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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

During the winter months, combating ice is crucial for safety and accessibility. But what’s going to get the job done? In this article, we will explore the differences between ice melt and rock salt, considering factors such as effectiveness, temperature range, and environmental impact. We’ll go over the pros and cons of each option so you can determine the most suitable solution. Whether you're looking for ice melt for sale or considering bulk rock salt, this post will guide you toward the right choice.

What Is Rock Salt?

Rock salt, also known as sodium chloride, is the very same product as table salt. The difference? Firstly, rock salt isn’t purified the way the salt at your dinner is. Second, rock salt is larger particles whereas common table salt is more granular and retains its crystalline structure.

Rock Salt Pros

  • Straightforward application; spread over snow and ice and watch it melt right through thanks to salt’s natural ability to change the freezing point of water.
  • Can be pre-wetted or mixed into a brine to boost its properties without introducing any new chemicals.
  • Comes in bulk quantities or several different-sized bagged options.

Rock Salt Cons

  • Rock salt is naturally corrosive, so it’s hard on concrete, vehicles, and vegetation.
  • Only effective at temperatures above 5ºF.
  • Sodium chloride can irritate your pet’s paws.
  • Rock salt stains and damages most materials it comes into prolonged contact with.

What Is Ice Melt?

What Is Ice Melt?

Ice melt is a blanket term generally set aside for any snow and ice melting product that combines conventional rock salt (sodium chloride) and one or more additives, which are usually either calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

Introducing calcium or magnesium chloride to a simple rock salt will boost its inherent properties, giving you better results across the board. 

There are clear pros and cons to ice melt, which are important to understand.

Ice Melt Pros

  • Calcium chloride is less corrosive to concrete, while magnesium chloride is safer for vegetation. Overall, they create less pollution (in the form of hazardous runoff) and will do less damage to vehicles and pavement.
  • Ice melt with a higher proportion of magnesium chloride is easier on your pets’ paws.
  • More effective at lower temperatures than traditional rock salt.

Ice Melt Cons

  • Ice melt products may not be as widely available as rock salt, especially during periods of high demand, as their ingredients are sometimes harder to get.
  • Ice melt products are usually more expensive than traditional rock salt, but their improved efficiency makes up for the increased cost.
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Looking for a Reliable Calcium Chloride Ice Melt?

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Ice Melt vs. Rock Salt: How Do They Compare?

Let’s break it down:

1. Price 

Rock salt is a cheaper product to melt ice. It costs anywhere from $4.50 to $9.50 for a 50-pound bag, on average, depending on which state you're in and the quantity you are buying it in. If you're willing to buy in bulk and stock up before winter starts, you’ll likely get a better deal.

Ice melt generally costs between $6.00 to $12.00 per 50-pound bag. Ice melt products are also available in bulk to save money, but they are certainly not as cheap as rock salt.

2. Effective Temperature

A big difference between rock salt and ice melt is that the latter melts ice and snow at significantly lower temperatures than the former. Once rock salt is applied, it begins to melt ice immediately, assuming the temperature is above 5 degrees. Yet, in subzero conditions, rock salt is ineffective. Ice melt, on the other hand, can work in temperatures as low as -25ºF, often making it a more ideal option. 

3. Parking Lot or Vehicle Damage 

3. Parking Lot or Vehicle Damage

Unfortunately, rock salt is highly corrosive, and repeated exposure can lead to significant chassis and engine corrosion. It also affects car paint and may cause rust to form underneath the surface, making car metal brittle and flaky. 

As for parking lots, rock salt can erode masonry, and other types of stone, including concrete and asphalt. Over time, it causes erosion under the surface, leading to discolored, cracked, and crumbling concrete. 

Ice melt products are generally safer for cars and concrete, but that doesn't mean your parking lot is immune to long-term damage. It can erode surfaces, depending on its chemical composition, even though its effects aren't as extreme or rapid as rock salt.

We recommend repairing damaged concrete before winter weather arrives, so water doesn't freeze in cracks and push concrete apart. Additionally, you should remove the product from parking lot surfaces once the ice and snow have melted to minimize corrosion and damage.

4. Plant and Animal Safety

4. Plant and Animal Safety

Rock salt works well but is potentially harmful to pets, kids, and plants. Rock salt with a magnesium chloride mixture is better for your pets and plants, but worse for concrete or asphalt. 

If ingested by pets, rock salt can cause gastrointestinal disorders, as well as burning and irritation if it gets stuck on their paws. Fish, frogs, and other amphibious creatures may also suffer if rock salt flows into their water supply. 

