When sidewalks and driveways become coated with ice, most homeowners reach for a bag of rock salt, but traditional sodium chloride methods aren’t your only ice melting options. A wide range of deicing products are available, and your choice depends in part on cost and effectiveness, as well as the environmental impact of any given material.
Here are the Most Common Ice Melting Options:
Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)
Sodium chloride is the most common melting material as well as the least expensive. It can melt effectively at temperatures as low as 15°F, which makes it neither the most effective option nor the least. The downsides of sodium chloride include corrosion of metals, concrete and other surfaces, damage to vegetation, and reduction of surface and groundwater quality.
The most effective deicer available, calcium chloride can melt ice at temperatures down to -20°F. Calcium chloride is more expensive than rock salt, and requires special handling because skin contact can be irritating. It is considered to be less corrosive and environmentally damaging than sodium chloride, but can still be harmful with extended use. It can also cause slippery surface conditions if over-applied.
Magnesium chloride presents similar pros and cons to calcium chloride, though it is not as irritating to the skin. It melts ice quickly, but becomes less effective at temperatures below 5°F
Potassium acetate is a manufactured chemical commonly used by airports to de-ice planes. It melts ice effectively down to -15°F, and is both non-corrosive and biodegradable. Unfortunately, it is also expensive and not as readily available as most other ice melting options.
Urea is a chemical fertilizer amendment that also doubles as a deicer. It has much lower impact on soil and water quality than salts, but can still cause corrosion and damage to plants if over-applied. It loses effectiveness at temperatures lower than 25°F, so is usually used in combination with other ice melting options to boost its effectiveness.
Also known as muriate of potash, potassium chloride is another fertilizer amendment. Its effectiveness is comparable to urea, melting ice at temperatures down to 20°F. It is much less corrosive and damaging to soil and vegetation than rock salt, but it melts ice very slowly.
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