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Road Salt: Tips for homeowners

From the Cary report Road Salt: Moving Toward the Solution

There is a legacy effect of salt in the environment, which means that concentrations in surface and groundwater will increase, perhaps for decades, even if we stop using road salt today. So, the average concentration of 48 mg/L we see today could be much higher in the future.

Road salt can also damage metal and concrete, contaminate drinking water, damage roadside vegetation, and accumulate in streams, lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater harming aquatic plants and animals. Trends show that, even in relatively rural areas, road salt is accumulating in our waterways. Because it can take decades for road salt to flush out of a watershed, increases in concentrations of salt may be seen even after its use has stopped. The combination of alarming increases in salt together with the time required for increases to cease indicate that it’s important to address the problem now.

While safe roads are of utmost importance, recent research indicates that we can achieve safety while being more efficient and careful with our road salt. By combining efforts to improve efficiency in road salt use with alternative chemicals in targeted areas, we can make a difference and improve conditions for ourselves and future generations.


Application tips

Adding too much salt to an icy surface is a waste of money and can only increase damage to concrete, metal, drinking water, and vegetation. It is a good rule of thumb to use deicers sparingly. Deciding how much to use depends on the deicer. A successful rate for rock salt is about a handful per square yard. If using calcium chloride, the amount needed is less—about a handful for every 3 square yards. Here are some precautionary steps you can take to decrease the amount of deicer you’ll need.

  1. Shovel the snow early and often. If the temperature drops after a snowstorm, the snow can turn icy and be harder to remove
  2. The more scraping and removal of ice that you can do, the less deicer you will need to use. Deicers work best on a thin layer of ice
  3. After you remove all of the snow and ice, sprinkle salt sparingly
  4. As the sun comes out or the temperature rises, the deicer will make a slushy mixture of water and ice. Remove this before the temperature drops again and you should have an ice-free surface until the next storm.


 Alternative deicers

Chemical deicers on the market today

New products are introduced every year with catchy names that often promise magic or wizardry (e.g. Magic Salt® and Blizzard Wizard®). These products are usually new, proprietary mixtures of the same chemical deicers that have been used for years. Chemical deicers are typically chloride salts of sodium, calcium, potassium, or magnesium (see table on opposite page). There are also non-chloride chemicals including calcium magnesium acetate, potassium acetate, and urea. And some new products on the market use liquid byproducts from the food or beverage industry such as beer waste and beet juice. Many of the products are 60-90% sodium chloride (rock salt) with the balance made up of one or more of the other products.

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