Melting ice gives you a few choices. Ice and snow can be beautiful to look at, but no fun at all to clean up. In addition to your shovel or snow blower you will need some kind of ice melt, rock salt, snow melt or deicer. Lowes and Home Depot carry a complete line of snow and ice melt products to get you through the winter season.
Please read our 5 Steps To Improving Results When Melting Ice at the end of this article.
Ice melt is also called rock salt, snow melt, deicer, and a few other names. Ice Melt can be calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride (rock salt), urea (carbonyl diamide) or even blends of rock salt, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride added to speed the melting of ice and snow.
Based on my Lowes knowledge and fellow employees nationwide, we’ll help you figure out which product to buy for around your house, keeping your pets safe without damaging your driveway, walkways and even your yard.
As always, be careful out there. Ice on steps and walkways is extremely dangerous, leading to countless injuries each year.
How Ice Melt Works
Basically, deicers work the same. Deicers work by attracting moisture to form a liquid solution or brine that generates heat to melt the ice. Rock Salt, Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, and Potassium Chloride all contain a different type of ice melt or salt in them. The reason ice melts when you spread any ice melter is because it lowers the freezing point of water.
Water freezes at 0°C or 32°F. By using salt or an ice melter, that freezing point can be lowered which forces the ice to melt and temporarily prevents the water from freezing or re-freezing.
Rock salt is very inexpensive but also a corrosive and concentrated substance, which can cause problems for your plants, animals, and waterways. The same chemical magic that turns ice into water creates a very salty brine that can make household pets sick, kill lawns and eats away at concrete, brick, and stone.
Salt is also an irritant, which means pets with pads on the bottom of their feet may get superficial burns. The ice-melt industry is well aware that people want green. Which means eco-friendly and pet friendly claims abound. Read the ingredients. If the bulk of the product is magnesium or calcium chloride, it is a safer and less corrosive salt than the more common sodium chloride or rock salt.
All three types of ice melts are effective. But there is no perfect ice melt out there. Rock salt loses much of its effectiveness at melting ice lower than 20 degree, but is the least expensive way to melt ice. Calcium Chloride and chloride blends are faster than rock salt, but also the most expensive.
It’s important to treat driveways, streets and sidewalks for safety. At the same time it is important to ensure that appropriate “ice melt” chemicals are selected so as to minimize environmental effects. In general, the lower the price of the product, the more salt it contains and the more potentially harmful it is to the environment. Check product labels to figure out the chief ingredients in these popular deicing products:
Choices Of Ice Melt products
Rock Salt or Sodium Chloride
- Effective to 15°F (-9°C).
- Melts ice more slowly than calcium chloride.
- Does not attract moisture, keeps surfaces dry.
- Corrosive – Can harm certain metals including rebar contained in concrete.
- Harmful to vegetation.
- May be harmful to pets and other animals.
- Inexpensive alternative to calcium chloride.
- Effective to -25°F (-29°C).
- Melts ice more quickly than rock salt (sodium chloride).
- May attract moisture thus resulting in slippery surfaces.
- Noncorrosive – Will not harm concrete or other surfaces.
- Will not harm vegetation.
- May be harmful to pets and other animals.
- Significantly more expensive than rock salt.
- Uses combination of Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride pellet and Sodium Chloride
- Available in liquid and crystal form
- Used in commercial applications for parking lots, apartment complexes and sidewalks
- Melts faster and longer than traditional ice melt such as calcium chloride.
- Safer alternative for pets
Which Ice Melt To Use?
50-lb Rock Salt. Rock Salt, has many other names such as sodium chloride, road salt or halite. Probably the best-known solution for melting ice, salt is inexpensive, easy to find, and very effective. It is effective at melting ice up to 20º F.
When temperatures dip below 20ºF, rock salt tends to just lay on top of the ice. The drawback to rock salt is that it can damage concrete, grass, plants and wood decks. If concrete is less than one year old, rock salt is not recommended due to potential damage that might occur.
Road Runner Pet-Friendly Ice Melt. An effective blend of calcium and magnesium pellet, potassium and sodium chlorides. Does not contain any salt or sodium chloride which makes it pet friendly.
Effective at temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Magnesium Chloride pellets also create heat to melt the ice and snow. However, the application rate must be increased to get the same amount of melting compared to straight calcium chloride.
Calcium Chloride. Brands will vary by Lowes location. Calcium Chloride is the gold standard of ice melters. Melts snow and ice 2-5 times faster than rock salt and works down to -25°F. Is quite safe around plants, decks and concrete.
It is the one generally recommended for ice build-ups on roofs and in gutters. Calcium Chloride has the most powerful and quickest melting action on the market today
5 Steps To Improving Results When Melting Ice
Step 1: Get rid of the snow first. Sounds easy enough. Get out the shovel or snowblower. Clear any snow accumulations using a shovel, broom or snow blower. Lets face it, you cant just throw salt on 8″ of snow and hope it melts.
Step 2: Apply it right. If you have one, use a spreader. A fertilizer spreader with wheels or handheld spreader ensures that you apply ice melt in a thin, even layer. Rinse the spreader between uses. Or sprinkle it on using an old coffee can with holes punched in the bottom. Always wear gloves if applying by hand. If you apply too much spread it out with a broom.
Step 3: Protect concrete, grass and shrubs when melting ice. Most of the damage to concrete surfaces is caused by using too much ice melt and, especially for concrete, the freeze/thaw cycle that they’re subjected to. If your concrete is less than a year old, its not recommended to use rock salt or magnesium chloride products.
Follow the application amount on the packaging. If you’re concerned about surface damage, consider kitty litter, playsand, or sawdust. Avoid spreading ice melt close to plants and shrubs and getting too much on your lawn.
Step 4: Protect your family and neighbors. Ice melt pebbles are most commonly brought into the house by winter boots and shoes. If you have small children or toddlers, be sure you are cleaning off your shoes before coming into the house.
If anyone ingests ice melt, call 911 or the American Association of Poison Control Centers (800-222-1222). before visiting the ER because they’re equipped to handle these exposures.
Step 5: Protect your pets. Pets can develop dryness and irritation on their paws and skin if they walk through ice melting products. Pets can also develop mouth irritation if they eat the chemicals or the resulting water. Consider using a salt-free ice melt, such as Road Runner Pet Friendly, Safe Paw or Morton Safe-T-Pet.
Use Ice Melt Correctly
Follow these simply guidelines to remove ice and avoid damage to your concrete, lawn and harming your pets. I usually put down a thin layer before a storm, then another light layer during the storm. If its above 10 degrees, usually regular old rock salt will work fine. Under 10 degrees and I think your best results will be with a blend of calcium chloride.
By Victoria Stone