Why Does My Ice Taste Bad Sometimes? 

Have you ever had a glass of ice water with a truly weird, unappealing taste? You’re not imagining it. Learn why this happens and how to avoid it. 

Published Aug. 3, 2023.

I don’t like drinking water. I’ll do it (when forced) to stay alive, but more often than not, I find the flavor deeply unappealing. 

The usual culprit? The ice cubes.

I like my water very cold and filled with ice, but sometimes that ice brings with it unwelcome, off flavors. The best way I can describe it is to say that it tastes the way a community pool locker room smells.

I've poured too many glasses of ice water down the sink. So I had to know: Why does some ice taste so weird? And how can I make ice that has zero flavor?

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After doing some research, I learned that I'm not imagining things. Here's what you should know about the origins of icky-tasting ice plus how to prevent it.

1. Ice Absorbs Smells

Perhaps the most valuable piece of information I learned came from our Science Research Editor Paul Adams. He explained to me the science behind how ice can essentially act like a sponge in your freezer, soaking up any circulating smells. 

Paul explained that odors are airborne volatile compounds, but in a freezer, they become less airborne because of the temperature, and they settle on surfaces. Since ice (and water) is made up of molecules with polar charges, the odor compounds tend to adhere to the surface of the ice and remain there.

Ice, being porous, has a unique ability to absorb surrounding odors which then get carried over directly into your drink through the ice. 

You may think, “My freezer doesn’t have much in it. What smells could there really be?” It turns out that in many refrigerators, air flows between the fridge section and the freezer section, so pungent smells anywhere within your refrigerator will go into the air and get circulated throughout.  

2. Equipment Is Key

The issue of off-flavored ice cubes is particularly pertinent when ice is made in a tray rather than from an in-fridge dispenser. This is because cubes made from a dispenser are frozen inside their system and then dropped into an exposed bin, whereas ice in a tray is exposed to the freezer air the entire time that it is transforming from water to ice. 

Those smells circulating and then landing on your ice is especially noticeable when you have a standard, open-top ice tray. As our Reviews team noted in their testing of ice cube trays, most trays aren’t covered, leaving the ice exposed to the air, where it readily absorbs smells.

This is why our favorite model, the OXO No-Spill Ice Cube Tray, has a flexible silicone cover that fits snugly, creating a seal that keeps water from spilling from the indentations and blocks out freezer smells.

Silicone ice molds are a common alternative to hard plastic ice cube trays, and while it is certainly easy to remove ice from them, it’s important to deodorize them to avoid off-flavors. Silicone is relatively permeable to gasses, and molds made from it are notorious for absorbing freezer odors and transferring them to the ice they make. Read more about this phenomenon and how to clean your smelly silicone ice trays

3. Water Quality Matters

The taste of ice is closely linked to the quality of the water used to make it. 

Tap water, which varies significantly in its mineral content and treatment processes from one location to another, can contain traces of impurities or chemicals like chlorine, iron, or sulfur. Impurities (such as chlorine or fluoride) impart unwanted flavors, leading to off-tasting ice. 


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How to Make Ice That Tastes Good

As consumers, we can take certain measures to improve the taste of ice, such as using filtered (or distilled) water for ice production, regularly cleaning our fridge or freezer, using a tray with a lid, and storing the ice away from strong-smelling foods. 

If your ice tray does not have a lid, pop the ice out of the tray once frozen and store the ice cubes in an airtight container or zipper-lock bag. (This also frees up your tray to make more wonderfully flavorless ice.)

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