Something about soft serve ice cream always makes me think of summertime or vacation, but it’s actually possible to make this treat at home and eat it whenever you desire. The best home soft serve ice cream machines are electric and can make that familiar soft-serve texture in no time, but which unit is right for you will largely come down to how much prep time you want to factor in and how much you want to spend since models vary greatly in those regards.
An electric machine can produce ice cream relatively quickly compared to hand-crank models, which require actual physical effort and take longer to churn out ice cream. There are two main types of electric machines: those that use a freezer bowl and those that feature a compressor. You’ll need to plan ahead if you choose a machine that uses a freezer bowl since that piece typically needs at least 24 hours in the freezer; the payoff is particularly well-churned ice cream. A compressor-style ice cream machine doesn’t have parts that need to be frozen ahead of time, but this kind of machine can sometimes be bulky.
You’re also more likely to mix up a batch of ice cream if the machine isn’t a pain to clean every time. Look for convenient features like a removable drip tray or dishwasher-safe parts. Bonus features to look for include topping dispensers and the ability to make other kinds of frozen treats like sorbet or traditional ice cream.
Soft serve mixes make it easy to whip up a batch at home, and I've included a Dole Whip mix so you can recreate the wildly popular Disneyland treat. With all this in mind, below are the best ice cream machines for soft serve at home. There's a pick for every budget.
1. The Overall Best Home Soft Serve Ice Cream Machine
The best home soft serve ice cream machine is a one-stop station for a soft-serve party. Just pour your ingredients in and the mixing arm will aerate them in the freezer bowl; on the side are three condiment dispensers (sprinkles! chocolate chips! candy!) and a spot for holding ice cream cones (with flat or point bottoms). While this is advertised as being fully automatic, it's worth noting that the freezer bowl will have to be placed in the freezer in advance.
This highly rated electric ice cream machine, with over 2,000 Amazon reviews, makes up to 1.5 quarts of ice cream in about 20 minutes. It's also versatile; it can also make yogurt, sorbet, and sherbet. A removable drip tray helps when it's time to clean.
A helpful review: “This is one awesome machine...we use it at least once a week and try new flavors and experiment all the time. Very easy to use, cleaning is a breeze and the taste and quality rival the big chains out there in soft serve land. This tastes much better as it is all real ingredients: heavy cream, milk, sugar, vanilla extract and the list is endless of what your flavors and tastes may be. Sometimes we make so much we seal and freeze for a later date...just take it out of the freezer and let it sit for a few minutes and its ready. One of the best items I ever purchased! [...]”
2. The Cult Favorite
Here's the ice cream machine I own myself; I love it for its versatility and ease of use. This electric machine uses an insulated freezer bowl to make up to 1.5 quarts of ice cream in about 20 minutes. Just after churning, the ice cream is a delightful soft serve texture or you can freeze it if you'd prefer hard ice cream. You can also use this cult favorite, with a 4.7 rating and over 9,000 reviews, to make sorbet, frozen yogurt, sherbet, sorbet, gelato, or even frozen drinks, making it the ideal all-purpose ice cream machine.
This pick's heavy-duty motor allows it to handle a wider variety of ice cream types, and its mixing paddle aerates ingredients in the freezer bowl. The wide spout allows for the addition of mix-ins, like chocolate chips or nuts, while the machine churns, and nonslip feet keep the machine firmly in place as it works. You'll also love the transparent lid so you can keep an eye on your batch.
A helpful review: "I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this ice cream maker. I never purchase store bought ice cream anymore. [...] My children, husband and everyone who tastes it can't believe I made it. I suggest keeping the bowl in the freezer at all times so it's always ready to use. After 20 minutes you'll have a soft serve consistency, if you want it scoopable, place ice cream in a shallow container, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then close the lid and put it in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Be sure to place plastic wrap directly on top of ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming on all that deliciousness. [...]"
3. Worth The Splurge: An Easy Automatic Option
Searching for an ice cream maker that requires as little effort as possible? Look no further than this automatic ice cream maker with a built-in compressor, which is designed with a self-contained freezer bowl that you won't have to freeze ahead of time (so you can whip up ice cream or yogurt whenever the mood hits). This heavy-duty soft-serve machine is versatile and can make up to 2.1 quarts of ice cream, yogurt, or sorbet. (Fans noted that it comes out like soft serve but if you're seeking harder ice cream, you can put it in the freezer for additional hardening.)
It has a timer and an easy-to-read digital display, with and an automatic time-off function. The high-quality stainless steel machine is definitely the bulkiest one on this list and requires counter space or enough storage to house it, but many reviewers say it's an excellent maker that you'll have forever and that it churns out delicious frozen dessert and is well worth the price. They also say that, despite its size, it has a vertical design that doesn't totally monopolize counter space.
A helpful review: "This machine is well designed and built to last. [...] This machine has 3 stages: mixing, cooling, and freezing. It also has an automatic shut off once it reaches a maximum hardness. This feature is essential to safeguarding the motor against overheating. I've made various ice creams, frozen yogurt, and gelato flavors which were deemed either comparable or better than the family's gold standard Fosselman's Ice Cream.Excellent machine and well worth its price tag."
4. This One That Turns Frozen Fruit Into Soft Serve
Here's a soft serve maker that instantly churns frozen fruit into a soft-serve dessert. This electric compressor-style machine combines frozen bananas, which add a creamy texture for the base, with other fruits to make a frozen fruit treat with the texture of soft-serve ice cream.
The chute and spinning blade can also accept chocolate. And the chute, plunger, and blade are dishwasher safe. This is a highly rated pick with over 3,000 reviews, including from one shopper who commented, "I absolutely love how it [tastes] just like soft serve ice cream."
A helpful review: “Where has this been and why haven’t I heard of this before? The texture is spot on to soft serve. I bought it to help me stay away from eating ice cream and it’s a great, healthy alternative to satisfy the hankerings. There’s nothing wrong with the flavors I’ve tried, I just don’t want to doctor it up so much that it’s no longer a good replacement for the real deal soft serve. Adding fat free cool whip is nice though.”
Nice To Have: A Dole Whip Mix
Get started on your homemade soft serve journey with a batch of Dole Whip. This highly rated soft serve mix recreates the frozen pineapple dessert that's extremely popular at Disney parks.The 4.4-pound bag makes about two gallons of soft serve mix before freezing. It's also available in eight other fruit flavors like strawberry, lemon, lime, mango, and raspberry.
A helpful review: "This stuff is AMAZING! I mixed up a batch in a mason jar and put it in the fridge overnight, while I waited for my Cuisinart freezer container to freeze up. Poured it in the frozen container next day, turned on the machine and in 15 minutes I had some of the most amazing soft serve pineapple sherbet I've ever had. Highly recommend this!"