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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

What Is the Best Deicer?

By December 9, 2010

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The best deicer is the non-chemical backbreaking solution... the snow shovel. However, proper use of a chemical deicer can ease your battle with snow and ice. Note that I said proper use, since a big issue with deicers is that they are used incorrectly. You want to use the minimum amount of product needed to loosen the snow or ice and then remove it with a shovel or plow, not cover the surface with deicer and wait for the salt to completely melt the snow or ice. Which product you use depends on your specific needs.

Back in ye olden days regular salt or sodium chloride was the usual choice for deicing roads and sidewalks. Now there are several deicer options, so you can choose the best deicer for your situation. The Transportation Research Board offers a tool to help you compare 42 deicer options based on price, environmental impact, temperature limit for melting snow or ice, and the infrastructure needed to use the product. For personal home or business use, you'll probably see only a few different products on the market, so here's a summary of some of the pros and cons of the common deicers:

sodium chloride (rock salt or halite)

Sodium chloride is inexpensive and helps keep moisture from accumulating on roads and walkways, but it is not an effective deicer at low temperatures [only good down to -9C (15F)], damages concrete, poisons the soil, and can kill plants and harm pets.

calcium chloride

Calcium chloride works at very low temperatures and isn't as damaging to the soil and vegetation as sodium chloride, though it costs a bit more and may damage concrete. Calcium chloride attracts moisture, so it won't keep surfaces as dry as many other products. On the other hand, attracting moisture can be a good quality since calcium chloride releases heat when it reacts with water, so it can melt snow and ice on contact. All deicers must be in solution (liquid) in order to start working; calcium chloride can attract its own solvent. Magnesium chloride can do this too, though it isn't used as commonly as a deicer.

Safe Paw

This is an amide/glycol mixture rather than a salt. It is supposed to be safer for plants and pets than salt-based deicers, though I don't know much about it otherwise, except that it is more expensive than salt.

potassium chloride

Potassium chloride doesn't work at extremely low temperatures and may cost a little more than sodium chloride, but it is relatively kind to vegetation and concrete.

corn-based products

These products (e.g., Safe Walk) contain chlorides and work in very low temperatures, yet are supposed to be safe for yards and pets. They are expensive.

CMA or calcium magnesium acetate

CMA is safe for concrete and plants, but it is only good down to the same temperature as sodium chloride. CMA is better at preventing water from re-freezing than at melting snow and ice. CMA tends to leave a slush, which may be undesirable for sidewalks or driveways.

Deicer Summary

As you would imagine, calcium chloride is a popular low-temperature deicer. Potassium chloride is a popular warmer-winter choice. Many deicers are mixtures of different salts, so that you get some of the advantages and disadvantages of each chemical.

Comments

December 29, 2008 at 1:48 pm
(1) Benton Jackson says:

I used only Safe Paw liberally on my sidewalk last winter, and I still got some grass kill. So this winter I’m trying to reduce the amount I use. I sand the sidewalk sometimes instead of salting, if it’s only a thin layer of ice.

I’ve heard some cities are experimenting with “liquid salt”- I presume what they’re doing is applying a heated saturated solution. This would apply the salt more uniformly, allowing them to use less. I might try that on my sidewalk. I’d also want to use a salt that has a steep solubility curve, to minimize the amount of water I’d have to use.

January 8, 2009 at 9:52 am
(2) Rodney says:

There is a new product on the market in Canada..called Ecotraction. It is volcanic sand/ash and does not need to be combined with sand as it has a low freezing temperature. I use it on my concrete driveway as very slippery. Need to clear snow first and a bit dirty, but works.

May 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm
(3) Steve Vernik says:

My name is Steve with the Safe Paw Ice Melting company. Thanks for this wonderful Article explaining to people the dangers of Salt. Sorry about your grass, I am sure you noticed it came back to life shortly after spring. It is merely a temporary issue from the Nitrate inhibitors. If too much Safe Paw is applied it makes it hard for the plant to take up certain nutrients, but this is quickly resolved after a good rainfall or two and sunlight. Hope all is well.

June 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm
(4) f says:

Steve, You are employed by Safe Paw, is that correct?

October 5, 2010 at 4:41 pm
(5) Charleen says:

This past winter we had heavy snow in the Mid-Atlantic region. An eco-friendly deicer was sprinkled on my concrete stairs. The snow on the stairs wasn’t completely removed, there was still a good layer of snow on the stairs. I’m also aware that how the concrete was installed can make a difference in whether or not there would be damage to the concrete. (My guess is that my concrete wasn’t of good quality.) My home is 4 years old. Could a one time application of deicer cause damage to concrete?

April 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm
(6) Nick Scaglione says:

Anne, some of your facts regarding the effect of deicers on concrete are incorrect. You state that CMA is safe for concrte. However, CMA (calcium magnesium acetate) or any magnesium based deicing salt can chemically attack concrete. You also state that sodium chloride damages concrete. If the concrete is of good quality, and was properly finished and cured, then sodium chloride will not harm the concrete.

Over time, the use of chloride based deicing salts can cause corrosion of the reinforcing steel within the concrete (mostly a concern in bridge decks). Studies were performed with CMA to show that it won’t cause corrosion of the reinforcing steel of concrete and hence was claimed to be safe for use on concrete. However, since that time numerous studies have been performed showing that the use of CMA on concrete will deteriorate the concrete.

June 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm
(7) f says:

Safe Paws is NOT safe for lawns. I used it in Chicago and it killed my lawn all along my driveway. Since its so harmful to plants, I am not too sure it really is safe for pets.

