In theory, winter can be a fun time to get out and enjoy the crisp air and the flurries of snow. But in reality, winter is often a time of biting winds and slick ice and slush. And even if you are in the mood for snow angels and snowmen, you might not even be able to get very far past your door. Once snow freezes on your walkway and driveway, you might have a hard time making it to the mailbox. That’s why an ice melt is essential in wintertime in places that get snow. An ice melt, also called a deicer, generally comes in granules that you spread around to keep snow from freezing into ice, so you can more easily shovel it out of the way.
How Does an Ice Melt Work?
Before choosing an ice melt, it’s worth understanding the basic physics that underly all ice melts. By lowering the freezing temperature of the water, ice melts can prevent ice from forming. But different ice melts lose effectiveness at different temperatures. For example, rock salt can start to lose effectiveness at temperatures as warm as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, while calcium chloride can keep working at temperatures as cold as -25 degrees F.
Beyond their effectiveness in preventing ice, there are other factors to consider when buying ice melts. One of the most important factors to consider is potential damage to your walkways. Even though it’s a famously strong material, concrete walkways and driveways can actually be damaged by ice melts. When ice sits on top of the concrete, no damage is done. But an ice melt can absorb water and seep into the pores of the concrete, causing damage like spalling.
Rock salt is a particularly serious offender, which is problematic considering it’s the best-known ice melt. Rock salt, or sodium chloride, has a higher temperature at which it loses effectiveness. As the temperature dips overnight and warms in the day, it’s more likely that the ice and salt will go through a cycle of refreezing and thawing. What’s more, sodium chloride absorbs water, meaning that more water will seep into the concrete and then expand once it melts again. This cycle of refreezing and thawing can wreak havoc on your concrete, which is why it’s a good idea to look toward alternative ice melts.
Another important factor to look at when choosing ice melts is the safety of pets. If you have pets, it’s best to be careful with the ice melts that you use. Some are more pet-friendly than others. Still, regardless of which you choose, the ASPCA recommends watching your pet to ensure they don’t eat any salt or snow, and wiping their paws off when they get inside to prevent them from licking ice melts off their paws.
Which Ice Melt Should You Choose?
So which ice melt should you choose? One of the best options is calcium chloride. Calcium chloride works at a lower temperature than sodium chloride, or any other ice melt, for that matter. Because it can continue working at temperatures as low as -25 degrees, you’re less likely to have issues related to freezing and thawing cycles. And while no solution is perfectly eco-friendly, sodium chloride is less damaging than some other alternatives. However, since it does contain chloride, it can still be damaging. Other options worth considering include calcium magnesium acetate, which is less corrosive but more expensive and may not work at the temperatures that calcium chloride can. Another option is magnesium chloride, which is more eco-friendly than sodium chloride, but it takes longer to work and doesn’t perform at the same temperatures that calcium chloride can. Whichever you choose, here are some tips that can help you get the most of your ice melt.
- Pre-treat: Checking the forecast in advance and sprinkling ice melt before the snow falls can be an effective way of preventing ice from forming.
- Don’t overuse ice melt: It’s best to be conservative when using ice melt. If it’s not working well, adding more won’t help.
- Be careful with concrete: Even options that are more concrete-friendly can still damage your driveway. New concrete is especially at risk. If your walkway or driveway is poor quality concrete or it was poured less than a year ago, you may want to reconsider using ice melt.
There’s a ton to consider when shopping for an ice melt, but to make things easier, we’ve rounded up some of the best ice melts you can buy.
1. Snow Joe Melt-2-Go CMA Blended Ice Melter
Snow Joe is a great option for a variety of reasons. The formula includes calcium magnesium acetate, which is about as corrosive as tap water. That means it’ll be less damaging to pets, plants and your property. It’s designed to not stick to or irritate your pet’s paws. It’s also less damaging to wood, concrete and grass. Plus, you can handle it with your bare hands if you wanted to without worrying about irritation. Most importantly, it’s an effective solution that works quickly.
2. ECOS Ice Melt Magnesium Chloride Pellets
EASY TO CARRY
This option from ECOS is made from Magnesium Chloride, which is more effective than sodium chloride and safe for pets and vegetation. It keeps working at temperatures as low as -13 degrees F. It’s safe for wood decks, concrete and lawns. Plus, this option is Safer Choice verified by the US EPA. This option comes in a pack of four jugs. Each jug is 6.5 pounds and has a similar shape to a detergent container, making it easier for people of varying abilities to carry.
3. Green Gobbler 96% Pure Calcium Chloride
BEST FOR EXTREME COLD
If you need to ensure your ice melt keeps working in even the coldest temperatures, pick up Green Gobbler’s ice melt, which is made from 96% pure calcium chloride. It’s non-corrosive and safe for use on roofs. It comes in a 15-pound pail, and the pellets work well with spreaders. Green Gobbler’s formula continues working at extreme temperatures, even as low as -40 degrees F.
4. Safe Paw Ice Melt
BEST FOR PETS
Safe Paw is one of the most unique options on the market, and it uses a special formula made with modified Carbonyldiamide crystals. Unlike calcium chloride, Safe Paw is completely chloride-free. As the name suggests, it won’t irritate a pet’s paws, and it’s designed to be a more eco-friendly solution. The convenient slotted cap makes it easy to spread.
5. Roof Melt Calcium Chloride Pet-Friendly Tablet
BEST FOR ROOFS
This option is made with your roof in mind. It’s calcium chloride, meaning it’ll work well in exceptionally cold weather. So what sets it apart from other calcium chloride options? The delivery system. The Roof Melt ice melt comes in tablets instead of granules, so you can actually throw it onto the roof from the safety of the ground.
6. Safe Step Enviro-Blend 6300 Magnesium Chloride
Magnesium chloride is an alternative to calcium chloride that’s worth considering. Magnesium chloride can’t perform at the extreme temperatures as calcium chloride. That said, this is effective up to -10 degrees F. Plus, at $25 for a 50-pound bag, this magnesium chloride solution is more economical than most calcium chloride options. Magnesium chloride is also slightly more eco-friendly than calcium chloride.
7. Safe Step 3300 Sodium Chloride Ice Melt 50 lb
We’ve outlined a variety of reasons why we think there are better options than rock salt. Sodium chloride is less effective at lower temperatures, it’s more likely to damage concrete, and it can be harmful to plants. That said, sodium chloride is the cheapest option on the market. If you live somewhere where you don’t need extreme cold-weather performance or you just want a backup option, Safe Step’s 50-pound bag can be a handy option.