Salt isn't the only ice melter

December 13, 2008|By ROBERT KESSLER

Winter means dealing with ice and snow on roads and walkways. Usually, we think of salt as a material to help melt the ice. However, there are other products that are good alternatives and are not so harmful to your plants and animals.

Salt can be harmful to animals when they lick it off their paws. Pet stores usually carry a product that does not contain any salts. Note that too much of any of these products can also damage concrete.

As we mentioned, most people think of salt - sodium chloride - when they need to melt ice. Salt is usually the least expensive material, but recently the cost of salt has risen. Disadvantages of salt are that it corrodes metals, such as iron railings, and damages plant roots and foliage.

Stores carry alternatives to sodium choride, such as calcium chloride and potassium chloride. These can also damage plant roots. Potassium chloride can also damage plant leaves and needles.


All of these products can be used in limited amounts to melt ice without causing damage. Problems occur when people use an excessive amount and there isn't regular winter rainfall to dilute and wash away salt buildup.

Don't try to use these chemicals to do all the snow and ice removal. After the sidewalk is cleared, if the sun is not expected to be out anytime soon, use ice melters to clear the rest off for you.

Some people use fertilizer, especially urea, to melt ice. While fertilizers have some ice-melting ability, their use can cause problems for the environment. First, the nitrogen can harm plants and pets just like the other ice melters. Second, the nitrogen is very water soluble and will move off site quickly. This can end up in storm water and eventually in the Chesapeake Bay. This causes problems in the bay and its tributaries along the way.

If you want a "green" option to control ice, use sand, sawdust or one of the pet-friendly materials.

Check your tools

Have you checked your snow-removal tools? I am referring to your snow shovel, snow thrower or snow plow. These tools have been unused since last year and should be checked before the snow is knee deep.

If you have motorized snow removal, be sure it's full of gas and will start and run properly. Check your snow thrower to be sure the chute turns freely and all the belts are in good shape.

Check out your snow shovel. How is the edge of the shovel? Does it have any damage? Is the handle in good condition? To prevent snow from sticking to the shovel, spray it with a spray lubricant, which will help the snow slide off when you use it.

Do you have a snow brush in the car where you can get it if you need it? How is the scraper blade? Sanding can help any damaged plastic scrapers.

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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