Rock Salt Vs. Ice Melt: We Break Down the Differences

When the weather outside is frightful, that slippery walk from the door to the car can be anything BUT delightful. At home, it’s an inconvenience that needs to be dealt with. When you own or manage a business, those icy surfaces suddenly turn into a major liability.

Wherever you’re walking, you want to be able to step with confidence and not find yourself staring at the sky. 

The winter season and its freezing temperatures raise an all-important question: what’s the best way to melt ice off your walkways, driveway, and sidewalk? There are two major options that dominate the scene: rock salt and ice melt. 

Which is better: rock salt or ice melt?

This classic wintertime debate hinges on what you define as “better.” 

Not very helpful? Don’t worry: we’re just laying the groundwork.

There are a couple universal attributes that make each option a winner, but we’ll need to dig deeper to help you find the right pick for your property. 

It all starts by reducing the freezing point of water

Time to put your chemist hat on. Both rock salt and ice melt effectively reduce the freezing point of water, meaning that when your chilly nights dip below 32 degrees fahrenheit, treated surfaces will be puddles in the morning, not frozen death traps. 

Ice melt products reduce the freezing point the most, sometimes down to -25 degrees (depending on the product), while traditional rock salt is best for temps between and 5-25 degrees fahrenheit. Good ole rock salt turns the ice into a salt/water solution known as brine (not the type you use for your Thanksgiving turkey, but also not all that different). Think of it as a super salty slush that’s easy to remove. 

Ice melt has a sodium chloride (salt) base, but the ingredients also may include magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. Your best bet is to pre-treat your surfaces to prevent the water from freezing, but if you broadcast ice melt after the fact you’ll notice that the pellets burn their way right through the ice making little tunnels, then melt it from the bottom up. 

Is rock salt more pet friendly than ice melt?

Many people assume that rock salt is safe because it’s just unpurified sodium chloride, much like you have right in your salt shaker, only dirtier. It’s actually not pet-friendly though, primarily because large granules of salt are extremely harsh. If it saturates the ground near your landscaping, it can take a toll on plant life too. 

Ice melt, on the other hand, comes in pet-friendly varieties that are coated with magnesium chloride. Do you want your dog greedily licking it up off your path? Definitely not, but it’s less of a concern than pure rock salt. On the same token, ice melt has been shown to be much gentler on your lawn and plants too. 

Will rock salt damage your concrete? How about your car?

Neither rock salt nor ice melt is good for your concrete, and with years of consistent exposure can have a tangible, corrosive impact. As far as your vehicle is concerned, there’s a reason why southern cars look better after 10 years than cars in New Jersey do. Exposure to highly-corrosive salt is disastrous, making ice melt a better option than pure rock salt if that’s a concern for you. 

How do you choose between rock salt and ice melt?

As we mentioned above, it comes down to what you deem as “better,” and what you value most. Rock salt is a solid, tried-and-true option if price is a concern (rock salt is cheap!), and you don’t have long-term worries about your concrete, vehicles, pets, and landscaping. 

Ice melt is more expensive, but offers a lot of value in both its performance and minimal impact on your property. 

We would encourage you to carefully read your labels too. To reiterate, not all products are formulated the same way, and some will be safer to use in specific environments (factoring in pets, kids, etc.). But overall, ice melt does edge out rock salt in a general benefits analysis. 

Have more questions about snow removal and landscaping?

Contact us at Eaise Design & Landscaping! We’re here to help and are happy to answer any additional questions.