Treating Ice on Sidewalks and Driveways

Dealing with icy sidewalks and driveways is a fact of life in northern climates where snow and winter conditions are common. There are many different ways to deal with ice, whether using one of many chemical compounds to melt it or using more environmentally friendly products to provide traction and slippage.


Ice MeltIce melt products attract moisture to themselves to form a liquid brine which generates heat and melts ice. The product must reach the pavement to become effective. Once on the pavement, the brine can spread out and break the bond the ice has with the pavement. As the ice is loosened, it can more easily be shoveled away.

Kinds of De-icer

Every year there are more and more choices when it comes to de-icers. A lot of the choices are very similar and differ only in marketing with each product claiming to be the best. 95% of all de-icers are made from one, or a blend of five products. Typically, blends are made to try and combine the best advantages of each chemical.

  • Calcium chlorideThis is basically traditional ice melt. It will melt ice to temperatures of -25º F. It gives off heat as it dissolves, which melts the ice quicker but leaves a slimy residue. It is corrosive to metal and can be damaging to vegetation if overly applied. Magnesium chloride is a very similar product and is becoming more popular. It is less corrosive and safer on concrete and plants.
  • Sodium chloride (rock salt)Rock salt is the least expensive and very efficient. It will melt ice to temperatures of 20º F. Effective at drying out icy surfaces, and not as harmful to concrete as others products, but can be damaging to vegetation and is corrosive to metal.
  • Potassium chlorideIt is more expensive than other products and works well when mixed 50/50 with rock salt. It will melt ice to temperatures of 12º F. It is relatively safe, but can still cause plant damage if it is overap-plied.
  • UreaIt is commonly used as a fertilizer, but is also an effective ice melter. It will melt ice to temperatures of 15º F. Over application can harm vegetation.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)It is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid, which is the main compound in vinegar. It has little effect on plants and concrete, but its performance decreases at temperatures below 20º F. It works differently than other materials in that it does not form a brine-like salt. CMA helps prevent snow particles from sticking to each other on the road surface. It prevents re-freezing more than it melts ice and tends to leave a slush.

Are they harmful?

Given the alternative of dangerous conditions, the benefits can outweigh potential disadvantages. All de-icers have the potential to damage vegetation, concrete and to corrode metal. Moderate use combined with adequate rainfall to dissolve and wash away the product should be enough to protect vegetation and hard surfaces.

Damage to concrete occurs not from the effects of the salt, but from the effects of the freezing point of water. When the freezing point of water is lowered by creating a brine, the number of freeze/thaw cycles increases and the expansion of freezing water or hydraulic pressure can exceed the strengths of concrete.

Natural Alternatives

Other, more natural, products can be used to treat icy sidewalks and driveways. Although they are generally less effective, they pose less harm to the environment and pets. Natural alternatives like sand, sawdust, wood shavings and kitty litter are mainly effective for their gritty, anti-slip qualities. They provide better traction for walking on the ice, but do not actually melt ice. They are often mixed with ice melt products as a way to use fewer chemicals.

There is a product called “Magic Minus Zero” which is a liquid de-icing agent made from a blend of magnesium chloride combined with an agricultural by-product of the distilling process. It is non-toxic, bio-degradable and has a corrosion index lower than distilled water. “Magic Minus Zero” can be applied directly to paved surfaces in advance of a winter storm, or can be sprayed onto regular rock salt.

De-icer Precautions

  • Do not over apply; follow instructions on the label.
  • Do not try to melt everything. Clear snow first.

    Snow Covered Drive (ostephy |

    Photo credit: ostephy |

  • Wear gloves. Ice melts are an irritant.
  • Do not use on new concrete that has not fully cured.
  • All products have some effect on the environment. Flush area with water if over-use is suspected or damage appears on plants.

One Response to “Treating Ice on Sidewalks and Driveways”

  1. dumpster rental phoenix az Says:

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

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