May 24, 2012 at 11:03 am
(8) R says:

I never use deicers – clear the worst by hand and then just use sharp sand or another crushed material like pumice if locally cheap – all you need is a grip to prevent slippage – no need to deice and have it refreeze again!
Oh and driving… going slowly and anticipating means no slips even with summer tyres!

November 30, 2012 at 9:30 am
(9) Brett says:

@ Nick, Nick your information is wrong about CMA (Calcium magnesium acetate) CMA is the only deicer you can use on new concrete all other deicers you usue you have to wait a year before using any kind of deicer. CMA has be and for many years been studied and proven to be the safest deicer we have. The Salt Institute from Alexandria, Virginia has done research, Cryotech makes it and does contineous research on it and its effects, and actually CMA came from the DOT for deicing on bridges and in no salt zones all over the US. I will say this is why CMA is less corrosive than tap water, and CMA is proven to reduce the corrosiveness of Chlorides, CMA is biodegradable and if it gets on your lawn it is no different then liming your lawn CMA, CMA biodegrades to carbon dioxide and water while the calcium and magnesium increase soil permeability, it is essentially non-toxic to aquatic species. Nick you claimed that CMA is not safe on concrete that is false information, by using CMA on your concrete, pavers whatever it may be it is actually proven better than not using anything the reason being is the freeze thaw cycle with CMA down that freeze thaw cycle is not as big as the water that mets off the ice and re freezes, now when you add maybe ethylene glycol (which is in Safe Paw, and anti-freeze in cars…), Urea ( Fertilizers), Calcium Chloride, and Sodium Chloride your freeze thaw cycle is a lot bigger causing spalling and crack in your concrete, popping pavers and damaging your concrete no matter how well you lay your concrete.

November 30, 2012 at 9:31 am
(10) Brett says:

** I want to encourage people to read what chemicals are in the deicer products before you buy them. There is no law in labeling so comapines can say “safe for pets” when actaully it is not safe at all for them. It can burn their paws, and if they drink puddles from melted ice/snow from the chemical it can burn and harm them from the inside. Know your chemicals and what you are putting down and how much material you are putting down. Be Smart about what you are buying and don’t buy into salesman BS. Stay safe in the winter season everyone!

December 2, 2012 at 8:25 am
(11) Ray says:

Reading about the bridges and just wondering about how they mix this stuff with concrete in the winter to keep it from freezing. naybe that corodes the rebar in the bridges as well

September 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm
(12) Joel Hamel says:

Go Green! LSM is completely non corrosive to the environment. This includes all plant life, vegetation, water systems, bridges, asphalt and concrete. Your valuable spreading equipment will also benefit from this non corrosive feature, saving you the costs associated with cleaning, repairs or replacement stemming from the use of salt based products. No other product today can make the claim to be 100% bio-degradable and earth friendly. Extensive testing, the results of which we can provide or demonstrate, show LSM as 400% more effective than NaCL in melting capacity per gram of ice. LSM is extremely fast acting with impressive per gallon coverage areas that all equate to better results at a lower cost.

November 4, 2013 at 12:23 am
(13) Kelly Lienau says:

I’ve been using a shovel for years with pretty good results. If there’s some ice I can’t remove, traction sand seems to work. I think all these deicers are a lazy alternative and are just something more to wash into our rivers.

November 19, 2013 at 9:13 pm
(14) Angela says:

It really depends what you mean by best. If it’s best value, then it’s brown rock salt. If it’s the best in terms of making sure your carpets don;t end up filthy, then it’s pure white solar salt. Of course the old fashioned shovel is the best for the environment but perhaps not your back.

November 29, 2013 at 9:14 pm
(15) John says:

You missed out on Sodium Acetate. It works to -18 Celsius, biodegrades, is safe for plants and pets and protects concrete. However it tends to leave a slush with oatmeal like texture so it’s only used to deice planes and roads. Note mixing vinegar with baking soda produces sodium acetate and CO2 however household vinegar is mostly water so it would only be a 10% solution. I’m not sure if 10% is enough, commercial sodium acetate de-icer fluid is 97% sodium acetate but the solution can be boiled down which we do for educational science experiments. Keep in mind that it’s also a supercooled fluid which heats to 165 Fahrenheit when it crystalizes ( it’s used in those reusable heat packs ), it takes something to start the crystallization such as a crystal, a contaminant or an ultrasonic sound wave compressing the solution ( the metal disc you press in the heat packs producing a click ).

December 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm
(16) Mike Wilson says:

I’ve been looking for something to put on my icy concrete. In just a few minutes of Google searching, I was able to find two university studies (U of Kansas and U of Iowa) on concrete damage due to deicers. The results of these studies were surprising, to say the least. Here are a couple of quotes:

U of Iowa:

“Our study observed that magnesium in any form was very damaging to the concrete.”

“Calcium magnesium acetate solutions were the most damaging of all solutions tested. ”

“Sodium chloride solutions were the least deleterious to concrete under our experimental conditions”

U of Kansas:

“At low concentrations, magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate can cause measurable damage to concrete. ”

“At lower concentrations, sodium chloride and calcium chloride have a relatively small negative impact on the properties of concrete. ”

“At high concentrations, sodium chloride has a greater but still relatively small negative effect. Damage appears to be primarily due to the effects of crystal growth within concrete pores. ”

“At high concentrations, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate cause significant changes in concrete…”

February 13, 2014 at 7:41 pm
(17) jim says:

TO PREVENT ICE CLEAN SURFACE POUR 1 GAL. WATER MIXED WITH FOURTH CUP LIQUID DISH SOAP FOURTH CUP RUBBING ALCHOHL I CE WON,T FORM FOR 3 TO5 DAY,S IDO IT ITWORKS I LIVE INMOUNTAINS TRY IT YOU,LL LIKE IT

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