We've all experienced the hazards of winter: snowstorms, power outages, bad roads, and sidewalks covered in sheets of ice.
At Zimmerman Mulch, we know that you want to keep your family, guests, clients, and employees safe this winter.
This means you will be putting in hours of hard work to keep your parking lots and sidewalks free of ice and safe for walking and driving.
You want to make the best out of all this work. You don’t want it to go to waste!
There are many different ice melt products out there to help you get the job done. However, it can be confusing to know which type or combination of chemicals will work the best for an application.
That's why we put together this list of different types of ice melts, their pros and their cons. After reading this article you will understand:
- What ice melt is, how it works, and when it can be harmful.
- What you should think about when choosing which ice melt is best for you.
- The pros and cons of 6 different types of ice melt.
Let's get started!
What is Ice Melt?
Ice melt is a substance that is applied to surfaces to melt snow or ice. You can apply it in advance of snow and ice to prevent buildup or on top of existing snow and ice to break the snow and ice up into slush.
The chemicals in ice melt mix with water and lower the water's melting point. This means that the water can't freeze at higher temperatures, so ice doesn't form as quickly.
When you apply ice melt to ice or snow, it dissolves into any unfrozen water to form a brine solution. This brine works its way down through the ice, melting it and breaking it up.
It also breaks the bond between the ice and the ground surface, making it easier to scrape off.
Is Ice Melt Bad?
Yes, ice melt can be bad. It can negatively affect your hardscaping, car, the environment, and even your family and pets. You have to be careful and responsible when using ice melt.
For your hardscaping
Ice alone can be bad for your patio, driveway, or sidewalk. When it's cold, water can run down into cracks in your hardscaping and freeze. It expands when it freezes, causing the cracks to get bigger, which causes your hardscaping to deteriorate.
Saltwater does the same thing; only saltwater can expand 40% more than regular water. Most ice melts contain salt, so ice melt can be very bad for sidewalks and patios.
But we don’t want to scare you! Ice melt won’t wreck your sidewalk in one winter, and it can be used safely. If you are interested, here's some info on how to maintain your hardscapes so that they last longer.
For your car
Salt residue from ice melt on the road can cause the paint on your car to corrode, which eventually leads to rust. This can cause significant damage to critical parts of your vehicle, such as the brake lines.
A good way to help prevent this is to get your car undercoated with oil in the Fall before the weather starts to get nasty.
Wondering what else you should do to your car this Fall? Here are 27 things you must do to get your car ready for winter.
For your family and pets
Ice melt can be toxic or irritating to your children or your pets. Some ice melts might cause chemical burns on your dog or cat's paws, or they might be harmful to your toddler if they are swallowed.
Here's what to do if your child swallows ice melt or some other toxic substance.
Even common rock salt, which sounds safe, can be harmful. Prolonged exposure to rock salt can irritate your pet's paws, and if your pet eats too much of it, it can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Always be careful to know what is in your ice melt and try not to over-apply it.
For the environment
That's a lot of salt. And it's not great for the environment.
Chemicals from de-icing products such as road salt can get caught in runoff and make their way into the soil and groundwater. There, they can have negative impacts on the ecosystem. Chloride, which is a component of salt and is present in most ice melt, can be especially harmful.
Also, since salt and plants don't mix well, too much ice melt on your sidewalk can be harmful to your flower beds.
Fun fact: Historians say that ancient conquerors, such as the Romans, would sprinkle salt on the fields in conquered lands to render them infertile and useless.
Why are there different types of ice melt?
Different types of ice melt work in different conditions. They all melt ice, but they are suitable for different situations.
For example, there is solid ice melt (such as rock salt), and there is liquid ice melt that is already in the brine form:
- Solid ice melt is often applied on top of existing snow and ice. It absorbs moisture, forms a brine, and works its way downwards, melting the ice and loosening the bonds between the ice and the ground surface. Solid ice melt needs moisture to work, so it may be slow in extremely cold temperatures.
Solid ice melt can be applied by hand or with a sand or salt spreader.
- Liquid ice melt is often applied before snow and ice to prevent it from forming and sticking to the ground surface. It is already in the brine form, so it works at colder temperatures than its solid counterparts.
Liquid ice melt can be applied with a hand sprayer or tanker truck.
