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Ice Melters: Part 3

January 20, 2017 - Scott's Exterior Maintenance

Part 3: Which one is best?

In this final part of the ice melter explanation, I’m going to explain some of the good and bad of each and why we may choose to use one over the other.

With so many choices in ice-melting products, it can be difficult to choose which one to use. It’s really about balance and I’ll explain why.

First, let’s look at the big picture. Are any of these good to use? No, not exactly. In other words, we are better off if we don’t have to use any of them due to several negative side effects, mess, and extra expenses. However, in the big picture, we have to balance the negative side effects with increased safety. Nobody wants to slip and fall and break something and nobody wants to slide off the road or get into an accident. Put simply, icy conditions are hazardous and can result in serious consequences and harm.


Second, since we’ve decided to use an ice melter, how do we choose which is best? By balancing the pros and cons and choosing the most efficient product to get the job done with the least amount of waste and the fewest negative side effects.


Here’s what we have to balance, to name a few:

  • Cost
  • Effectiveness (does it work efficiently without using a lot of it)
  • Working temperature (is it too cold for this to work?)
  • Corrosive effects (on metals)
  • Negative effects on concrete, asphalt, brick, stone, etc
  • Harm to plants and the environment (either directly, or via runoff into waterways)
  • Pet safety (is it safe for paws and ingestion if they lick it)
  • Cleanliness (will it track inside if used on a parking lot, driveway, or sidewalk)


I’m not going to go into all the details on every ingredient because I’m sure I’ve lost almost everyone by now with information overload, but it’s readily available if you want to know more. However, here are a few highlights.

  • Calcium chloride has the lowest working temperature. It will melt down to -25F. Fun fact, calcium chloride is also what’s in DampRid. Those white flakes inside the DampRid containers? That’s calcium chloride. It’s hygroscopic, which means it attracts water, thus its use as a desiccant. Many of these salts attract water, but calcium chloride is especially thirsty. Also, another fact about calcium chloride is it heats up when it dissolves in water. For the chemistry nerds, that means it’s an exothermic reaction; it releases heat. Magnesium chloride does too, but not as much as calcium chloride. This helps it melt ice to a lower temperature and leads companies to brand products with names like “Driveway Heat” and “Pellets of Fire”.
  • Magnesium chloride is the next lowest working temperature at about -15F.
  • Sodium chloride (common salt) is inexpensive and thus widely used. Its working temperature is about 20F.
  • Urea is one of the safer ones for pets and less harmful to paving materials, but it has a higher working temperature of around 25F and is less effective. Although it’s a fertilizer and the runoff could be good for grass and plants, its high nitrogen content can easily burn plants if too much is used.
  • The acetates are less corrosive, but more expensive and have higher working temperatures of around 20F.
  • The organic additives boost the effectiveness of salt and/or counteract its corrosiveness. This means we can use less salt to get the same effect, which in turn means that there’s less salt being put into the environment and fewer negative effects.


In conclusion, here’s the summary. Ice melters work by lowering the melting point of ice and when it’s sufficiently lower than ambient temperatures, the ice will melt off our driveways, roads, etc., the resulting water will run off or evaporate and leave us with dry pavement. This is accomplished by one or a combination of the common salts. Single ingredients are often used, but ice-melting blends are widely available and offer broader usage over a range of temperatures and conditions. Weighing the pros and cons helps us choose the appropriate product for the situation to ensure it will work for us. Look for ingredients and go from there. Chances are good it’s one of the 12 I listed earlier!


To choose ice-melting products for our business, we go through the same process, look at our options, and pick ones that will work for us and our customers for each situation.


Clear as mud? Great, there will be a quiz next week. ;-)