In our last post about snow removal tips, we discussed using alternatives to traditional rock salt for de-cing driveways and walkways. In this post, we are going to dig a little deeper into the different types of de-icers available, as well as the pros and cons that go along with each of them.
When you know what makes various de-icers different from each other, you are in a better position to choose the one that works best for your particular needs / environment. As we have stated before, rock salt is the most popular de-icing option, but it is far from being the only option. There are others that can be much more effective in certain situations.
The first thing you should consider when looking for the right de-icer is your climate. One significant difference among de-icers is their working temperatures. And, yes, when you live in Michigan, you know it’s going to be a cold winter, but a Detroit winter and a Marquette winter can be very different; so keep that in mind. Another consideration is whether a particular de-icer will cause peripheral damage to things like your carpet, pets, concrete, or other landscaping features. Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that environmental impact of some de-icers. They can certainly vary in the degree to which they can harm the environment.
It’s important to note that not one de-icer will meet every need. There are pros and cons to each. Any time you introduce a new chemical agent into your environment, there will be side effects beyond just melting ice. To that end, we are going to take a closer look at each different de-icing agent, so you can be sure you have the right one for your needs.
Pros: Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is also know by the more common name of “rock salt.” It is, by far, the most common de-icer, with up to 14 million tons of it used each year in the United States and Canada. One of the reasons it is so often used is because it is more affordable than other de-icers. You can usually pick some up in stores for about $10 per 50-pound bag. In addition, its range of effectiveness is down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, which is usually satisfactory for most winter days.
Cons: Rock salt can do a real number on your environment. It can damage stone, brick, asphalt, and concrete. In fact, if you have concrete that is less than one year old, you shouldn’t bring rock salt anywhere near it. In addition, rock salt can also seep into the soil that lines sidewalks and driveways, changing the pH balance of the soil and ruining your lawn and plants. Finally, it can contaminate your ground water and even kill your pets.
Pros: Calcium Chloride (CaCl) actually gives off heat as it melts ice, which makes it work faster than any of the other de-icers on the list. It’s also effective down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. You can buy it in three different forms: liquid, pellets, or flakes. Some users like this flexibility for application purposes. Finally, it has a less of an impact on the environment than some other de-icers do.
Cons: Calcium Chloride can wreak havoc on the flooring in your house, including tiles and carpets. So you’ll want to remove any shoes or boots you were wearing during application. It can also corrode metal. While it is less harmful than other de-icers, if you over-apply it, you can still do harm.
Pros: Potassium Chloride (KCl), like potassium-based fertilizers, are heralded as actually being good for plants and lawns, which is a striking contrast to some of the other de-icers. As a result, it is simply more environmentally-friendly and safer for your four-legged friends; one notable exception is pets with kidney diseases.
Cons: Its working temperature only goes down to a (relatively balmy) 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also costlier than rock salt at about $20+ for a 50-pound bag. Furthermore, Potassium Chloride isn’t easy to find as a stand-alone product. Most often, it is found as component of de-icing blends.
Pros: Magnesium Chloride (MgCl) is effective at temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also less damaging to the environment than other options. It’s more effective than rock salt, because it acts very quickly.
Cons: While it is less damaging to the environment, applying too much can still damage plants. It can corrode metal. It can also pull moisture from the air. In some cases, it can pull too much moisture from the air, leaving pavement wet.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate
Pros: Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is extremely effective for areas with a lot of concrete that can absolutely not take on any damages—think parking ramps. Less corrosive than its chloride-based counterparts, CMA is harmless for the environment when used in small amounts. It is also biodegradable.
Cons: Calcium Magnesium Acetate is not cheap. In fact, it can cost up to 30 times more than rock salt. Since you buy CMA in a solid form and liquefy it before you apply it, there is the potential for it to refreeze, causing slipperiness on pavement.
Pros: Urea is as affordable as rock salt and, since it is nitrogen-based, is much kinder to grass and plants than rock salt. Beyond that, it is safer for pets and also non-corrosive, allowing it to be used near structures. In fact, gardeners often prefer this as their de-icer of choice.
Cons: In some places, Urea is not legal to use from de-icing. There is concern because of the effects that can come with runoff that flows into water sources.
Pros: Potassium Acetate is a very high-level de-icer with a freeze point of -76 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s non-corrosive and biodegradable. Because it is non-corrosive, it is often preferred for areas that use a lot of steel and/or have numerous structures, such as airports.
Cons: Two main cons stick out for Potassium Acetate. First, it can lower oxygen levels in water. Second, it’s expensive; often costing as much as CMA.
Pros: Sand is not a de-icer, per se, but it is often used to help combat slipperiness on roads, walkways, and in parking lots. It is very cheap and also non-corrosive.
Cons: The biggest issues with sand come towards the end of winter and start of spring, as it can accumulate and block storm drains. This can lead to flooding problems when snow is melting and/or rain is falling. Beyond that, sand can also gather in bodies of water and carry contaminants with it that is has picked up over the coarse of the winter.
Brine / Beet Juice
Pros: Some swear by beet juice or pickle brine, touting that is quicker for de-icing on roads, while also being less toxic than rock salt. Because it it less toxic and comprised of natural materials, its impact on the environment is minimal. Finally, it can bring down the melting point of water to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cons: The big drawback to beet juice as a de-icer is that is can work its way into streams and rivers, where the inherent sugars attract certain germs that feed on the oxygen in the water. This lowers overall oxygen levels in the water and can be very harmful to fish and other animals that need the oxygen for survival.
Hopefully you have found some answers to your questions here. If you need help with commercial snow removal, you can contact E.P.M. online or call us today at (517) 990-0110!