In 1939, Frank Zamboni, his brother and his cousin built a skating rink in Paramount, California. Their rink, named “Iceland,” was one of the largest ice rinks in the country. It was at Iceland that Frank learned about ice management.

Frustrated by the process of resurfacing the ice by hand, Frank began to experiment with Jeep and tractor parts in his quest to create the first automated ice resurfacing machine.

He eventually perfected his design and his machine, the Zamboni, became a staple at ice rinks around the world.

The Zamboni cleans and renews the icy surface of hockey and skating rinks. If you’ve ever seen an ice rink after hockey players or ice skaters have torn up the ice with their sharp blades, you’ll appreciate how quickly a Zamboni can return that icy surface to its original, pristine condition.

In the rear of the Zamboni, a machine called a “conditioner” does most of the work. First, a large blade scrapes off the top layer of the ice, removing the damaged ice that has been chipped away and scuffed by the blades of ice skates. Shaving the top layer of ice also removes some of the dirt and debris that gets stuck on the ice.

Behind the blade sits the washer, which cleans the ice. A bit like a carpet cleaner, the washer sprays water on the ice and a vacuum sucks it up again.

Rubber flaps at the back and sides of the Zamboni prevent the water from spilling out before it can be vacuumed up again. Any dirt or debris vacuumed up with the water is filtered out. This allows the Zamboni water to be recycled for washing the ice over and over throughout the day.

Finally, a flat towel located behind the washer is coated with hot water and spread on the ice. The hot water helps even out any bumps in the ice by melting the top layer slightly before it refreezes.

When the Zamboni is finished, it leaves behind smooth, clean ice, and the rink is ready for skaters to return and have some fun!

Zamboni facts

  • A Zamboni travels approximately 3/4 of a mile for each resurfacing of a typical hockey rink. If there are four resurfacings per game, a Zamboni will travel an average of three miles during each hockey game.
  • Before the invention of the Zamboni, resurfacing was done by hand. Each resurfacing required three or four workers and took more than an hour to complete!
  • When a Zamboni resurfaces the ice, it can remove up to 2,500 pounds of compacted snow.
  • When a Zamboni operator in the Midwest passed away, a Zamboni led his funeral procession.


2 Join the Discussion

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    • That’s a great question, Tyler! A Zamboni uses water to help rinse away dirt and debris from the ice. We bet there are places where you use water to wash away dirt, too – for example, washing dishes and brushing your teeth! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a Zamboni?
  • How does a Zamboni work?
  • How far does a Zamboni travel during a typical hockey game?

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Try It Out

Ready to hit the ice? Or maybe just sculpt it a little? A Zamboni works by scraping, melting and sweeping, but you don’t need a giant machine to get hands-on with ice.

In this activity, you will use the sculpting powers of salt to create a beautiful, frozen work of art.


Still Wondering

Isn’t the Zamboni cool? To better understand how this neat machine works, explore what happens to water as it goes from solid to liquid and back again with Science NetLinks’ Water and Ice lesson plan.


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Ladies and gentleman, start your engines! Tomorrow we’re heading off the ice and onto the streets to find out what happens under the hood when you turn the key and put the pedal to the metal.

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