Removing Ice on Sidewalks and Driveways

Ice on sidewalks and driveways can be hazardous. This is a guide about removing ice on sidewalks and driveways.

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Article: Solutions for Slippery Sidewalks

By EllenB 793 1

Slippery SidewalksWinter weather can quickly make sidewalks and footpaths difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to navigate. Over the years, several effective and economical deicing products have been developed to give us a safer foothold. Once the ice melts, however, these products can end up damaging our lawns and polluting our waterways.

Comparing Five Common Chemicals

According to researchers at Iowa State University, the following five chemicals are most often found in de-icing products. By understanding their chemical properties (and therefore their limitations), you'll be able to better determine which product is right for you when you find yourself in a "slippery" situation.

Calcium Chloride (CaC12)

Pros: This chemical gives off heat so it works well at low temperatures ( -25º F). Because it doesn't contain as many chemical additives as regular rock salt does, it is usually considered less harmful to vegetation. It is available in flakes, pellets or liquid form.

Cons: CaC12 attracts moisture from the air so it can leave behind a slippery residue that can be harmful to carpet, tile, shoes and your pet's feet. It can also be corrosive to metal.

Cost: About three times more expensive than rock salt, but you only need to use 1/3 as much it.

Sodium Chloride (NaCl, a.k.a. Rock Salt)

Pros: This is an effective deicer for areas that receive vehicle traffic because of the additional heat friction created by moving tires and heat exhaust.

Cons: It draws heat from the environment rather than releasing it, so it is not very effective below 25º F. Salts can leach into soil, changing its chemical composition and eventually flowing into local waterways. Salt is also highly corrosive to paved surfaces, buildings and metal.

Cost: Rock salt is generally the least expensive deicing product.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)

Pros: Made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid, CMA is salt-free and biodegradable. It will not harm the environment if used sparingly and is less corrosive to concrete and less damaging to plants.

Cons: It only works to 25º F. It can sometimes dilute and refreeze, leaving a slick residue on walkways.

Cost: About twenty times more than regular rock salt.

Potassium Chloride (KCL)

Pros: -

Cons: Increased potential to burn foliage and inhibit rooting of plants due to its high salt content. Performs poorly below 20º F.

Cost: Costs three to five times as much as sodium chloride, but doesn't work as well at low temperatures, so you need up to ten times as much to be effective.

Urea (NH2CO NH2)

Pros: Primarily used as a fertilizer, Urea has a lower potential to damage vegetation compared to potassium chloride.

Cons: Performs poorly below 20º F. It still has the potential to burn your lawn, shrubs and other plants when the chemicals dissolve ice and collect in one area. Very little of most fertilizer-based deicers are actually beneficial to your lawn. Most of the nutrients end up running off frozen soil in the spring and flowing into storm drains, where they cause massive algae blooms in local waterways.

Cost: Varies, but generally inexpensive.

Other De-Icing Products

Potassium Acetate (KC2H3O2)

Pros: Works to -75º F. Potassium Acetate is considered safer than salt for steel and other metal structures. It is biodegradable and non-corrosive.

Cons: It attracts moisture from the air so it may keep pavement wet, leaving a slick residue. It also lowers oxygen levels in waterways if allowed to enter storm drains and is not always readily available to the public.

Cost: Eight times more than rock salt.

Magnesium Chloride

Pros: Effective to -13º F.

Cons: Is corrosive and attracts moisture from the air, which can keep pavement wet.

Cost: Two times more costly than rock salt, and you also need twice as much of the product for effective results.

Ethylene Glycol & Propylene Glycol

Pros: Propylene Glycol is considered a safer alternative for mammals than Ethylene Glycol. It is often found in "pet friendly" deicers.

Cons: Both products are considered by the EPA to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms.

Cost: Three to four times the cost of rock salt.


Pros: A salt and chemical-free alternative that poses no potential threats to plants.

Cons: Dry sand does not readily "stick" to ice or cause it to melt effectively. It may need to be dampened before application. If not cleaned up promptly in the spring, sand can clog storm drains and transport absorbed contaminants into local waterways.

Cost: Three to four times more costly than rock salt.

"Environmentally Friendly" Deicers

Although there are new eco-friendly sugar and corn by-product deicers being developed, many products that claim to be "eco-friendly" are often just a combination of the most common five chemicals used in deicers, but blended in such a way as to minimize environmental risks and keep costs low for consumers. Just because these products claim to be environmentally friendly, don't assume that they don't have serious impacts on the environment-especially waterways. The true environmentally friendly deicers are not always cost effective for homeowners treating small areas. The bottom line? The best way to protect the environment is to minimize your need for deicing products in the first place.

Keep Up With Shoveling

Physically removing as much snow as possible is the best, most effective way to keep your sidewalks and walkways safe. Deicers are not formulated to melt through thick layers of compacted snow, so remove as much of the snow as you can by shoveling before you apply a deicing product.

