Glenn Rasin

By: Glenn Rasin on September 26th, 2019

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What is Ice Melt? Selecting The Best Ice Melt For Your Facility

Winter months are quickly approaching and that means ice and snow are on the way, and slick sidewalks and slippery parking lots are also on the horizon. As a business owner, you are likely familiar with the increased dangers of wintery weather and the associated dangers that come with slippery sidewalks and entryways.  

Before the first snowfall, it is important to take the necessary steps to reduce or eliminate hazardous icy conditions outside your facility. The best way to avoid slips and falls due to icy sidewalks, parking lots, and entryways are with the use of the right ice melt.

In this article, we will go over the different types of ice melt and what to consider when choosing the best one for your facility. 

What is Ice Melt? 

Ice MeltIce melt is generally applied in advance of snow and ice or applied on top of the already formed ice and snow. 

Ice melt or deicer lowers the freezing point of water, preventing the buildup of ice or breaking up pre-formed ice into liquid slush. It breaks the bond between the pavement or concrete and the ice for easier removal and the future prevention of ice and snow build-up. 

Why are there different types of ice melt? 

Although all deicer aims to melt ice, not all perform in the same conditions. Each type of ice melt compound will be effective in different applications when considering the product’s freezing temperature, form, shape, and effect on the environment.  

Choosing the Best Ice Melt

There are many different types of ice melt, and there are several considerations when choosing the best ice melt for your facility. Understanding the conditions you will be using the ice melt in will allow you to choose the most effective compound.

When selecting an ice melt there are 6 things to consider to choose the best one: 

  1. Climate 
  2. Residual Deicing
  3. Environmental considerations 
  4. Ice Melt Form 
  5. Ice Melt Shape 
  6. Price

1. Climate

The first consideration when selecting an ice melt is to be aware of the product’s lowest effective temperature. 

Ice melt works by lowering the freezing point of water. Each chemical compound used in ice melt has a different working temperature. 

Cold TemperaturesUsing a product beyond its lowest effective temperature range will result in reduced or no ice removal. For example, applying an ice melt with a lowest effective temperature of 20°F in temperatures lower than 20°F will not allow the product to remove ice as quickly or effectively. 

In extremely cold temperatures, ice melt that releases heat or is “exothermic”, will perform better. Some exothermic ice melt can be effective in temperatures as low as -25°F. Cold temperatures restrict the amount of moisture on top of ice, making it hard for ice melt to absorb liquid to work. Exothermic compounds release its own heat that increases the amount of moisture on the ice, allowing it to produce greater amounts of liquid solution (or brine) to penetrate through ice. 

In moderately cold temperatures, “endothermic” deicers can be used to effectively remove ice. Endothermic ice melt works better in milder temperatures typically 20°F and above. Rather than releasing heat, endothermic deicers draw heat from the surroundings to dissolve. 

2. Residual De-icing

The chemical makeup of the ice melt will affect how long the product continues to provide de-icing action after being applied. Ice melts with longer residual action will reduce the frequency in which ice melt will need to be applied in the future. Products which have longer residual action may be more expensive but will save costs on the amount of ice melt used and the labor needed to apply the ice melt. 

In general, liquid ice melts typically provide longer residual action because they continue as brines for an increased amount of time when compared to solid ice melt. 

3. Environmental Considerations 

Another consideration when selecting the right ice melt is how the chemical compound will affect the surrounding areas of your facility. Each ice melt compound can have a range of negative effects on the natural (plants, animals, waterways, fish) and manmade (doorways, grates) areas it comes into contact with. 

Vegetation (Plant Life)

Ice melt in parkIncreasing concern for the environment and the use of sustainable products may require you to search for ice melt which is non-toxic or non-harmful to vegetation and animals. Ice melt is easily caught in run-off water and can contaminate groundwater. Vegetation and animal life can be affected by the salts in the run-off water. 

Some ice melts have a lower risk of potential environmental damage and water pollution. For example, sodium chloride can be damaging to surrounding trees and plants but sodium acetate products are formulated to be more environmentally responsible. 

Hardscapes (Concrete, brick, stone, pavement, metal grates, etc.)

Snow on BricksCertain chemicals can be corrosive to hard surfaces like concrete, pavement, or metals under the ice.

For example, salt-based deicers can penetrate porous stone, freeze, and cause the surface to expand, resulting in flakes or cracks. Salts can also cause metal railings, grates, and door frames to rust or corrode.  

4. Ice Melt Form

Ice melt is available in solid or liquid form.  The most popular ice melt is solid pellets.  

Solid ice melt works by absorbing moisture from the top of the ice, permeating downward, and creating a solution (or sometimes brine) to soften the bond between the ice and the ground surface. Solid ice melt is applied using a sand or salt spreader. Liquid ice melt is applied using a push or backpack sprayer.

5. Ice Melt Shape 

Solid ice melt is available in different shapes. Round or evenly shaped ice melt has been found to be most effective at removing ice when compared to irregularly shaped or flaked particles. 

