Rock Salt Vs. Calcium Chloride: Which One Is Better?
Understanding what product you’re using to melt snow and ice isn’t just good knowledge to have — it’s important for the health and safety of your tenants, or anyone that enters your property.
The debate of calcium chloride vs rock salt is important, because while the two are similar in what they do, their chemical makeup is different and, thus, their application varies. While there are other products out there (like magnesium chloride), these are the two most often used.
In the industry, you’ll see these components referred to as sodium chloride and calcium chloride. We find that it’s easier to give these two products understandable names. With this in mind, we often call sodium chloride “rock salt” and calcium chloride “ice melt.”
There is one other product we’ll briefly mention: urea, otherwise known as potassium chloride, can be used as a pet-friendly ice melt. However, it’s not very effective and can be harmful to vegetation.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the pros and cons of each and answer the question “is calcium chloride better than rock salt?”
What Is the Difference Between Rock Salt and Calcium Chloride?
Each has its use, and, when used wisely, both will work wonders for snow removal. However, if used incorrectly, both products will be ineffective, expensive to you, and hazardous to anyone on your property.
So, let’s break the products down into how they’re used:
- Rock salt is great at melting snow and ice after it has fallen, assuming the temperature is above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Ice melt is a proactive product, which is best used before snow and ice form. It will ensure that neither snow and ice will easily adhere to a surface and will even work during temperatures of minus 20 degrees, so it’s effective well below the freezing point. Ice melt typically comes in the form of pellets or as a liquid spray.
Rock Salt Is Much Cheaper than Calcium Chloride
Rock salt is a simple, bountiful product. If you’re a professional, you can buy it by the pallet and at cost. As long as you store it correctly, bulk rock salt will last you until you need it. Because it’s so prolific, rock salt is the cheapest of the two products.
However, if you’re using rock salt when you should be using ice melt, or using too much rock salt altogether, then it’s not going to save you any money. It’s best if you have both and use them strategically.
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Calcium Chloride Is More Effective at Lower Temperatures
As previously mentioned, ice melt is going to work best in colder temperatures. However, it’s a waste to spread it out after a blizzard, once temperatures have risen above 20 degrees. Instead, use ice melt before a blizzard, especially if the temperature is going to dip well below freezing.
Calcium Chloride vs Rock Salt: Which One Works Better?
If you’re a veteran of the snow removal industry, then you already know that there’s no “better” or “best” version of anything in your arsenal. Instead, your knowledge of snow and ice, the climate, and your carefully cultivated intuition will guide you best as to what product to use.
However, if you’re simply trying to understand what works best on paper, then ice melt is your best bet, assuming you apply it before snow and ice form. The reasoning behind this is it’s not as hindered by cold temperature as rock salt. If you’re in the Midwest, then you’re no stranger to below freezing conditions. Most days in January, February, and even much of March are well below the temperature in which rock salt is effective.
Our advice is to start the season with rock salt and continue using it, when applicable. When needed, especially in late winter, begin dipping into your supply of ice melt. You wouldn’t mill a fly with a bazooka, so you wouldn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on exclusively using ice melt.
Calcium Chloride Is Less Corrosive
On paper, ice melt is safer than rock salt for melting snow and ice. However, as we’ve illustrated previously, what looks good on paper has little bearing in the real world. Overusing any snow and ice melt product is bad for the environment—think of the chemicals you’re spreading on the ground and, once the thaw comes, think of the rivers it’ll eventually find its way into.
Instead of concerning yourself with the “safer” product, focus on only using as much of either product as you need for a job. It’ll save you money and the environment all at the same time.
Just to Recap: Pros and Cons of Calcium Chloride vs Rock Salt
So, in the end, what's better: rock salt or calcium chloride? There are some upsides and downsides to each, and it’s important to consider them before picking one for your needs.
First, calcium chloride pros include:
- Calcium chloride is less damaging to the environment, including lawns, plants, and vegetation.
- Calcium chloride is effective at lower temperatures than rock salt (below 15ºF).
- Calcium chloride is less corrosive to pavements than sodium chloride.
Below are the primary pros of rock salt:
- Rock salt is tried and tested with a long history of effectively melting ice.
- Sodium chloride is very cost-effective.
- Rock salt is perfect for areas that don’t experience severe cold, generally temperatures above 15ºF.
And here are some calcium chloride cons:
- Calcium chloride ice melt is less cost-effective than the alternative.
- Calcium chloride can be damaging to sheet metal.
- Calcium chloride can be harmful to water and pets.
And finally, the cons of rock salt:
- Sodium chloride can be harmful to plants and vegetation, altering the pH of the soil, as well as to pets and water sources.
- Rock salt can be corrosive to surfaces, like concrete and asphalt if left after a storm.
- Sodium chloride can damage the underside of vehicles if not washed off properly.
What About Mixing Calcium Chloride and Rock Salt?
Is calcium chloride the same as rock salt? Now that you know it isn’t, the next question is whether you should combine the two. The answer is a resounding yes! Mixing these two de-icers will get you the best of both worlds, ensuring that any snow or ice that falls melts properly and that more won’t bond with the surface.
Now that you know the difference between rock salt and calcium chloride, the best conclusion to draw is that each ice and snow management product has its benefits and drawbacks, and should be used for different situations. A well-rounded snow removal business is one that has many tools in its arsenal and is ready for any event.