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De-Icers Efficiency Overview: What Melts Ice the Fastest?

De-Icers Efficiency Overview: What Melts Ice the Fastest?

Justin Rollin

When it comes to de-icing products, there are many ways to remove snow and ice from roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, etc. Using ice melting products is commonplace in today’s world. Facility maintenance personnel have long used ice melters to quickly and efficiently achieve safe surfaces at an affordable price. It’s not surprising that when a product category becomes so widely accepted, the market attracts many suppliers who want to get involved. This has resulted in over 100 brands of ice melters, making it difficult to determine what melts ice the fastest. Let’s get to the bottom of this common frustration.

Best De-Icing Products

There are dozens of brands of de-icing products on the market. Inspect each product and you’ll see that the list of materials used in each is very similar. Here are some of the most common compounds used in de-icing products:

Of the above materials, rock salt and calcium chloride are the most popular.

How Ice Melters Work 

Generally speaking, all ice melters work similarly. They reduce the freezing point of snow or ice and transform this mixture into a liquid or semi-liquid slush. Solid chemical salts break through the snow or ice and result in a brine solution. This brine works its way underneath the ice or snow, helping to break down the bond it has established with the surface. As soon as it’s loose, the ice or snow is removed mechanically. 

In many cases, these materials are applied in anticipation of snow or ice. This proactivity helps to prevent the bond from forming on the surface and melts the ice and snow as it comes into contact with the brine. Despite common de-icing materials working similarly, their performance varies drastically. Determining factors include speed, how much material is needed, and the duration of the melting action. 

Comparing Temperature Ranges what temperature does ice melt

Let’s first examine an ice melter’s effectiveness by looking at the range of temperatures in which it can provide de-icing action. The “practical” lowest temperature limits for these materials mean that the product is effective within 15-20 minutes of being applied. Here’s additional information on the effectiveness temperatures of different types of de-icing materials (ranked):

  • Calcium chloride (-25 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Magnesium chloride (-20 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Sodium acetate (5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Potassium chloride (12 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Urea (15 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Sodium chloride (15 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Various blends (20-22 degrees Fahrenheit).

Comparing Time 

What melts ice the fastest? This is a common question that’s considered when choosing salt for de-icing. The most effective de-icers take action quickly, helping to penetrate the snow or ice by undercutting the material.

There are differences in how fast these compounds turn into a de-icing brine at low temperatures. Both calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are liquid in their natural states. In addition, when the solid forms of these compounds come into contact with water they naturally release heat.

As soon as calcium chloride and magnesium chloride come into contact with the snow, they pick up water and form a strong brine. By emitting heat they are able to provide additional ice melting effects, creating more water, which in turn creates more brine. This process repeats until the material is gone.

Both potassium chloride and sodium chloride are solids in their natural state. As they come into contact with moisture, they form a brine solution to form a strong bond while also absorbing heat from the environment.

Comparing Penetration Rates  

Let’s look at different penetration rates for some of the types of de-icers.

  • Calcium chloride de-icers penetrate ice at all temperatures at a rate that’s twice as fast as other de-icers.
  • Sodium chloride de-icers penetrate ice at lower rates than calcium chloride. However, they do perform similarly to calcium chloride over 45-60 minutes at 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit. But they are substantially inferior compared to calcium chloride at 5 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Urea and potassium chloride are significantly less active than calcium chloride and sodium chlorides, and they become nonpenetrating at 15 degrees Fahrenheit and lower.

Other Factors to Consider 

melting point of ice

Other factors include:

  • How much material is needed
  • How long will each de-icer work
  • The shape of the ice melter particle.

One of the easiest ways to look at the volume of ice each can melt pound-for-pound within normal temperature conditions over a reasonable amount of time. When you are reviewing the materials based on volume, most users will first choose calcium chloride followed by magnesium chloride, then sodium chloride. 

In addition, you can consider how long each de-icer will provide ice melting action. The longer the action, the fewer applications you’ll need. Natural state liquid de-icers such as calcium chloride and magnesium chloride will continue to work the longest. Finally, look at the shape of the granules. Round particles have a smaller surface which means they’re more effective at boring down vertically instead of horizontally. 

Environmental Impacts of De-Icers

There has been an increasing emphasis on the environmental impact of de-icers. Nearly all studies have concluded that factoring in the alternative of hazardous solutions, the benefits that come from ice melters outweigh the negatives. Despite this, it’s important to address these concerns. 

The residue is one thing to consider. Of the materials discussed, the only ones that can potentially leave a solid residue on internal flooring are de-icers that naturally occur as a solid (e.g. sodium chloride). The impact on vegetation is another consideration. All de-icing materials can potentially damage plants, however, magnesium chloride is the safest option for vegetation.  

The effect on concrete should be considered as well. Ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate will chemically attack concrete and break it down. The others discussed have a lesser impact on concrete.  

To Sum Up: What Melts Ice the Fastest?

In conclusion, the salt melts ice the fastest. You can use some combination of sodium chloride, calcium chloride, and/or magnesium chloride (a mixture often referred to as ice melt). This combination will work more effectively than plain rock salt. 

People buy various types of salts to melt ice. Even though rock salt is cheaper to buy, it can be more corrosive to concrete in addition to vehicles. Ice melt (chloride blends) will melt the ice faster, and it's less corrosive to cars and asphalt. 

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If you’re in need of various ice-melting products, look no further than Ninja De-Icer. Our team is equipped with the solutions and the products you need to effectively remove ice in even the most extreme conditions. To get a quote, contact us today.