What Kind of Ice Melt should I choose?

Winter is coming! Do you know what's in your ice-melt? Let's look at all our options for de-icers.

Soon enough we'll be feeling the full force of winter, with snow and ice in abundance and plenty to prepare for. Ice melt is a winter essential in these parts, but just as important as having enough of it on hand is the type you use. Some types of ice melt are better for specific applications. Many have a temperature limit, others can be toxic to animals. All these factors need to be considered when deciding what kinds of ice melt you should be using around your property.

Types of Ice Melts

The Co-Op sells a few different types of ice melt that all have different chemical properties and benefits. Some work by absorbing water, creating a brine that accelerates the melting of ice and snow. Others improve traction on icy ground. Some generate heat on their own. Some are safe for pets and gardens, and some are not. Maybe you’d like to be more environmentally conscious this winter, or maybe you have some new animal additions to your household. Let’s take a look at the different types of ice melt. Knowing what the differences are will help you decide which type is best for you.

Ice Melt for the Roads

Halite Rock Salt, otherwise called sodium chloride, is used widely as a general ice melt for driveways and walkways. And it’s true that rock salt is effective for keeping driveways clear and providing traction underfoot, as well as being quite effective in lower temperatures. Rock salt is the most effective between 15- 20 F.

Rock salt typically is the lowest priced option of all commercial de-icers out there, and is most commonly spread on our roads in the winter. But sodium chloride does have its limitations in how it should be applied. For example, it can rust the nails of roofs and corrode gutters, leading to all sorts of problems down the line. Sodium chloride can also damage brickwork and concrete walkways and staircases. Another important thing to note is that Halite rock salt is not pet-friendly! Sodium chloride can damage the skin on animals' paws and is poisonous if ingested. This is why some pet-owners opt for different types of ice melt.

Ice Melt for the Walkways

Magnesium chloride works by absorbing lots of water very quickly, creating a brine that helps to melt the surrounding ice and snow quicker than if it remained in its flaked form. This also means it leaves less of a residue afterwards, making it a popular choice for homeowners. The downside to using magnesium chloride is that it’s not the best for concrete walkways in high concentrations, so be sure to only use the recommended amount. Same goes for a lot of the de-icers we sell; more isn’t always better. Don’t risk damaging your property by overapplication, no matter how cold and icy it may be. Even fast-acting de-icers still need time to work their magic. We sell 50 lb Magnesium chloride pellets, and the Ace Hardware Ice Melt mix with magnesium chloride and sodium chloride.

Ice Melt for the roofs (and Hundred-Year storms)

Calcium chloride is another popular choice, in that it melts ice fast and is suitable for various applications, including your roof. Calcium chloride produces an exothermic reaction, meaning it actually gives off its own heat. This property makes it perfect for really low temperatures, down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's a good option for really extreme winter weather. Calcium chloride is often part of an ice-melt blend with sodium, magnesium, or potassium chloride to improve the efficiency of the formula. The Co-Op carries calcium chloride in Peladow 25 lb bags, 50 lb Flakes, Vaporizer brand 50lb pellets, and Roof Melt calcium chloride tablets.

Take care of your pets this winter!

What about my pets?

Sure Paws Ice Melt, or Urea-based ice melts, such as Qik Joe Safe Pet ice melter. Urea is an organic salt that is safer than other types of de-icers when ingested in small quantities. Urea based ice melts are also less effective in temperatures below 20F, and due to its high nitrogen content should not be used if you live next to a waterway, since the nitrogen runoff can affect the water quality. If you’re going to use this type of ice-melt, better keep it to patios and walkways where your pets might go.

It is important to remember that no ice-melt product is 100% pet-safe. The ones that are labeled as such can definitely still harm an animal if ingested in large quantities, and the corrosive qualities of de-icers mean that prolonged exposure can hurt their paws. So no matter what kind of de-icer you decide to use, please supervise your pets and young children around these products for their safety.

Environmental Considerations for Ice Melt

While no chloride ice-melt is completely corrosion free, you can expect that calcium and magnesium chloride de-icers will not be quite as corrosive as sodium rock salt. Any de-icer that has the word “chloride” in it means that the material is ionized, and will corrode and acidify the surfaces they’re put on. Not to mention, salt runoff from roads that leach into the surrounding yards prevent water from being absorbed by plants in the spring, which can be serious if the salt content is too extreme. Ever heard of “salting the Earth?” it’s not a good thing, and that’s the reason why. High concentrations of salt in the soil can render it barren the following year.

If your soil quality is a priority for you, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride are less damaging than sodium chloride. Nitrogen-abundant urea will not seriously damage soil or vegetation, and neither will applications of sand. You might feel like all the ice melt you’re applying just disappears quickly, requiring you to apply more, but the truth is that any de-icer you use will dissolve into its surroundings, bringing its chemical properties with it. This is why over-application can do so much damage, since you’re overloading a relatively small space with more chemical solutions than it can handle. And, perhaps the most important point of all: any application of ice melt becomes a lot more effective when combined with manual de-icing. Whether you’ll be out there with a snowblower or shovel, you’re doing the brunt of the work there and the ice melt just makes it a little easier and safer. Take care of your surroundings and yourselves the best way you can; by making informed choices.