The Gross Reason You Should Never Ignore Your Fridge’s “Change Filter” Light

published Jul 9, 2023
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Ice is a big part of my day-to-day life. I exclusively drink iced coffee, whether it’s 100 degrees and sweltering or the forecast calls for a blizzard. Recently, my coffee tasted a little, well, off. I thought maybe my trusted bottled iced coffee brand switched formulas, or I bought a bad batch. So I tried a new brand and it had the same odd, rusty taste. I realized it wasn’t the coffee — it turns out my coffee tasted weird because of the ice itself. And where did said ice come from? Our freezer. 

We moved into our house three years ago and I think we’ve cleaned our freezer’s built-in ice maker maybe once. It truly never occurred to us — after all, how dirty could an ice maker get? As far as I was concerned, water was the only “ingredient” needed to make the ice … and what could be cleaner than that? As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Jason Carter, an appliance technician with Simply Swider, informed me, “You will be surprised at the stories I have about the state of ice makers when they are left unattended. Mold, rust, dirt clumps, and slime build up over time and can become a real health hazard. I’ve even had to clean out roaches from a few!”

Gross, right? The only thing worse than foul-tasting iced coffee, thanks to rotten ice cubes, would be finding a roach in my glass. It’s easy to clean the parts of your fridge that you see day in and day out, such as dirty shelves and drawers, but a built-in ice maker is practically invisible. So, to save myself — and you — from ever sipping on funky iced coffee (or whatever your iced drink of choice may be) again, here’s what you need to know about taking care of your built-in ice maker.

How often should you clean your built-in ice maker?

A good rule of thumb is to clean out your ice maker every four to six months “or when you feel that the ice smells funny,” says Carter. This is the best way to keep bacteria out of your ice trays and ensure your ice is fresh. However, Chinmay Daflapurkar of Express Demo & Waste, recommends that if you have hard water or your ice maker gets extra heavy usage, more frequent cleaning may be necessary. “Adhering to a regular cleaning schedule will help prevent the accumulation of contaminants and maintain the purity of your ice.”

How does infrequent cleaning affect the food and ice in your freezer?

Over time, dirt and minerals can affect the taste and appearance of the ice, causing it to become cloudy or discolored. “Moreover, bacteria and mold can thrive in a dirty ice maker, posing potential health risks,” says Daflapurkar. “By keeping your ice maker clean, you ensure the production of high-quality, safe ice for consumption.” As for how a dirty ice maker can directly affect your food, “It can lead to serious consequences, as bacteria can be incredibly dangerous, particularly types like salmonella, among others,” says Carter. 

What happens if you ignore the “Change Filter” light on your refrigerator or ice maker?

In most refrigerators, the “Change Filter” light essentially operates as a six-month timer. Once you reset it, the light disappears, only to reappear six months later. Even if you ignore it, the ice maker will continue to function. However, Daflapurkar strongly suggests promptly replacing the filter when the light comes on. “The filter plays a crucial role in removing impurities from the water, such as sediments and chlorine. Ignoring the light will result in decreased water quality, compromising the taste and purity of the ice,” he says. “To maintain optimal performance, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for filter replacement.”

It’s smart to take preventive measures.

There are little things you can do to enhance the cleanliness of your ice maker (in addition to regularly cleaning it). Daflapurkar recommends using filtered water to reduce the introduction of impurities into the system, and regularly wiping down the interior surfaces with a mild detergent or vinegar solution to prevent dirt and mold buildup. He also suggests making it a habit to periodically inspect your ice maker for any signs of contamination or malfunction so you can address them promptly.

It’s important to remember that a clean ice maker not only provides high-quality ice, but also means your food — both in the fridge and freezer — is safe from harmful bacteria and funky smells and tastes. So you can enjoy your iced coffee, cocktail, mocktail, or any other icy refreshing drink of your choice with crystal-clear ice and know you’re not at risk of contamination (or a nasty taste).