Ice Melters 101

Ice melter

MYTH: If I throw ice melter on the driveway, the ice will always go away.

The purpose of an ice melter is not to eliminate snow or ice, but to cut through and break the bond with the surface below. Once the bond is broken, ice and snow can be swept, shoveled or scraped away.

MYTH: If a little is good, a lot should be better.

Too many people use way too much ice melter. Ice melters should be spread like chicken feed. When distributed properly, ice melters do their job and disappear. When spread too thickly, they clump and can be tracked into the house or melt into a solution that can damage lawns and shrubs.

Not all ice melters are created equal. There are basically five types of ice melter — old fashion rock salt (which is technically sodium chloride), calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and urea.

Rock salt (sodium chloride): This is the least expensive and the least effective of the five. It is only effective down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets colder than that, it does nothing.

Calcium chloride: This is the fastest, most powerful and most expensive of ice melters and is 10 times more expensive than rock salt. It is produced from calcium chloride brine and formed into pellets or flakes. In the pellet form, it burrows down to the under-surface, creates its own heat and melts. It is effective to -25 degrees. In its flake form, calcium chloride starts out being as effective as the pellet but loses power rapidly and does not “burrow down.” It does provide good traction for a limited period.

Magnesium chloride, potassium chloride and urea: Magnesium chloride is effective down to -13 degrees. Potassium chloride is effective to 10 degrees. Urea is effective to about 15 degrees. Their biggest benefit is that they are easier on the soil and surrounding vegetation than rock salt. Potassium chloride and urea are fertilizers, so they actually help heal the soil. Magnesium chloride is very similar to calcium chloride. The major drawback to magnesium chloride is that it is only 48 percent active and needs to be applied at twice the rate of calcium chloride.

Read the Bag: When a person goes into a store to shop for ice melters, they can’t just pick up any bag and expect them all to be the same. They should read the bag just like they do when buying fertilizer. Reading the ingredients will tell you whether you have sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium chloride or urea, or a combination of several of these.

Price: Sodium chloride is the least expensive. Calcium chloride is the most expensive. The other products and blends are priced in between the two.