Ice Melt Salt: How to Use It and Best Practices

Slippery sidewalk

Without question, the most invisible, but very real environmental health threat winter cruelly throws our way each year is ice, ice baby.

And a fall on ice is not nearly as ear worm catchy as the Vanilla Ice rap classic, it just cold, hard hurts. Trust us, folks, sitting laid up with a broken foot, leg or hip in a world of immobile hurt is no way to weather a long cold Iowa winter, not even if you are binge watching “Yellowstone,” “Cobra Kai” or the Marvel Film Universe.

Black or unseen ice lurks as a potential hazard on any driveway, sidewalk, front porch and car port not completely shoveled or cleared following a winter snow storm or overnight freeze. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately one million Americans are injured annually as the result of falling on ice and snow. Tragically, these injuries are fatal for about 17,000 people annually.

The hurt doesn’t stop there: the Employee Mutual Company’s loss analysis pegs the average cost of a slip and fall injury exceeds $12,000.

“A simple trip or slip on ice can cause serious, traumatic injuries,” Christopher Dodson, M.D., of the Rothman Orthopedic Institute notes.

Which brings us to an Iowan’s best friend outside of a warm furnace and hot cocoa during winter: ice melt. Its ice eliminating power is unmatched. Not even Mr. Freeze can foil it.

“As you prepare for winter weather, one of the best things to have on hand if you live in a snowy climate is ice melt,” The Spruce’s Katie Begley writes. “Available in both liquid and pellet form, the basic function of ice melt is to prevent ice from forming. This can keep surfaces safer for walking or driving, as well as making sure that your home won’t be damaged by an excessive build-up of ice during very cold storms.”

Unfortunately, not all ice melts are created equal and you just can pour a ton of ice melts on your ice problem. Here are important tips when it comes to Ice Melt:

Follow Ice Melt Directions & Safety Instructions

They are written right on the container for a reason, and they will never steer you wrong. Consult the application instructions for ice melt safety information. The first safety rule of ice melt: always wear protective gloves (since ice melt contains calcium or magnesium chloride products) and good traction footwear when working outdoors on snow or icy surfaces. Ice cleats or overshoes with abrasive pads are recommended. Be sure to remove them before re-entering your home, office or store.

When is the Best Time to Apply Ice Melt?

Ice Melt isn’t Superman. It needs the right conditions to effectively work. Apply ice melt before precipitation freezes or immediately after clearing snow.

“Shoveling the slush layer from walkways after the ice melt has done its job helps reduce concrete damage absorption and excess thaw/refreeze cycles,” EMC advises. “Use a commercial quality sealant to help prevent moisture from seeping into the pores and cracks in the concrete frequently treated with ice melt.”

Also be sure to avoid dumping the slushy mixture onto landscaping, down drains or close to bodies of water like ponds. Ice melt can damage both your landscaping and the environment. Do not use ice melt on new concrete poured within the past year. Ice melt can damage uncured concrete.

What Kind of Ice Melt Should I Use?

Just like any product, beware of knockoffs. Brand X doesn’t boast the same real ice-melting power as proven, trusted ice killers like Prestone Driveway Heat ($25.38 on Amazon), Snow Joe Environmentally Friendly Blend Ice Melter ($14 at Wal-Mart) or Road Runner Ice Melt ($14 at Wal-Mart).

The market features many types of ice melts, each with unique properties and costs. The cost of ice melt goes up as the temperature rating goes down. Because of this, it’s a good call to have more than one type of ice melt in your garage. Rock salt (sodium chloride) has a 20 degree Fahrenheit temperature rating while calcium chloride (an excellent choice for deep polar freezes like the ones Eastern Iowa experienced throughout January 2022) has a temperature rating of minus 25 degrees.

“For example, rock salt may be a good choice for late fall or early spring, but a magnesium/calcium chloride blend may be needed in January or February,” EMC notes.

How Much Ice Melt Should I Use?

Alas, you just can’t pour a ton of melt on your ice problem. It’s a slippery slope that will just create more icy problems. Using excessive amounts of ice melt does not speed thawing, is very dangerous to pets’ health if digested, can produce environmental damage and can result in excess product being tracked inside. And you know your spouse does not want ice melt on your hardwood floors.

“Less is more when it comes to ice melt,” EMC notes.

A generally rule is to use a half-cup of ice melt per square yard. Double-check the application instructions of your ice melt to know for sure the recommended amount.

Don’t Track Ice Melt Into Your Home, Office or Facility

Not only is it terrible for your floors, it’s a safety hazard. EMC reports ice melt residue on hard-surface floors can reduce traction by more than 40 percent and ironically lead to the one thing it’s designed to stop: slips and falls.

Be sure to remove ice melt from shoes and boots, use high quality scraper/wiper mats and inside and outside of all entrances. Also, vacuum them throughout the day and change out saturated mats with dry ones and consider adding extra walk-off mats when necessary.

How to Store Ice Melt?

Remember, ice melt absorbs moisture, even from air. Exposure to excessive moisture can cause ice melt to degrade, clump or harden between uses. Store ice melt bags in airtight containers away from moisture, air and sunlight.

Ice Melt is the Hercules of ice killers and prevents an untold amount of slips, falls and hospital visits every Iowa winter. Make sure you have it on hand and in proper use to keep your family, friends, neighbors, guests, coworkers, students and customers safe and on their feet this winter.

“Ice melt is a godsend when Jack Frost makes a visit to your home,” Gearlab’s Nick Miley and Austin Palmer write.

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