Ice covers concrete steps outside.
Trade Talk

How to choose the best ice melt

Winter weather in cold climates brings snow, sleet and freezing rain. When temperatures drop, this winter precipitation can quickly create hazardous sidewalks and walkways. That’s why it’s critical for property managers and facility maintenance professionals to minimize the risk of slip and fall injuries by using the proper ice melt.

Because some options are better suited for certain climates and surfaces, selecting the best one for your facility can be challenging. Find out what you should consider, and use the chart below to help you choose the best ice melt for your facility.

Endothermic vs. exothermic products

The chemical composition is what makes ice melt either exothermic or endothermic, and the best one for your facility depends on your climate. Both options are safe for all surfaces when used as directed.

Exothermic ice melt

Exothermic products contain calcium chloride, which releases heat when it comes in contact with water. This type is effective down to -25°F, making it ideal for extremely cold climates.

Endothermic ice melt

Endothermic products contain sodium chloride, which absorbs heat in the atmosphere. This option is better suited for climates that have milder winters.

Types of ice melt and sidewalk salt

Two terms you’ll hear used interchangeably are sidewalk salt and ice melt. While both of these products essentially serve the same function, there are some differences between the two varieties.

Ice MeltEffective toAdditional Information
Calcium Chloride-25°FCorrosive to concrete, metal and rebar
Sodium Chloride10°FCorrosive to concrete, metal and rebar
Magnesium Chloride-22°FCorrosive to concrete, metal and rebar
Potassium Chloride25°FCorrosive to concrete, metal and rebar
Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)15°FSafe for plants, pets and all surfaces
Potassium Acetate-30°F and belowSafe for plants, pets and all surfaces
Sodium Acetate-20°F and belowSafe for plants, pets and all surfaces

Calcium chloride ice melt

In extremely cold temperatures, calcium chloride is an effective choice because it absorbs moisture from ice and snow, forming a liquid solution. Essentially, it lowers the water freezing point while generating heat for faster melting.

Sodium chloride ice melt

Sodium chloride, which is also commonly referred to as rock salt or sidewalk salt, works by lowering the freezing point of water. Because it is essentially just water and salt, it is often the most affordable option. Although less expensive, this type can be corrosive to wood, plants, metal, the underside of vehicles and more, so prompt removal after use is essential.

Magnesium chloride ice melt

Magnesium chloride provides slower-acting results using an exothermic reaction. It is considered a more environmentally friendly alternative to sodium chloride because it is both better for plants and for pets. Because it generates heat to melt ice, you often require more of the product for effective results.

Potassium chloride salt

There was a time when potassium chloride salt was a popular option, but now it is seldom used as a primary chemical. This is mainly because there are other products that are more affordable, safer for the environment and less damaging to surfaces.

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) ice melt

Calcium magnesium acetate is free of rock salt, nitrogen and chloride, making it a much more environmentally safe product than many others. It’s less corrosive than salt, so it’s less damaging to concrete and other surfaces. Unlike some other products, CMA does not create a running brine, allowing it to deice more effectively.

Potassium acetate deicer

Potassium acetate is an effective deicer that is much less corrosive than chloride-containing products. Because of this, and the fact that it’s extremely fast-acting, it is a common choice for many high-traffic industrial applications, such as airport runways.

You can use it as a pre-treatment when a storm is coming or a deicing agent once snow is on the ground. Surfaces where this option is used will even continue preventing ice build-up in the future.

Sodium acetate ice melt

Sodium acetate is another fast-acting and noncorrosive product that’s frequently used in industrial applications. Like potassium acetate, it is approved by the FAA for runway use because it won’t damage concrete or the underside of vehicles.

Sodium acetate is also biodegradable and nontoxic, making it safe for use around plants and pets. It works by generating heat, which allows the residual chemicals to proactively prevent ice accumulation in the future.

Pro tip: Deicers are not recommended for concrete that’s less than two years old. An ice melt safe for concrete that’s more than two years old will be the least corrosive, acetate-based products.

Common chemical combinations

While each of the chemicals discussed are commonly used to melt ice and snow, most products combine those chemicals in different ways to come up with a unique formula. Because of this, the performance of each variety can change based on the amounts of each component, so always defer to the product instructions and details for the product you’ve chosen.

When to apply ice melt

Preparing for winter starts by selecting the right product and stocking up on enough of it to get you through the entire season, making sure to store it in a dry place so it isn’t exposed to the elements.

When you know inclement weather is coming, applying a layer just before the snow falls is a great way to help control the situation from the onset. Once the weather has stopped, go apply a layer on top of the snow and ice accumulation and allow the chemicals to do their job. If necessary, you can continue to add layers as you are shoveling to aid in the task.

Refer to product instructions about whether or not prompt removal of the product is necessary or whether leaving down residual chemicals will help proactively protect surfaces for future storms, as well.

Ice melt safe for concrete

Any type of deicer can be damaging to concrete that’s less than two years old, so avoid using it if possible. When you have well-installed concrete that’s more than two years old, make sure to use less-corrosive options to avoid any potential damage. CMA ice melt is a fantastic option because it’s also more environmentally friendly.

Ferguson can help you choose the best ice melt for your facility

If you manage a multifamily property that is occupied by small children and pets, then it’s best to use a product that is labeled as nontoxic. If you want to protect your facility’s landscaping, choose a product that is safe to use around vegetation.

Products labeled as environmentally preferred are suitable for any facility manager that is concerned with having a low impact on the earth. When you’re ready to shop ice melts, the professionals at Ferguson can help you consider the specific needs or features of your facility.