Undercounter Ice Makers vs. Portable Ice Makers: Which Should You Buy?

Perfect for boats, RVs, home kitchens and bars, ice makers are a great way to keep you and your guests well supplied with cold drinks. They are compact and work quickly, and they make entertaining friends super easy.

But what's the difference between an undercounter ice maker and a portable ice maker, and more importantly, which one would be a better buy for you? This guide will help you decide which one is ideal for your situation, so the only decision you'll have left to make is what drink you want next!

Undercounter Ice Makers

Undercounter ice makers, also called built-in ice makers, are designed to fit under counters for a discrete look that  blends in with your existing decor. These ice makers vent from the front, so you can install it into any cabinetry you already have. Undercounter ice makers can also be used as freestanding units, for more versatile installation options.

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Undercounter ice makers generally requires a drain, although drain-free models, which are easier and less expensive to install, are available. They are generally either 15 or 18 inches wide, and the best models can produce up to 60 pounds of ice per day in optimal conditions.

Undercounter ice makers are usually between 24 to 32 inches tall. Prices range from under $350 to as much as $3,000. The prices range due to the different qualities of ice and the undercounter ice maker's overall durability.

Like full size refrigerators, undercounter ice makers require a water line; however, their compact size makes them more convenient. While small enough to fit in almost any space, they provide plenty of fresh ice in a quick, efficient manner, and you will never have a shortage.

Undercounter ice makers produce crescent-shaped ice, similar to ones you would find in a regular freezer. The ice is cloudy and opaque.

Pros

  • Blends in well with existing counters and cabinetry
  • Large capacity, and keeps ice frozen for a while
  • Relatively compact design

Cons

  • Needs a permanent water line - recommended installation by a plumber
  • Some also need a drain line

Portable Ice Makers

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Portable ice makers are a convenient and inexpensive way to make ice wherever and whenever you need it. You  will never have to buy a bag of ice again! They are easy to set up on your kitchen counter, or bring out to a tailgate party.

Unlike undercounter ice makers, portable ones do not need a permanent water line, and plug into a standard outlet. You just need to pour water into them, and they will quickly make ice.

The ice, however, tends to melt quickly, since a portable ice maker only makes ice and is not a freezer. Undercounter ice makers work slightly better as freezer storage for ice, although they aren't freezers either. A portable ice maker will recycle the water to make more ice but there is limited storage space. Most portable ice makers make bullet shaped ice, with a cloudy, opaque appearance.

Portable ice makers start making ice in as little as 6 minutes, and many give you the option of choosing the size of ice cubes. They are generally able to generate between 12 and 35 pounds of ice per day, and can store up to 5 pounds at a time.

Pros

  • Extremely compact and portable
  • Makes ice in a matter of minutes
  • Relatively inexpensive

Cons

  • Small capacity and can't keep ice frozen for long
  • Ice tends to be smaller, and melts quicker, than ones from undercounter ice makers

How to Choose Your Ice Maker

Undercounter ice makers are a great choice if you have a place to permanently install them, and enough money in your budget. They're great for a home bar, RV or boat, and are still very compact. Undercounter ice makers provide a lot ice quickly and efficiently. Certain undercounter ice makers can also be used outdoors.

Undercounter ice makers are built for more heavy-duty ice making needs, and can be a great investment over time. One can be easily integrated into your current decor, and some even offer customized overlays so they match your cabinetry perfectly. Undercounter ice makers are a good alternative to portable ice makers, especially if you prefer the look and order of a fixed appliance.

However, portable ice makers are the option for you if you plan on taking your ice maker out to picnics, BBQs and other events. If you don't need an ice maker all the time, they are smaller and easier to store.

When deciding which portable or undercounter ice maker you want, remember that all ice makers are slightly different within these two categories. Keep in mind capacity, the time it takes to make the ice, and the control type (how important is it for you to have an automated touch screen?).

Most portable and undercounter ice makers have a much greater production capacity than storage capacity, so while a unit may be capable of making a great deal of ice in a day, they can only store a fraction of it at a time.

Features to Look Out For:

Portable ice makers:

  • Soft touch digital controls
  • LED indicator lights
  • Water recycling system
  • Material - plastic or stainless steel
  • Option of a water line, or a multi-liter reservoir
  • Storage capacity

Undercounter ice makers:

  • Drain or no drain
  • Water recycling system
  • Custom door panel
  • Material - stainless steel or wood
  • Energy efficiency
  • Corrosion resistant parts

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