Do You Need to Put Down Salt When It Snows?

Doug Enright 

If you live in the colder climates of the US, chances are you get two feelings when it’s about to snow. The first feeling is excitement, who doesn’t like freshly fallen snow?! But the second feeling that quickly follows that is one of dread, when that snow falls, you have to shovel it, and prep your property.

There are some things you can do to properly prep for upcoming winter weather, including putting salt out. If you’ve just moved to a colder climate you probably see your neighbors tossing out salt and wander if you should be doing the same. How does salt even work with snow?

So, Should I Salt Before It Snows?

To avoid slips, falls, and other dangers, you should be putting salt out before any significant weather winter events. Let’s learn why.

Purpose of Salt in Snow

The salt is not for the snow itself, but for ice. Snow can fall as light and fluffy flakes, but between the weight of itself and foot traffic, that light fluffy snow gets packed down to slippery and dangerous ice. Salt and other anti-freezing agents help to remove the dangers of ice for both you and your neighbors.

How Salt Works on Snow and Ice

The most used form of salt to deice in the US is common rock salt, sodium chloride. Yes, this is the same salt that’s on your dinner table, but with much larger granules. The chemical compound sodium chloride lowers the freezing point in water, so snow melt never has the chance to turn into ice unless its bitterly cold.

The Different Kinds of Snow Melt

Sodium Chloride Ice Melt (Rock Salt)

Description: Sodium chloride, commonly known as rock salt, is the most traditional type of ice melt. It is the same compound found in table salt but in a coarser form.

  • Pros:
    • Cost-effective and widely available.
    • Effective in temperatures as low as 20°F (-6°C).
  • Cons:
    • Can be harmful to vegetation and soil.
    • Corrosive to metals, damaging to concrete over time.
    • Less effective in extreme cold below 20°F (-6°C).

Potassium Chloride Ice Melt

Description: Potassium chloride is a chemical compound used as an ice melt that is less harmful to plants and concrete than sodium chloride.

  • Pros:
    • Safer for vegetation and slightly less corrosive.
    • Can work in temperatures as low as 12°F (-11°C).
  • Cons:
    • More expensive than rock salt.
    • Not as effective in very cold temperatures.
    • Can still pose risks to pets if ingested in large amounts.

Magnesium Chloride Ice Melt

Description: Magnesium chloride ice melt is a hygroscopic compound, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air to help melt ice and snow.

  • Pros:
    • Works in temperatures as low as -13°F (-25°C), making it effective in extreme cold.
    • Less corrosive than sodium chloride and safer for plants and concrete surfaces.
    • Less harmful to pets compared to other ice melts.
  • Cons:
    • More expensive than sodium chloride.
    • Can still cause corrosion over time and may require careful handling due to its hygroscopic nature.

Calcium Chloride Ice Melt

Description: Calcium chloride is a highly effective ice melt known for its ability to work in extremely low temperatures.

  • Pros:
    • Effective in temperatures as low as -25°F (-32°C).
    • Fast-acting and highly efficient at melting ice.
    • Less harmful to vegetation in comparison to sodium chloride.
  • Cons:
    • More expensive than many other options.
    • Can be corrosive to metals and may harm concrete surfaces if used excessively.
    • Can cause skin irritation and is harmful if ingested by pets. Sodium Acetate Ice Melt

Description: Sodium acetate is an environmentally friendly ice melt that works by creating an exothermic reaction when it comes into contact with ice and snow.

  • Pros:
    • Non-corrosive, making it safe for metals and concrete.
    • Biodegradable and safe for plants and animal paws.
    • Effective in temperatures just below freezing.
  • Cons:
    • Less effective in extreme cold compared to chloride-based melts.
    • Generally more expensive than traditional rock salt and chloride-based products.
    • May require larger quantities to be as effective as other ice melts.

Each of these ice melts has its unique characteristics, making them suitable for different environments and temperatures. When choosing an ice melt, consider the specific needs of your area, including temperature ranges, environmental safety, and potential damage to surfaces or vegetation.

In conclusion, selecting the right ice melt is crucial for effective snow and ice management, especially in commercial settings where safety and efficiency are paramount. Understanding the pros and cons of each type of ice melt can help in making informed decisions that not only ensure the safety of pedestrians and vehicles but also minimize environmental impact and property damage. Whether it's for residential use or commercial snow plowing operations, choosing the appropriate ice melt product is essential for maintaining clear, safe surfaces during the winter months.

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