Round, solid deicers melt downward and outward evenly, allowing them to rapidly cut straight down through the ice to the ground, resulting in quicker ice removal. 

Irregularly shaped particles melt horizontally as much as they do vertically downward, increasing the amount of time it takes to penetrate all the way down to the ground. 

6. Price

The price of ice melt will vary on chemical make-up and manufacturer. In general, the following compounds are listed from most to least expensive. 

  • Sodium Acetate
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Urea
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Blends
  • Rock Salt

Comparing Types of Ice Melt: 

Understanding what to look for in an ice melt can help give a better idea of which compound will be most effective in your facility. Below we go over some of the most important features of each type of ice melt. 

Based on the approximate lowest effective melting temperature, we ranked the 7 most common types of ice melt:

  1. Calcium Chloride 
  2. Magnesium Chloride 
  3. Sodium Acetate 
  4. Sodium Chloride 
  5. Potassium Chloride 
  6. Urea
  7. Blends

Keep in mind that the lowest effective temperature will vary by manufacturer. 

1. Calcium Chloride Ice Melt

  • Peladow Calcium Chloride Pellets - 50lb bagCalcium chloride ice melt is the most effective ice melt in lower temperatures when compared to other ice-melt compounds. It is less expensive than sodium acetate but more expensive than other compounds.
  • On contact with ice or snow, it attracts moisture to quickly form a brine (liquid solution) which lowers the freezing point of water and produces heat, causing the ice to melt. 
  • Products containing calcium chloride are some of the fastest-acting ice melt and most tolerant of colder temperatures. 
  • It is a good choice for facilities with concrete.
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: -25°F

2. Magnesium Chloride Ice Melt

  • It is slow acting and more expensive than some of the other ice melt products. 
  • Magnesium chloride is exothermic (releases heat), and is effective in colder temperatures.
  • It is less corrosive than calcium chloride or sodium chloride, and slightly more environmentally friendly toward plant life. 
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: 0°F

3. Sodium Acetate Ice Melt

  • This is one of the most environmentally friendly options because it does not contain any chlorides and is biodegradable. It is the most expensive option. 
  • Sodium acetate does not cause corrosion to metals. 
  • It has a longer residual effect, so you don't have to reapply as often. 
  • Sodium acetate (NAAC) is approved by the FAA for use on commercial airport runways. 
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: 0°F

4. Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt) Ice Melt

  • Magic Salt Ice Melt - 50lb BagSodium chloride, also referred to as rock salt, is one of the most widely used ice melts. 
  • It is also the least expensive ice melt. 
  • Rock salt is endothermic (draws heat from its surroundings), making it is less effective in cold temperatures. 
  • Rock salt is moderately corrosive to metals and leaves behind a whitish, powdery residue. 
  • If applied appropriately it can be safe for the environment but too much accumulation will kill plants. 
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: 20°F

5. Potassium Chloride Ice Melt

  • Potassium chloride is hardly used anymore because it is expensive and is not as effective as other compounds. 
  • It is not considered an environmentally friendly option. 
  • Potassium chloride is not as effective in colder temperatures. 
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: 25°F

6. Urea 

  • Urea is most commonly used as a fertilizer. It contains nitrogen which may seem desirable but when not applied correctly or in excess can burn vegetation. 
  • Similar to potassium chloride, urea is hardly used as ice melt anymore. 
  • Urea is not effective in colder temperatures. 
  • Lowest Melting Temperature: 25°F

7. Blends

  • Hot Melt Ice Melt - 50lb BagIce melt can be sold with a combination of the above chemicals. They typically combine sodium chloride with one of the other more expensive types of chloride. 
  • Each chemical blend will vary in corrosiveness, environmental impact, and lowest effective melting temperature. 
  • Blends can help extend an ice melts efficacy in lower temperatures.
  • For example, sodium and magnesium chloride can be blended to melt ice and snow faster than rock salt at temperatures as low as -12° F.

Final Thoughts

Different ice melt compounds have different levels of effectiveness in different conditions. Each has its own effective melting temperatures, residual de-icing action, and potential environmental effects. 

Calcium chloride is the best option for facilities dealing with extremely low temperatures. 

Rock salt is best if you are looking for the cheapest option, but keep in mind it is toxic to plants if applied in excess, and can corrode concrete and metal. 

Magnesium chloride is a good choice for facilities concerned with the environment.  

Potassium chloride and urea are not as popular because of their inability to work in colder temperatures and their high cost. 

Blended ice melts are formulated to utilize the best attributes of each chemical compound, like lowest effective temperature or environmental effects without raising costs.

The best time to start thinking about ice melt is before the first snowfall. Choosing the right ice melt for your business will help ensure you’re getting the best results to keep your guests safe and facility in great shape.

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About Glenn Rasin

Glenn Rasin is the Chemical Specialist for EBP Supply Solutions and Lead Trainer for the EBP Training Academy, which offers CMI-certified training courses for supervisory and front-line cleaning professionals throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. He is an ISSA CMI-certified trainer, with over 35 years of experience in the janitorial and sanitation industry.