From "The Snowplowing Handbook" 1999 - 2003 Charles D. Smith


There are a few elements and compounds used to melt ice. I will talk about the most popular ones. Of course rock salt is the most common. Probably the most cost effective too. Remember that de-icers, are for just that, de-icing. Don't try to use them to melt snow. It's a waste of material. Spread your de-icer after clearing the areas of snow. Apply after the threat of more snow is gone. Only if the property is in use, would I recommend de-icer application before the threat of more snow passes. Liability being the factor here. In the eyes of the law, the snowfall is an act of God. Once you start your clearing process, you can be held liable, for anyone slipping. You were contracted to remove snow (and/or ice).

Protect yourself, do a good job, and try not to leave any slippery areas. Keep your de-icing materials dry at all times. Large chunks may damage your spreader, and dry material spreads easier, and farther, with smaller spreaders. Most tailgate spreaders are designed to use #1 rock salt. This is sold in bags. The slide in salters, can use larger size chunks, since
their conveyors and augers break up the chunks better. Some of the large slide in spreaders, even wet the salt with a brine solution. This helps the salt work better.

Rock salt-Sometimes sold mixed with fine gravel, or cinders, even sand when sold in bulk. This helps provide increased traction, until the salt can melt ice. Salt is harmful to concrete surfaces, more harmful on lower grades of concrete. It is also damaging to plants, flowers, and shrubs. It is corrosive to metals, except stainless steel. It's relative cost is low. Temperature greatly affects how well it melts. The colder it is, the less it melts. Coarse salt alone weighs about 50 pounds per cubic foot. That's about 1350 pounds to a cubic yard. In bulk, it is commonly sold by the ton. So a ton would be about 1.48 cubic yards. I'm sure with the grit mixture, the weights are higher.

Calcium Chloride-These small pellets, resemble little balls. It is much more costly than rock salt. It only damages concrete slightly. Has a minor effect on plants, but is very corrosive to metals. It will melt ice at up to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It is available in bags, not bulk. I've seen it in bulk, mixed with sand. I know it turns into an oily liquid, at higher temperatures. I used to use it on baseball diamonds, to help keep the dust down, when I used to work for a parks department years ago. Calcium Chloride weighs about 75 pounds, per cubic foot, or about 2025 lbs to a cubic yard.

Potassium Chloride-Much like Calcium Chloride. About the same cost. The difference is, it's only slightly damaging to concrete, or not at all. Also nearly harmless to plants and metals. Not as widely used as rock salt or calcium Chloride, at least around here. Potassium Chloride, weighs about 125 pounds, per cubic foot. That's 3375 pounds, to a cubic yard. Sold in bags only.

Urea-This is more of a fertilizer. It is 47% nitrogen by weight, and is very soluble in water. Many landscapers use it for fertilizing. It is used at airports for de-icing a lot, because it is not corrosive to metals. Greater amounts of urea are required to melt as much and as fast as Calcium and Salt do. Sold in bags only. A friend tried some on his lawn this past Spring, since he had it left over from the winter. He didn't realize how high the nitrogen level was. He burned his whole lawn. In 2 weeks, he had a dirt patch where grass used to be. lot of watering to leach the soil was necessary after this.

Ammonium Nitrate-This is a fertilizer also used for de-icing. I don't know anyone that uses it though. It damages concrete severely, cost about as much as Calcium, and Potassium. It only has a slight affect on plants, and is slightly corrosive to metals.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate-(CMA) This compound costs around $600 per ton !!!
As opposed to $20 or $30 for rock salt.
It was identified by the Federal Highway Administration in the 1970's,as the only de-icer to meet a standard of low environmental damage, and low corrosiveness to metals. It's no more corrosive than tap water. It's finding a market, where corrosion cannot be tolerated. It is completely harmless to plants, metals, and concrete, but who could afford it?

Traction Improvers

Cinders-This is a traction material. It is used for the running surface, of some high school tracks. Possibly available at mason yards, and quarries. Provides a great improvement in traction. This is the grit, in many salt/grit mixtures. I'm talking about the type that was used to make cinder blocks years ago. There are a few other types of cinders. Coal ash cinders, and furnace cinders. Coal cinders weigh about 40 pounds per cubic foot. About 1080 pounds per cubic yard. Furnace cinders on the other hand, weigh about 57 pounds per cubic foot, about 1539 pounds, per cubic yard. As far as I know, they are only sold in bulk. Utility companies around here use a sand/grit to backfill around power and gas lines. A coarse dark gray sand. It's most likely dust created by a rock crushing machine. All the rocks crushed are sold in different grades, and combinations. Remember, when you apply a salt/grit mix, that when everything melts, it will have to be cleaned up. If you do the grounds maintenance too, you are in effect, creating work for yourself.

Sand-Gives some improvement in traction. A downfall is it gets tracked all over the buildings, if it's applied on sidewalks. Working at a high school doing maintenance, I got to see how well it worked outside, and how it destroyed the shine on the hallway floors.
Sometimes it's the lesser of the evils, as far as concrete stairs, and walks go. The building occupants will have to wipe their feet. De icers will dull the shine on a tile floor fast too. This is a common complaint from customers, and building superintendents.
A small drawback, when a slip and fall lawsuit is a possibility, if nothing is done to improve traction on walkways, steps, and parking areas. Remember that when everything melts, it will have to be cleaned up. If you do the grounds maintenance too, you are in effect, creating work for yourself come Spring.

Calcianated Clay- Also called "Turf-Face Builder" This is clay that has been baked, then crushed into granules. Has a texture like kitty litter. Provides a great increase in traction. It is extremely absorbent. It is used to improve compacted soil. It is also used on some baseball diamonds, to help them dry out faster after a rain. It can be used to dry areas that had puddles, after the water is broomed off. It builds up in the clay, and helps it dry much faster. It is often used when planting to break up compacted soil, and help hold moisture in the root zone. A bonus when using this is it can be swept or blown onto grass areas in the Spring, and it will help improve the soil. Any that you have left in the Spring, can be spread on lawns. Aerating first will help it get into the soil. Don't leave it in piles. Spread it out evenly. It will help the soil breathe better, absorb moisture better too. If it's on the surface, it will wick moisture away. Better if raked into the surface, like after running a thatcher over a lawn.
This should provide you with a good overall view of the different materials that are commonly used for de-icing, and traction. Use what works best for your accounts, based on the accounts requirements.

*Taken from "The Snow Plowing Handbook 1998 - 2003 Charles D. Smith All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the author's express written permission to do so.
All requests for reprint permission of my writings will be taken seriously. I will keep updating these pages, adding excerpts from The Snowplowing Handbook.

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