Use Deicing Products Based On Winter Conditions

Before applying a deicer to your sidewalk, think about the air temperature, potential for sun exposure, and how much product you'll need. Remember to follow label directions carefully and use products sparingly. It's easy to over apply deicers, but applying more than you need won't melt your ice any faster.
  • For Dry, Powdery Snow: Shovel or sweep snow immediately to avoid using deicer.

  • For Wet, Heavy Snow: Apply deicer product as soon as snow beings falling in order to prevent it from bonding.

  • For Sleet & Freezing Rain: Apply deicer product early on during these conditions to prevent ice from building up.

  • For Significant Snowfall: When more than 2 inches of snow falls, plow or shovel first and then use a deicing product to melt any underlying layers of ice that have built up due to packed down snow.

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Tip: Bird Seed to Prevent Slipping on Ice

By JunieB 3 3

We are having a really bad winter and have a lot of snow. I had been using Kitty Litter on my stairs and walkway but it was messy. I now use wild bird seed and it provides "grip", plus I enjoy watching the birds!

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Tip: Epsom Salts To Melt Ice

    Epsom salts and sugar, mixed 1 to 1, will melt salt and ice. It does not hurt the plants or ground,nor will it hurt birds, dogs, or cats. It can be used to pre-treat sidewalks and driveways and roads. Sprinkle just like you would regular salt. Also Epsom salts and sugar placed inside a leg of a pantyhose helps melt snow and ice on roofs.

    By Alice

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    Tip: Use A Salt Solution For Your Icy Driveway

    By Polly Levesque 28 28

    If you need to salt your driveway or stairs, try this. My salt from last winter absorbed some moisture during the fall, and the salt bucket had as much water in it as salt. I scooped up a bunch of both and spread it out and had great results! The water becomes salty, so the water *and* the salt clear the ice! Make it really soupy so the water spreads way out. I tossed a bunch onto my ice-covered driveway from inside my garage door, and half the driveway ice melted.

    By Polly from Cedar Springs, MI

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Reuse Rock Salt

    By Michele 18 64

    Rock salt can be used more than just one time! When it has done it job, just sweep it up and save for next snow fall.

    Source: Local newspaper said this works.

    By Michele from Bangor, PA

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Tip: Feed Corn for Slippery Sidewalks

    Try using cracked feed corn on slippery sidewalks instead of salt. It doesn't damage your lawns and it provides food for the birds. It's very reasonably price, too, about seven dollars for fifty pounds at any feed store. Granular fertilizer also works if you don't have access to feed corn.

    By Lynn

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Tip: Use a Broadcast Spreader for Salting Sidewalks

    By Michelle P 3 19

    Winter is here and it seems like we constantly have to put down salt on either the driveway or the sidewalk. So my husband, being the clever person he is, came up with a very easy and cost effective way to put down our salt. He uses our hand crank seed thrower (that is just sitting on the shelf waiting for spring) and this spreads the salt evenly and lets it go farther, saving us money on salt and less time spent actually doing the job. When spring time comes back around we just wash the seed thrower out really well and it is set to go. We are always looking for double duties around here and this is a great one.

    Source: My wonderful husband.

    By Michelle from Newark, Ohio

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Tip: Sandbox Sand for Your Icy Driveway

    By debbie clapper 13 8

    Every year, I replace the sand in my daughter's turtle sand box because it gets leaves and pine needles from the yard, but I thought there should be something else I can use this sand for. Then I thought, in late October in Maine it is beginning to get cold and we are all stocking up on salt for icy driveways and walk ways. I started mixing half salt and half sandbox sand in the big kitty litter buckets. Sprinkle on with a cup when needed and this has been working great got us. 2 bags of sand at the beginning of spring, a summer of fun for a 4 year old, then safe walking during the winter for our family. Boy I guess I got my money's worth for that sand.

    By Debbie from ME

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    Tip: Plastic Flower Pot For Salting Sidewalks

    By Becky Owens 17 29

    My husband uses one of my empty plastic flower pots to spread salt on the icy sidewalk. The drainage holes are just the right size to let out the salt as he shakes the pot over the ice.

    By glowgirl from Watertown, WI

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Tip: Reuse Containers as Salt Spreader

    Another use for Folger's handled coffee container is filling it with sidewalk safety salt or calcium chloride pellets during winter. The handle makes it safe and easy to dispense the product as needed. You don't have to touch the salt. Simply scoop and sprinkle. I have an especially long brick walkway so this recycled purpose saves steps back to the porch for refills.

    I am going to experiment with the container to fill sunflower seeds in the bird feeders. Perhaps, by cutting a side hole and replacing the lid would funnel the seeds into the tubular bird feeder with less spilling

    By Kathy from Western PA

    CommentWas this helpful? Yes

    Home and Garden Home Improvement Home SafetyFebruary 7, 2013
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