(ARA) - Most homeowners are accustomed to using salt to clear ice from sidewalks and driveways in the winter. But over the past decade, the variety of ice melt products has greatly increased. What used to be a simple salt purchase has now become a confusing choice between salt, salt alternatives and salt blends.
"All ice melters work in basically the same way, by lowering the temperature at which water freezes," says Jerry Poe, technical director for North American Salt Company, which markets the Safe Step line of residential ice melters. "But many of today's ice melt products provide a host of benefits beyond simply melting ice."
Rock salt is the old standby. Economical and reliable, it easily melts ice in temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and keeps sidewalks and driveways clear and safe. Rock salt is particularly good for moderate climates and is safe to handle and store. But, be sure to use it carefully around landscaping, as some plants might be sensitive to chlorides.
For colder, more severe climates, salt alternatives such as magnesium chloride or calcium chloride offer increased melting power. Magnesium chloride is an excellent choice for homeowners. It melts ice in temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, yet it is gentle on landscaping and concrete. It also produces minimal residue, so it is less likely to be tracked indoors, and if it is, it is easily cleaned up with water.
Because magnesium chloride's natural form has water molecules attached to it, it dissolves quickly to make brine. The brine spreads through the melting ice, breaking the ice's bond with the driveway or sidewalk, and it works for longer periods of time than many other ice melters.
Calcium chloride also works well in colder temperatures, but it requires homeowners to wear goggles and gloves when applying it to concrete because it can burn skin. It can also cause more damage to landscaping and concrete, and it produces a slippery residue that can be difficult to remove if tracked indoors.
Ice melt blends are another option for homeowners that can be economical and may also provide some additional benefits beyond simply melting ice. Blends typically contain rock salt mixed with magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, and other additives to provide enhanced melting power, protection for concrete surfaces, safety for pets and even coloring to assist with even application.
If homeowners need strong ice melting power and have landscaping or concrete concerns, Poe says magnesium chloride is the best choice. It's safer than calcium chloride, and it's available to homeowners as a 100 percent magnesium chloride formula as well as in ice melt blends.
Magnesium chloride also works well for households with pets. Because it is gentler than other ice melt products, it doesn't burn paws that have been cracked in cold temperatures, and it is less likely to clump between a pet's paw pads.
Whether you're looking for low melting temperatures, environmental friendliness or a combination of both, today's variety of ice melt products can meet those needs. A bit of education and planning before the first storm hits can help you have a safe and enjoyable winter.