Salty Situations

By Mark J. Donovan

August 12, 2016 3 min read

We were recently traveling when an icy snowstorm hit our state. When we returned home, we had several inches of frozen snow and ice in our driveway and on our walkway and lawn. I got out my snow blower and made my best attempt to remove the frozen mess. However, the blower could not penetrate the thick layer of ice. Instead of applying a generous layer of salt, I decided to let the sunshine soften up the ice layer before going back out there and having another go with the blower. It took quite a while, and I had to add a shovel and ice scraper pole to my tool arsenal, but I eventually cleared the ice. Why did I not use salt, you ask?

Though salt would have melted the ice much faster, it is a corrosive product that can cause some surfaces to crack and crumble. In fact, most ice-melt products are damaging in some way. Consumer Reports did an ice-melt comparison in 2014, weighing the potential for each substance to damage concrete, asphalt and other things. The results were as follows:

--Calcium chloride and potassium chloride cause minimal to moderate damage to asphalt and concrete, as well as grass and plants when overapplied.

--Calcium magnesium acetate causes moderate damage.

--Magnesium chloride causes moderate to significant damage to asphalt and concrete, and can damage plants when overapplied.

--Sodium chloride (rock salt), although it causes minimal to moderate damage on concrete and asphalt, can also cause damage to brick, stone, metal, grass, plants and wood decks.

--Urea poses minimal to no damage to concrete and asphalt, making it the best solution out of these options.

The study recommends avoiding using an ice-melt on concrete that's less than one year old, as it can make the concrete susceptible to future damage. But there are other ramifications, too. Most of the salts above can be lethal to pets if swallowed. Additionally, the salt can eventually make its way into your local waterways, affecting other wildlife. And everyone who has salted their landscape knows how easy it is to track into the garage and through the house.

Sand or gravel are great alternatives to salt. So is kitty litter. It won't accelerate the melting of ice and snow, but it will create friction so you can gain traction when walking or driving over the icy surfaces. Are you a caffeine junkie? Try sprinkling your coffee grounds on the ice.

You'll have to take some time to figure out what's right for you, but rest easy knowing you can always get out of a salty winter situation.

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