For many, the cost of ice melt is worth it because it's less harmful to pets, plants, and other animals. Additionally, there are a couple of chloride-free options available on the market. 

5. Melting Speed

Rock salt melts ice up to about 5ºF and is endothermic, meaning it will draw heat from the environment to start melting ice as quickly as possible. However, some ice melt products like those that contain calcium chloride work at temps down to -25ºF and are exothermic, meaning they release heat to melt ice. This makes the product more effective and faster acting than traditional rock salt. When ice melt granules come in contact with ice or snow, they form a brine solution that's central to the melting process.

Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt: Which Is Better for Your Business?

Both rock salt and ice melt are good de-icing agents. The big differences between the two are their chemical composition and the effective temperature at which they will effectively melt ice and snow. Ice melt products will melt snow and ice at lower temperatures than rock salt.

Factor Rock Salt Ice Melt
Price $4.50 to $9.50 per 50-pound bag, cheaper in bulk or large quantities. $6 to $12 per 50-pound bag.
Effective Temperature Melts snow and ice above 5ºF, ineffective in subzero conditions. Works in temperatures as low as -25ºF.
Parking Lot/Vehicle Damage Highly corrosive to cars and parking lot surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Generally safer, but can still erode surfaces depending on chemical composition.
Plant and Animal Safety Harmful to pets, kids, and plants. Less harmful; pet-friendly options usually include magnesium chloride.
Melting Speed Endothermic, melts slower than ice melt. Calcium & Magnesium chlorides are exothermic, faster acting than rock salt.

What Is the Right Way to Apply Rock Salt or Ice Melt?

Here are some helpful tips when applying rock salt and ice melt products:

  • These products are most effective when placed directly on snow and ice. But it's always best to clear away as much of the snow and ice first before applying. 
  • We recommend applying the material in a thin even layer using a calibrated salt spreader. 
  • Remove the slush that the de-icing products create when they start to melt the snow and ice to prevent re-freeze.  
  • Always wear gloves when handling these products as they can irritate bare skin. 
  • Lastly, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions on the package.

Top Ice Melt Products to Consider

With a multitude of options available, it's essential to explore the diverse range of ice melt products carefully. In this section, we'll delve into some noteworthy choices, each offering unique features and benefits to meet your specific needs:

  • Thunder Melt Ice Melter is your solution for tackling winter's worst. With the ability to melt snow and ice down to -16°F, this high-performance liquid salt melt works swiftly and efficiently. Its vibrant violet color enhances visual spreading, ensuring precise application. Thunder Melt is a unique blend of ASTM-1 grade rock salt, treated with a proprietary liquid, Organic Carbohydrate, and a Corrosion Inhibitor coating. This combination results in less bounce and reduced corrosiveness, making it an effective and environmentally friendly de-icer.
  • Jiffy Melt® stands as a premium ice melt option, combining sodium chloride and magnesium chloride in its composition. This dynamic blend ensures rapid ice removal, even at temperatures as low as -10°F. Trusted by professionals, Jiffy Melt® offers cost-effective melting performance, making it a preferred choice for commercial applications. With its ability to activate quickly and effectively break up ice, it's a reliable solution for winter maintenance in challenging conditions.
  • Lightning Premium Ice Melter sets a high standard for professional ice melt solutions. Crafted from a blend of sodium and magnesium chlorides, it ensures rapid melting action even in frigid conditions, effective down to -20°F. Its distinctive aqua tint enhances visibility during application, making it a preferred choice for winter maintenance professionals. With the added advantage of activating faster and melting at colder temperatures, Lightning Premium outperforms regular rock salt in the battle against snow and ice.
  • Sno-Paws® is your pet-friendly solution for winter safety. Specially formulated without harmful chlorides or salts, it keeps walkways safe for your furry friends. Ideal for stairs, sidewalks, and driveways, its green tint provides excellent visibility during application. Effective down to 5°F, Sno-Paws® outperforms many urea-based products, ensuring efficient ice melting while prioritizing pet safety and environmental friendliness.

Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt: the Bottom Line

As you navigate winter's icy conditions, it's important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for snow and ice prevention and removal. Depending on the temperature and the amount of snowfall, different strategies may be required to effectively combat the winter event. Rock salt and ice melt each have their benefits and best practices. Considering both options and tailoring your approach accordingly will yield the best results. If you're unsure which de-icing products to choose, Ninja De-Icer is here to help. We offer a wide range of products for various applications. Contact us today for expert advice and to request a quote today!