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Ice Melters: Part 2

January 18, 2017 - Scott's Exterior Maintenance

Part 2: Ingredients

In the second part of our explanation of ice melters, I’m going to talk about what’s actually in them.


Store shelves are loaded with products to melt ice.... often with catchy and inspiring names such as "Miracle Melt", "Bare Ground", "Path Maker", "Safe Paw", and a personal favorite "Vanquish". On a contractor/bulk level, there are also quite a lot of choices. It can be overwhelming. So let's simplify this.


First, let's throw out all brand names and start reading labels. That helps. Turns out there are only a relatively short list of ingredients in all of these products that make up the core group of all ice melters. They are just put together in a myriad different combinations and blends.


Let’s clarify something first. When I say “salt”, what do you think of? Probably table salt? Although the term “salt” is often used universally as a lump term for all ice melters, there are actually several different salts used, so from a technical aspect, we will break it down into chemical names. Common salt, or table salt, is just one of them.


Typical ice melter ingredients:

  • Sodium chloride – this is common salt, table salt, rock salt and what most people think of when they think salt. It is cheap and plentiful and is a very common traditional ice melter.

Then we have the other chloride salts:

  • Calcium chloride
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Potassium chloride

Due to negative effects (namely corrosion) as a result of these chloride salts, alternative salts were developed as ice melters to be used at airports, for example, where corrosion of the aluminum in airplanes would be bad. These include:

  • CMA (Calcium magnesium acetate)
  • Sodium acetate
  • Potassium acetate
  • Sodium formate
  • Potassium formate

Then we have an oddball:

  • Urea – this is a nitrogen fertilizer that also happens to melt ice.

Then there are a couple so called “organics”. These aren’t ice melters themselves, but are additives to salt blends.

  • Beet juice – a by-product of sugar beet processing that works with salts to increase their effectiveness.
  • Corn derived by-product - may be added as a corrosion inhibitor.

That’s 12 different ingredients. Of those 12, probably only 6 of them (or less) make up the bulk of all ice melting products.

So what’s the best?

Ah, I was afraid you were going to ask that. The truth is there isn’t really a “best” one. All of these ingredients have pros and cons, so it really comes down to choosing the right product for the right circumstances. This is also why we see so many blends, because individual ingredients are blended to get a more balanced product with a wider range of use and minimal negative traits.


Next time I’ll go into some of the pros and cons and explain when it’s best to use one or another. Stay tuned.