue you have already identified, the water inlet valve, saving you over an hour of labor costs. Now that’s money back in your pocket and you learnt much about how to care for your appliance in a single afternoon! Win-win.