Deicing: Is there an Environmentally Friendly Way?

The first defense against an icy sidewalk or driveway is to plow/shovel frequently.

There's no getting around it, the first defense against an icy sidewalk or driveway is what the experts call "mechanical" or "non-chemical" methods. They sound fancy, but those terms are really just less backache-inducing ways of saying you should plow and shovel frequently. But even regular snow removal won't ensure ice-free surfaces. Chemical deicing is occasionally necessary to keep your property safe and accessible during the winter. 

Sodium Chloride (NaCl)

Plain old table salt is one of the most commonly used substances for deicing; however, it's also one of the worst things to use from an environmental standpoint. In the form of table salt or rock salt, sodium chloride can leach into the surface water and groundwater, it's corrosive to metal fencing and concrete, damaging to vegetation and it robs soil of vital nutrients. Another negative to salt as a deicer is that it can stain carpet and other fabrics when brought into the home by pets or on the bottom of people's shoes. On the plus side, salt is inexpensive, easy to get and easy to apply.

Eco-Friendly Options

There are several environmentally friendlier deicing products on the market and most are a combination of ingredients that may include sand or small amounts of NaCl. It's important to read the list of ingredients to know exactly what you're purchasing and if it's a smart buy. Unfortunately just because a label says "green" or "natural" doesn't mean it's a good product. Chemicals to look for in a quality blend include calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate.

Chemical deicing is occasionally necessary to keep your property safe and accessible.

Calcium Chloride ( CaC12)

Calcium chloride comes in liquid, pellet or flake form and is just as effective as salt without the harmful side effects. It works exothermically, creating heat as it melts, which in turn causes more melting and more heat. Due to this exothermic process calcium chloride is one of the fastest working deicers. It also performs well in low temperatures.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)

Calcium magnesium acetate is a granular substance made from acetic acid and dolomitic limestone. It's somewhat new on the market but it has been used successfully in environmentally fragile areas.


Using sand either alone or combined with a chemical deicer provides extra traction and safety as the ice is melting. A dark-colored sand will absorb the sun's warmth and speed the melting process. Mixing at least a small amount of dark sand with your deicer makes it easier to see the product on the ground so you'll know which areas have been covered and which need more attention. Sand poses no environmental threat, plus it's economical and plentiful.

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