For a second example, some deicers are exothermic and some are endothermic:
- Exothermic deicers release heat and melt ice very quickly and work great at very low temperatures. Magnesium chloride and Calcium chloride are both exothermic.
- Endothermic deicers need to draw some heat from their surroundings to dissolve. They are usually slower than exothermic deicers, especially in very cold conditions, when there is little moisture to help them dissolve. Rock salt, or Sodium chloride, is endothermic.
There are also different types of chemicals used in ice melt that vary in price and performance in different situations. We will look at these different types of chemicals and how they compare later in this article.
4 Things to think about
when choosing an ice melt
When choosing your ice melt, it is important to keep in mind the conditions in which you will be using it. This will help you make the best choice.
There are 4 factors you should think about when you choose your ice melt:
Lowest melting point
The lowest melting point is the lowest temperature at which the ice melt will be effective.
Using an ice melt at temperatures lower than its lowest working temperature will not produce results. Some ice melt is effective at temperatures as low as -25 degrees F. Some will only work down to 25 degrees F.
In extremely cold temperatures, exothermic ice melt will be more effective because it releases its own heat, which produces moisture, allowing brine to form and penetrate the ice.
Endothermic ice melt will work better in moderately cold temperatures, such as 20 degrees F and above because it needs to draw some heat from its surroundings to dissolve.
Some de-icers will work for longer than others.
An ice melt with longer residual action will continue to work for longer after you apply it. This means that it will need to be applied less frequently.
Products with longer residual action are usually more expensive, but you won't have to use as much of them because they will be effective for longer.
Liquid ice melts generally provide longer residual action than solid ice melts because they continue as brines for longer than their solid counterparts.
As you read before, the chemicals in your ice melt will affect the surrounding areas.
Different ice melts have different effects on the plants, animals, and waterways in the area and on man-made things such as concrete and grates.
Consider what's around the area you plan to use your ice melt on when you choose your product.
Here's an article that gives some more information on the effects of de-icing chemicals on soil, vegetation, groundwaters, and more.
Of course, there is always the matter of price. Pricing will vary depending on the manufacturer and ingredients in the ice melt. Some compounds are more expensive than others.
Next up in this article we will look at 6 types of ice melt in order of price.
Let's take a look!
Pros and cons of 6 types of ice melt
Here is a list of the 6 most common types of ice melt in order of price, from most expensive to least expensive:
- Sodium acetate
- Calcium chloride
- Magnesium chloride
- Sodium chloride (rock salt)
Understanding the essential features of each type of ice melt will help you know which one is the best for you.
Let's look at the main features of each of these 6 types of ice melt.
Keep in mind that the lowest melting point and price may vary for different manufacturers.
Here are 6 common types of ice melt in order of price, starting with the most expensive.
Lowest melting point: 0 degrees F
Average price for a 50 lb bag: $100.00
- Sodium acetate is not salt-based. This means it does not contain chloride, so it is environmentally friendly and does not cause metals to corrode.
- It has a long residual effect.
- The FAA approves it for use on commercial airport runways.
- Sodium acetate is the most expensive type of ice melt.
Lowest melting point: 25 degrees F
Average price for a 50 lb bag: $55.00
- Urea, like sodium acetate, is not salt-based and does not contain chlorides, so it is less corrosive to metals. Like Sodium acetate, it is one of the preferred ice melts for airports.
- Urea contains nitrogen and is used chiefly as a fertilizer, so it is safer for plants. However, if you apply too much, it can burn plants, so use it in moderation.
- Urea is more expensive than some ice melts.
- It's not effective in colder temperatures.
- It can be very harmful if misused or in excess.
- Urea is barely used as an ice melt anymore because it is expensive and ineffective in lower temperatures.
Lowest melting point: -25 degrees F
Average price for a 50 lb bag: $40.00
- Calcium chloride is the most effective ice melt in lower temperatures.
- It's exothermic and hydroscopic (water is attracted to it) so it's one of the fastest-acting ice melts.
- Calcium chloride is one of the least damaging ice melts for concrete.
- Calcium chloride is one of the most widely used ice melts, after rock salt.
- Calcium chloride is more expensive than more common products such as rock salt.
- This chemical is harsh and corrosive. It’s irritating to the skin and bad for the environment. It’s not a good choice for places with pets or children.
