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Ice Melt 101

Ice melt is often times used as a blanket term for the chloride or salt family. The purpose of salt is to lower the freezing point of water, which allows solid ice to break its bond with paved surfaces which allows it to run off as a liquid. Many people think of ice melt being rock salt, which is also known as sodium chloride or table salt. While this is not entirely wrong, ice melt and rock salt are distinctly different.

Rock salt does however have its niche in melting ice. It is widely available and is a cheaper option than many of its counterparts. Sodium chloride, just like other products, is effective at melting ice; however, this is only true to a certain temperature. Once the temperature reaches 15 degrees fahrenheit or so, sodium chloride becomes far less effective and takes much more time to do its job. When the temperature drops into the single digits rock salt no longer has any considerable melting properties. In addition to warmer operating temperatures, rock salt is corrosive to vehicles and paved surfaces alike. It also is harmful to organic life as well as pets and people in low quantities.

This is where ice melt comes into play. While rock salt is simply sodium chloride, ice melt is a combination of several different minerals which mainly can include calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride. Each of the minerals has an optimal temperature range. This mix of ranges allows ice melt to be effective for a wide ranging temperature variance all the way down to -15 degrees fahrenheit. And while rock salt takes an exponentially greater amount of time to melt ice as it approaches its minimal temperature, ice melt maintains a relatively short amount of time needed all the way down to its lowest effective temperature.

Ice melt is clearly effective and efficient; however, its potential harm to pavement and life forms a like is often questioned. Simply put, no salt or ice melt is one hundred percent safe. These products are all chemicals undergoing a chemical reaction. While this may sound ominous, it’s really not an issue as long as the product is used carefully and by the manufactures recommendations. Ice melt, when used in moderation does not present an immediate danger to organics. The same can be said for people and pets alike. When used at appropriate times and amounts, the ice melt creates a brine solution and runs off of paved surfaces. The amount of ice melt in this solution is low enough to not cause harm to people or plants.  However, it is important to note that continued ice melt runoff over the course of a winter can concentrate enough of the chemicals in the ground to kill grass or other plants. This being said, it is crucial to keep ice melt usage below a certain threshold. It may be tempting to dump ice melt all over a thick patch of ice, but really it is no more effective and far more dangerous than using the product in moderation. This hasty practice creates a highly concentrated salt runoff and increases waste which also drives up costs.

All these same things can be said for safety regarding paved surfaces. When rock salt is combined with ice it creates a corrosive solution that can be harmful to concrete, asphalt, and vehicles. Ice melt mixes are less corrosive and damaging to these same types of surfaces, but moderation is still important when thinking about safety to these paved surfaces. It is also important to keep in mind that it is recommended that ice melt not be used on brand new pavement up to a year old. The new pavement needs time to fully cure, and may be more susceptible to spalling than a more seasoned surface.  If, for safety reasons, ice melt must be applied to new pavement, a local concrete company recommends putting down enough ice melt to melt the ice, and then removing any residual ice melt granules that might remain.  This reduces the potential corrosive harm to the new pavement.

It is important to understand what product is being used on a property, why it’s there, and how it’s working. Ice melt mixes provide many benefits over simple rock salt that cannot be overstated. The product is more effective, safer to people and pets, less corrosive to paved surfaces, and when used properly will have less of an effect on the environment and surrounding landscapes.

Sources consulted for this post: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2014/02/best-ice-melts/index.htm  http://grist.org/article/de-salt-of-the-earth/

By: Brian Davis, Account Manager
Posted 12/13/2017