Salt has been the go-to for de-icing walkways and roads here in the northeastern U.S. It is terrible for vegetation and is substantially corrosive on other surfaces. I'm looking for a good residential alternative.

I've found some articles but am still not sure. There doesn't seem to be a clear answer. Has anyone done the research and found a clear alternative for de-icing walkways? Sand or seeds are some examples I'm exploring, and I may very well come and answer my own question soon. I recognize shoveling is important too, but I don't think that totally solves the issue of ice forming when the conditions are right for it too over wood or concrete paths and steps.

Note: I'm asking in the context of a residential walkway, maybe even driveway but mostly just a short walkway and stairs to keep folks safe from slips.

  • Is salt really that bad? I mean introducing sand into an area that it isn't really natural is far more damaging I believe than a bit of salt that dissolves and leaches away with rainfall or melting of the ice. – Blue_Hat Nov 22 '16 at 5:07
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    Sand or grit won't clear ice, they'll just make it less slippery. – Chris H Nov 22 '16 at 8:42
  • @Blue_Hat but where does it go when it leaches away? Unless it gets to the sea via the sewer system it will make watercourses/soil/ponds salty – Chris H Nov 22 '16 at 8:44
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    @Blue_Hat Salinisation is a big issue in many parts of the world. That includes road banks. – user2451 Nov 22 '16 at 9:40
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    @cr0 I think sand after scraping is the way to go. Or a scrubbing brush/firm broom - you want to expose the rock/concrete surface under the ice. Applying sand, then collecting it when the ice melts is an easier but still sustainable solution (I suspect that would be an entertaining design challenge, though). But, (clean/freshwater) sand is cheap most places, and you shouldn't need huge amounts. It's "salt on the steak" not "icing on the cake". – Ⴖuі Nov 23 '16 at 1:25

This is a question that many Departments of Transportation have struggled with as well! There are other chemicals that you can use, but all of them will have at least some impact on the environment. Even sand can cause problems in our stormwater systems. Other chlorides (magnesium chloride and calcium chloride) are popular as alternatives, but still have some of the same negative impacts as common salt (sodium chloride). There are also non-chloride products being created. Here are a couple links talking about alternative chemicals:

You can also look for de-icers marked as "Safer Choice" by the EPA: search for Deicers under Product Type at https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/products#sector=Home

Minimizing the amount of de-icer is the most important step to make your de-icing more environmentally friendly. You achieve this with two methods:

1) Practice the method of "anti-icing" by spraying down a salt brine or other anti-icing chemical right before the snowstorm. This significantly reduces the amount of de-icer that you need to use after the storm.

2) Apply the minimum amount possible of the de-icer. If you're using salt, wet it with brine before applying it. This MNDOT guide is for street de-icing but has some interesting charts about de-icing with various chemicals beginning at page 13: http://www.mnltap.umn.edu/publications/handbooks/documents/snowice.pdf - As this says, one pound of normal road salt can melt 46 pounds of ice at 30 degrees F, but only 4 pounds of ice at 5 degrees F, so the temperature matters, but you really don't need much salt.

Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding any charts to help with hand-mixed solutions & minimum amounts needed, since cities use special machines to regulate the application of their de-icers. If anybody else can find that, please feel free to edit.

For additional reading, this webpage has a bunch of information and many interesting links: http://pprc.org/index.php/2015/p2-rapid/how-to-reduce-the-environmental-impact-of-deicing/

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