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How to Break Up Hardened Rock Salt

How to Break Up Hardened Rock Salt

Justin Rollin


Winter can be hard. However, rock salt and ice melt can help make it easier. Rock salt is a common de-icer for melting snow and ice on roads, parking lots, and driveways. The problem is, it might be unusable when temperatures drop, and you need it the most.

Road salt has a coarse and grainy texture, and it is typically gray or brownish. Ice melt usually contains chemical additives to accelerate the melting process. Like many substances, when met with cold and damp conditions, rock salt may clump and freeze. Frozen road salt can cause a real mess on roads. It’s almost impossible to disperse effectively with any kind of spreader when clumped together.

Below are some tricks on how to keep rock salt from hardening and how to unclump rock salt.

What Causes Road Salt to Clump Together? 

Frozen rock salt forms when moisture gets into the salt, whether it be in bulk or bagged form, and the temperatures drop below the freezing point. Because road salt is a hygroscopic solid that attracts water and heat from the environment, it is highly susceptible to freezing and clumping together. 

How to Break Up Frozen Bulk Salt 

how to unclump salt

As bulk salt is often left to the mercy of the elements, uncovered and unprotected, clumping is an incredibly common issue. Though clumping can be reduced by covering bulk salt or keeping it in a dry environment, that’s not always an option. The tried and tested solution for this often unavoidable problem is to use a skid steer or loader bucket. This will allow you to dig into the pile and manually crush the bulk salt into smaller pieces before loading it into the salter. 

Best Ways to Unclump Bagged Ice Melt

Just because your rock salt hardened, doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. Here’s how to break up salt chunks:

1. Drop the Clumped Rock Salt

The most common and easiest way is to drop the bag onto some concrete. Similar to when you drop a bag of ice, rock salt will break up. However, this can come with problems. The bag could break, and then you’d have to worry about moving the rock salt into some kind of different container. Furthermore, if you’re a big company with hundreds of rock salt bags, this could get tedious. If by a pure stroke of bad luck, all your rock salt froze, the last thing you want to do is drop each one to the ground and then worry about a broken bag. In this case, there are some other options you could explore.

2. Let It Thaw Out

Like most frozen things, rock salt will eventually thaw out. Consider moving it to a heated space and letting it thaw. If there is a lapse in freezing temperatures during winter, put your rock salt inside for a couple of days and it will melt. Or if moving it indoors is not an option, wait for the temperatures to rise before using your rock salt as it will naturally thaw out. Another option, if you have the space, is to spread the bags of salt one layer thick and then cover them with a black tarp. Assuming it is a slightly warmed day, the tarp will capture some heat generated by the sun and warm the bags. Wherever your rock salt may be, turning up the heat will allow the clumps to break apart.  

3. Break It Up with a Skid Steer or Loader

Some people get so frustrated with their frozen rock salt they resort to extreme measures. Running it over with your truck is a sure way to make a mess or even damage your truck. A better option is to use a piece of equipment like a skid steer or loader bucket. Just like dirt and other minerals, the rock salt will get crushed up and be clump free.

Rock salt and other deicers are crucial to winter safety. Keeping your rock salt in a temperature monitored place will help it stay ready to use. If you do find your rock salt frozen, these options are a great way to make sure your rock salt pile is still usable.

4. Try a Different Ice Melt Product

Sodium Chloride has a higher effective temperature, so if moisture has found its way in, the rock salt will begin to clump together. To avoid that, you could consider switching to a blended product, like rock salt mixed with calcium or magnesium chloride.

A blended product will have a lower effective temperature, effectively slowing the process of freezing and clumping. However, be sure to keep moisture away, as it will definitely lead to clumping, just at a slower pace. 

An even better option is to switch to liquid de-icers. Since they are in liquid form, there’s no chance of clumping at all.

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Use Proper Storage to Keep Rock Salt from Hardening

The easiest way to prevent salt from clumping when temperatures drop is to make it is stored in a dry covered place. Sometimes winter can surprise you, and you won’t need to use all your rock salt in one season, so you'll need to know how to store salt.

In this case, it’s important you know how to keep rock salt from clumping, so it doesn’t freeze for the next winter. To store salt products properly, keep them off the ground in a shed or warehouse and cover them to protect them. Storing salt indoors like this will preserve the quality of the product for use in future years.

What to Do with Old Ice Melt Products?

Most ice melt products contain chloride, which doesn’t really go bad. However, sodium chloride products will lose their potency if not stored properly. If you need to dispose of ice melt, don’t pour it down a storm drain or dump it on the lawn as it may cause environmental damage. It’s best to give away, sell, or donate unwanted sodium chloride.

Better yet, just keep it for next winter or use it for dust control. Remember, ice melt will naturally attract moisture from the air keeping roads and open surfaces damp, even under hot and dry conditions.

Frozen Rock Salt: the Bottom Line

Now that you know how to keep ice melt from clumping and how to break up rock salt, you’ll realize that hardened product isn’t the end of the world. It just takes a little time to get it back to a usable state. And remember, correct storage prevents frozen rock salt altogether.

We’re a nationwide supplier of different ice melt products. If you want to know how to choose the best deicer for your needs, we can help. Why not give us a call at 920-345-5290? Alternatively, if you already know what you’re looking for just get a quote