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Ice Melt vs. Rock Salt – Which is Right for You?

Ice Melt vs. Rock Salt – Which is Right for You?

Justin Rollin

If you’re from a snowy region, then you’re all too familiar with ice. It’s often invisible and it’s always dangerous. Worst yet, a run-of-the-mill snow shovel will simply clang right off its surface. There’s no easy way to remove ice without the help of either rock salt or ice melt salt.

But what’s the difference between the two, if any? You’ve probably stood between the products at your local hardware store, scratching your head. Asking yourself which of the two you need. Often times, the packaging won’t properly explain to you what each product does — they’re all-too eager for you to grab their brand and head to the register. They may tell you their shortcomings in fine print, or they might gloss over it entirely. It’s important to know where each one falls short and when each option is most effective.

Calcium Chloride & Sodium Chloride

Rock salt, also known as sodium chloride is the very same product as table salt. The primary difference is in the way that it’s ground. Rock salt is larger, ovoid particles whereas common table salt is more granular and retains its crystalline structure.

Calcium chloride (ice melt) is also a type of salt in its own right. It’s not one that tastes good, nor does it have any of the other culinary benefits of our beloved sodium chloride. However, it doesn’t have the same environmental impact as rock salt. A benefit of calcium chloride is it’s regarded as safer for pets in case of ingestion, and it’s less corrosive to vehicles and concrete.

The big difference between the two is that rock salt is a de-icing agent, while ice melt is an anti-icing agent. The terms de-icing and anti-icing may be confusing. Deicers remove ice and anti-icing prevents ice from forming. “Ice melt” is also a term applied to any variety of ice melting substance other than rock salt. It’s best to understand what each does, and when to use them.

Rock Salt (Sodium Chloride) is an Agent for Ice Melting

Rock salt is the “de-icing” agent out of the two options, which means you apply it to existing ice. It will cut through and begin melting the ice as soon as its applied, assuming the air temperature is above 0 degrees. You will find that rock salt is ineffective in subzero conditions.

Ice Melt (Calcium Chloride) is an Agent for Preventing Ice

Use ice melt to prevent the formation of ice on your walkway or parking lot. Not every single derivative of “ice melt” is calcium chloride (some ice melt products use magnesium chloride or sodium acetate), they all work in a similar manner. They act as a barrier on the surface where they are applied to, preventing ice from forming under most conditions.

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Which is the Better Option?

The question of which product is better is not as straightforward as you’d think. They’re both applicable for completely different reasons. Each is effective when used strategically:

  • Rock salt is great for applying to an icy path, assuming the temperature is above 0 degrees. It will make quick work of the ice it’s laid on, melting it almost immediately and reducing the slipperiness thanks to its coarse texture.
  • Ice melt is useful when spread on a surface right before icy conditions roll into your region. An even layer of ice melt on your parking lot and sidewalk the night before a winter storm will ensure that no ice forms overnight. This reduces the risk to you and your employees.
  • When used correctly, ice melt is much less corrosive than rock salt but can be just as destructive if overused.
  • Rock salt is the cheaper option. Ice melt can minimize salt damage on vehicles and concrete.
  • Most experts agree that ice melt is the safest option when used around children and pets.
  • Ice melt is effective even in sub-zero temperatures.

Is there a Clear Winner?

As you may have guessed, neither option is a “catch-all” solution for ice prevention/removal. Depending on the temperature of the amount of snow, your strategy for removal will be different.

However, with a better understanding of what rock salt and ice melt are, and how they’re best used, you can create a snow removal strategy of your own. You may even want to invest in both, and use them when applicable.

Keep a larger supply of ice melt and deploy it when you know a freeze is coming. Use rock salt for instances where ice has built up. Once removed, you can revert back to managing with ice melt.

If you’re removing snow around animals and children, then you may want to stick with ice melt even if it’s less effective with pre-existing ice.
At the end of the day, it’s your call, and now that you’re informed about their effectiveness, you’ll be better prepared when you’re trying to decide which one you need!