By: Nick Gialloreto, Territory Manager
As winter quickly approaches, it is time to consider which Ice Melters to use this year. Should you choose a single ingredient or blended product? How do you decide which options are best for you? Well I am here to help!
Here are the common ice melt ingredients and some of their characteristics:
Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)
Melts to 5 degrees, very inexpensive, dusty, irregularly sized, needs to be in solution to work, lasts for many hours
Melts from 20 to 25 degrees, used as a fertilizer with high salt index, usually more consistently sized, a bit safer around vegetation, almost 5x more expensive than rock salt, needs to be in solution to work
Melts from 20 to 25 degrees, less corrosive as it does not contain chlorides, used as fertilizer, consistent sizing, safest around vegetation, about 5x more expensive than rock salt, needs to be in solution to work
Melts to about -15 degrees, liquid form only, doesn’t need moisture to work, good for pre-treating, pull moisture from atmospheres which helps it work quicker, costly
Melts to -25 degrees, works very quickly but only lasts for about 20 minutes, very consistently sized, pulls moisture from atmosphere, very costly, very hard on gloves, skin, and boots
CMA (Calcium Magnesium Acetate)
Not a great melting agent, most environmentally safe, Cost commonly used to treat one of the other ice melters listed before to lower their ice melting ability, non-corrosive, very costly (4x more than Calcium Chloride)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Rock Salt is used mostly for large scale jobs. Due to its low cost and the ability to easily get it in bulk, rock salt is used on large open areas like roads and parking lots. If temperatures are expected to drop below 5 degrees, many people will switch to rock salt treated with magnesium chloride. This helps the melting point drop, but does increase the price a bit.
Many companies are pushing urea and potassium chloride as a “safe” alternative to rock salt that can be used around vegetation. Well, this is only partially true. Yes, urea and potassium chloride are used as fertilizers and have lower salt indexes, but when used as ice melt, they require to be used at much higher rates than if you were using them as fertilizer. This means you will still get salt burn, and you still need to be careful around vegetation. Add this to the fact that their melting point is very poor, and you end up with two products that just about guarantee you must blend them with other ingredients.
Calcium and magnesium chlorides are great products to break down large chunks of ice and to drop the melting points in blends. However, once applied they do not last very long and can leave behind oily residues. These products generally work faster than other ingredients as they will pull moisture from the atmosphere to get into solution. Other products are slower to get into solution, and therefore slower to get to work. While this adds to the speed in which they work, again, it shortens their use time.
Then there is CMA. CMA is a synthetic product, making it very expensive. Because of the cost, you will never find it on its own. It is always blended with other ingredients. Blends with CMA are great to use in areas where there is a lot of metal that is in danger of corrosive damage. The CMA helps protect the metals from the chlorides it is blended with.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Finally, we get to the point you all have been waiting for... What product should we use? Setting aside large-scale jobs, which we already discussed above, I always recommend a blended product. When you get a blended product from a reputable manufacturer, you are just about guaranteed to get the best that each ingredient has to offer. Blended products are usually more consistently sized as they are screened a bit more in the production process. They are also typically less dusty because they have magnesium chloride sprayed on them along with non-staining dies. And, finally, they work relatively fast and last relatively long. Keep in mind that consistent uniform sizing allows for easier and better spreading. The cost of a blended product is easier to swallow than using a straight calcium chloride, and unless you live in the arctic, you do not need a product that will melt to -25 degrees. Don’t pay for a benefit you will never see!
A couple final thoughts before I go. Salt does not damage concrete! Freezing and thawing water damages concrete. On new and existing concrete, you need to use a blended product with a melting point lower than the expected temperature in your area. Your goal is to try to keep melted snow and ice in its liquid state and then have the surface dry before it freezes. You do this by lowering the melting point, but at the same time, using products with longer residual. This again is why I recommend blended products. In addition, there is a misconception that calcium chloride must be used on new concrete because it is such a fast melter and can handle low temperatures. While these two qualities are both true, the downside is that calcium will only last for about 20 minutes. So, unless you are treating these areas very frequently you need a blended product. The blends will work fast to break up and melt the snow and ice, but the sodium chloride will last much longer and help keep things in liquid form until you get back around to retreat the areas. If you are concerned about protecting concrete, choose a blend with a bit more calcium in it, and you will be just fine.