Don’t Salt Your Steps This Winter! Here’s Why

It’s that time of year! Your concrete steps and walkway have turned into a full-blown hazard, especially as sleet and drizzle keep freezing over and over again. Even if you’re proactive it tends to get ahead of you… and fast. 

So, what’s the best way to melt ice?

As a quick recap, you have two common options: rock salt and ice melt. There are pros and cons to each, and we’d invite you to take a closer look at both in this article. The common denominator is that they lower the freezing point of water, meaning that you have a puddle when the temperature drops rather than an ice skating arena. 

Today, let’s focus on rock salt, debunking some common myths and laying out alternatives that might be better for your property. 

Rock salt is pet-friendly: FALSE

Since rock salt is nothing more than unpurified sodium chloride, it’s easy to assume that it’s natural and pet-friendly: safe and effective all around. 

Rock salt is actually extremely harsh and can be toxic if ingested by animals. Additionally, it’s very hard on your pet’s feet and can cause serious skin irritation. In fact, if you do use it as an alternative to ice melt, it’s even recommended that you use gloves to handle it. 

Rock salt is safe for plants: FALSE

Again, we’re kind of wired to think that any naturally occurring substances are safe for the environment while chemicals should be avoided. Sure, that can definitely be the case at times, but not so much when it comes to rock salt. As the brine slush that’s left behind sloshes off your concrete and leaches into the ground, it can cause devastating, severe dehydration in surrounding plant life. Even if you’re careful, it invariably finds its way into the groundwater which only expands its reach and damage. 

Rock salt will damage concrete surfaces: TRUE

Rock salt is made up of large, sharp-edged crystals that cause abrasions on concrete surfaces (think of it like sandpaper as you grind it underfoot). Taking it a step further, as the salt dissolves it can penetrate the pores of the concrete, leading to discoloration, pitting, and crumbling as it breaks down the protective sealants that are applied to concrete surfaces.

So yes, rock salt can absolutely cause longer-term damage (“salt fretting”) to your driveway, walkway, and concrete steps. Better than a slippery surface? Maybe in the short-term, but there are long-term ramifications to keep in mind.

Rock salt will damage your car: TRUE

Salt is highly corrosive. When your vehicles or equipment are exposed to it year after year, with saltwater slush caking the undercarriage, it will inevitably have a negative effect. Your frame, muffler, exhaust pipes, and break lines are particularly vulnerable, but even plastic parts (and your paint) are at risk. It’s just science. Treating your vehicles with corrosion-resistant coatings can help, but it’s a difficult issue to avoid completely. 

What are better alternatives to rock salt?

If you missed it, check out this article: Rock Salt Vs. Ice Melt: We Break Down the Differences. The takeaway here is that rock salt may be cheap and accessible, but there are definite advantages to using a more environmentally friendly ice melt product. It can be easier on your vehicles and much safer around kids and pets too. 

Regardless of which you use, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  1. Pretreat surfaces before a weather event rather than applying after the fact
  2. Keep on top of your snow removal, maximizing the efficacy of your ice melt product
  3. Use as little product as possible, focusing on only the real problem areas
  4. Hose or power wash your high-traffic areas in the spring to rinse away any corrosive residue 
  5. Mix sand in with your deicing product to increase traction and cover more ground
  6. Carefully read the instructions and follow all guidelines for application

The takeaway?

Be smart about the ice melt products you choose and remember that less is more. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us at Eaise Design & Landscaping! We’re here to help you make the best decisions possible for your home, business, and budget.