- Calcium chloride is not easy on concrete.
If you need an ice melt today, Zimmerman Mulch carries quality calcium chloride pellets that work great in ice melt spreaders.
Lowest melting point: -15 degrees F
Average price for a 50 lb bag: $35.00
- Magnesium chloride is exothermic, so it works well in colder temperatures.
- It’s also hydroscopic (attractive to water) so it’s fast-acting.
- It's less corrosive and slightly more friendly for plants than calcium chloride or sodium chloride.
- Magnesium chloride is more eco-friendly than some chlorides.
- It's salt-based and chloride-containing, so it is corrosive and bad for the environment.
Zimmerman Mulch carries magnesium chloride ice melt. Give us a call today!
Lowest melting point: will vary
Average cost for a 50 lb bag: Will vary a lot. Generally $15-$30.
Blends often combine sodium chloride (in the form of rock salt, or for better quality, solar salt, which is a purer form of rock salt) with a more expensive ice melt such as Calcium chloride or Magnesium chloride. This way, you can create powerful combinations of attributes.
For example, if you blend sodium chloride (works for a long time) and magnesium chloride (fast working with a low effective melting point) you create a faster, longer-working ice melt with a lower effective melting point.
Another perk of this is that you lower the price of the more expensive ice melts by stretching it out with inexpensive rock salt.
The pros and cons of blends will vary depending on what chemicals make up the blend.
At Zimmerman Mulch, we carry all of the Trumelt ice melt blends, which are made up of solar salt mixed with magnesium chloride or calcium chloride. If you need an ice melt, contact us today!
Sodium Chloride (rock salt or solar salt)
Lowest melting point: 5 degrees F
Average price for a 50 lb bag: $10.00
Sodium chloride can come in the form of rock salt or solar salt. These two types have the same chemical makeup, but they are made by different processes:
- Rock salt comes from salt mines, and is not as pure as solar salt.
- Solar salt is made by an evaporation process, so it is much higher quality than rock salt.
- It's cheap. Rock salt is the most common ice melt because it is the least expensive. It’s even cheaper in the brine form than in the solid form. However, Solar salt is more expensive than rock salt.
- Rock salt is hard on plants and is not environmentally friendly.
- It is endothermic (draws heat from its surroundings), so it is slower acting and less effective in extremely cold temperatures.
- It is corrosive and leaves behind a white, powdery residue.
Those are some of the most popular and widely used kinds of ice melt. Hopefully now you can make a better decision about which one will be best for you!
If you don't like the sound of any of the chemicals in the above list, here are 2 non-chemical alternatives to ice melt you could try.
Alternatives to Ice Melt - Sand or Cinders
Sand does not melt ice. However, sand is an abrasive material, and sprinkling sand on top of ice will help give better traction.
An upside is that sand will effectively create traction at any temperature, no matter how low. Also, it's non-chemical and 100% environmentally friendly.
However, it will not actually melt the ice. And when the ice does eventually melt, there will be sand all over the road or sidewalk.
Sometimes people mix salt and sand, especially for use on roads. Then you have a combination that gives immediate traction and will actually melt the ice.
Cinders are also used in combination with or as an alternative to salty ice melts. They provide traction, just like sand.
However, unlike sand, cinders can help to melt the ice faster. Cinders are dark colors, so when the sun comes out they start to heat up, speeding up the melting process.
Cinders are often mixed with salt to control snow and ice on the road. Like sand, they will require clean-up after the ice melts.
Now you know a little bit more about the science of ice melt and the different types of ice melt products you could try.
With this knowledge, you can face winter's challenges feeling more prepared, and you can keep your family, employees, guests, and pets safe this winter.
At Zimmerman Mulch, we know how frustrating winter can be. We've experienced it firsthand!
That's why we would like to help you face winter with confidence and peace of mind. The ice melt products that we offer are one way that we can do this.
It's easy to work with us. Simply:
- Choose the ice melt that best fits your surface, needs, and budget.
- Purchase your product and pick it up at our store.
- Apply your products to your walkway, driveway, patio, or other outdoor surfaces.
- Experience peace of mind knowing that your surfaces are ice-free and safe!
Don't let winter take you down - take it on with confidence!
We look forward to hearing from you!