Within the past decade, the number of ice melt suppliers has doubled, and so has the variety of products available.
This means that maintenance professionals can find an array of ice melt products that meet specific needs for price and performance, but it also means that what used to be a simple salt purchase has become a confusing choice between salt, salt blends and salt alternatives such as magnesium chloride (MgCl2) and calcium chloride (CaCl2).
All ice melt products melt ice; but, depending on their composition, they are effective at varying temperatures and provide different value-added benefits.
For example, some ice melt products claim they are safe for vegetation and/or concrete.
Others say they won't harm carpeting or cause slippery floors in entryways.
The variety of choices is a plus for maintenance professionals, as varying circumstances demand different products to get the job done, and more than one product may be needed to effectively treat an area.
The Big Three
Essentially, ice melt products can be simplified into three main categories: Rock salt, salt alternatives and blends.
• Rock salt
Sodium chloride (NaCl) or halite has always been an economical and reliable choice for melting ice.
It works effectively at temperatures as low as five degrees Fahrenheit and, since it is more economical than manufactured blends, it is a great choice for treating large areas.
Although it is also safe to handle and store, maintenance professionals should take care around vegetation when applying any ice melting product, including rock salt.
Winter weather can be rough on concrete, so it should be protected with a sealant to prevent melted ice from entering cracks and refreezing.
This is especially true when NaCl is used because its brine can refreeze at higher temperatures.
You should also remove slush and brine before it has a chance to refreeze.
This is typically done with a shovel in smaller areas and a frontend blade in larger areas.
• Salt alternatives
Alternatives offer increased melting power and other benefits, making them well suited for colder climates.
MgCl2 is an excellent choice for maintenance professionals who need superior melting power but also have landscaping, concrete and public entryway concerns.
Trusted by transportation professionals to combat even the most severe winter storms, MgCl2 melts ice in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit and has the fastest melting speed above zero degrees.
It's safer to handle, and it's friendly to landscaping, vegetation and concrete when used as directed.
MgCl2 is available as a 100 percent magnesium chloride hexahydrate product or as part of a blended product.
CaCl2, like MgCl2, has superior melting power and can melt ice in temperatures as low as minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, maintenance professionals should use caution by wearing eye protection and gloves when working with CaCl2, as it can burn skin and can harm landscaping and concrete.
Studies at Purdue University have shown that CaCl2 can cause significant damage to concrete by chemically "attacking" it, even before freeze/thaw cycles take place.
CaCl2 also contains oily substances that can cause slippery floors, so it's best to avoid use around entryways, making it best for treating remote areas in extremely cold temperatures.
Ice melt blends typically contain NaCl mixed with MgCl2, CaCl2 and other additives to provide additional benefits such as enhanced melting power, extended freeze/thaw cycles to protect concrete surfaces, safety for pets and coloring to assist with even application.
Depending on the ingredients, ice melt blends can be economical choices that may also provide some additional benefits beyond simply melting ice.
However, because the ice melt industry is unregulated, there's nothing to prevent a manufacturer from adding small traces of additives to basic rock salt and claiming additional benefits or lower melting points.
To ensure that you're getting what you pay for, check the ingredient list, review melting temperatures and application rates, discuss the manufacturing process with your vendor and purchase from a trusted source that stands behind its products.
Best Practice Advice
Regardless of which combination of ice melt products you select, the following are four tips for obtaining the best results.
1. Follow specific application instructions
The amount you need will vary depending on which ice melt product you are using, as each product has unique properties.
Application instructions are designed to help you get the best performance from your ice melters without inadvertently damaging concrete, landscaping or entryway floors.
2. Talk to your vendors and suppliers
Discuss which mix of products will work best for your needs.
Never assume that one ice melt product will address all of your melting requirements.
Choosing the right products can save thousands of dollars over the course of a season while ensuring optimal ice control performance.
3. Take advantage of preseason, early-buy programs
Manufacturers realize that school systems, municipalities and the like have bid periods during summer and early fall, so they often provide early-buy incentives.
Winter maintenance is a balance between economics and effectiveness.
Stocking up in advance can save you money as well as ensure that you are prepared when the first storm hits.
4. Select products from reputable vendors
Companies that have stood the test of time carry trustworthy brands of ice melt products.
Given their experience, they are experts at helping you select the right products for the job.