Many believe that the only way to tackle ice is melting it, but there is another method for treating ice — covering it. Using sand for snow and ice management increases traction and makes roads safer for cars and pedestrians. But does it work? In this article, we’ll discuss how to use sand and debate using salt vs sand on roads.
Does Sand Melt Ice?
So, does sand work on ice? The most straightforward answer to the question of sand's efficacy in treating snow and ice is no, sand does little to help in the process of melting ice or even snow. No matter the temperature or the amount of it used, you'll find that it simply has a little direct effect on melting.
However, sand is still a great resource in the middle of winter. While sodium chloride (common rock salt) still corners the market for ice and snow management, sand is a great way to introduce traction on slippery roads and sidewalks. That's precisely why your local municipality provides it for use in the winter.
When to Use Sand for Ice Control?
People often use sand for ice control because it is not toxic, is quite cheap, and provides immediate results. Its primary job is to provide traction, so it is essential that it keeps being reapplied if it is being driven or walked on. This is because when you put sand on ice and people walk over it, it will start to get ground down into the snow, and its effectiveness will decrease.
Though it does provide traction in cold temperatures, using sand on snow is not always recommended as it will freeze in hazardous clumps that are a danger to cars and pedestrians. That's why, when companies and municipalities are deciding on sand vs salt (sodium chloride), salt is usually the winner.
Also, when you are using sand, make sure that the sand you use is gritty, not fine.
What Happens When You Apply Sand to Ice?
Let’s break down why you’d want to use sand. While it’s less effective than almost all other snow removal products at face value it still has benefits, especially in the right situation.
Sand increases friction: the fine grit of sand will embed itself into the slick surface of snow and ice, which in turn mitigates the hazard of slipping on that surface.
Sand will retain the heat from the sun: ever walk across a sandy beach on a sunny day? It goes without saying that sand absorbs and retains the heat of the sun. While it’s not a fast process, laying some sand over top snow and ice will eventually melt through once the sand is heated from the sun.
Sand is environmentally friendly: while it’s not as effective as rock salt, it’s certainly better for the environment. If sand washes off your driveway and makes its way into a waterway it will have little to no effect on that water supply.
The Environmental Impact of Sand
Overuse of anything will impact the environment in some way, even sand. While sand is a natural product, it can have detrimental effects if used irresponsibly.
Sand is fine for waterways but bad for storm drains: if you use too much sand and its only outlet is a storm drain, then you may be surprised to find how quickly you can plug a drain with too much sand. Be responsible for where your sand travels once it washes away.
Sand kicks up fine particles: believe it or not, some people can be allergic to the superfine particles that are produced by sand. Overusing sand can kick those particles into the air.
Sand and asphalt don’t always mix: have you ever played shuffleboard? Then you know that an abundance of sand can actually make a surface slicker. Overusing sand on asphalt can have a similar effect; don’t lay down too much and have cars in your lot slide around like shuffleboard pucks.
When to Use Salt to Melt Snow
Though using sand for snow and ice might be helpful at times, salt is a significantly more effective and efficient solution. The difference between salt and sand is that salt melts ice while using sand to melt ice simply does not work, it just makes surfaces less slippery.
Salts melt snow by forming a brine with a lower freezing point than regular ice, allowing the hard snow or ice to melt, even in extreme temperatures. In order to form this brine, the salt must absorb moisture from its surroundings, as well as heat.
What is most important is having an understanding of which type of salt to use and when. Some salts work better in different temperatures and serve different purposes. For example, when it's extremely cold, you may choose to use calcium chloride salt over sodium chloride because it works more effectively in weathering the negatives.
Salt is more effective than sand as a long-term solution. It requires fewer applications and will serve to fix the problem, rather than just apply a bandaid to it.
Salt should ideally be used before the snowstorm starts, but can also be applied during the snow to prevent it from accumulating further.
Mixing Salt & Sand
No, mixing sand with salt or any other de-icing agent will not increase its efficacy nor will it reduce the amount of the agent you need to use. Adding sand into these products will simply dilute the results of that product. So, why would you want to mix sand into your rock salt or other products?
The answer is simple; sometimes you require instant traction and a sand salt mix will do just that. Let’s say a vehicle is stuck on an incline and you don’t have time to wait for the full effect of a de-icing treatment. Mixing some sand in with the product could give you instant traction while you’re waiting for the surface to melt completely.
The short answer? Sand doesn’t improve the response to a melting agent but it can introduce friction faster, which could be the only solution you’re looking for.
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Abrasive Materials You Can Use as Sand Alternatives
Sand isn’t the only product that can lend some friction to a slick parking lot or sidewalk. Pretty much any particulate or aggregate will work in a pinch. Here are a few we recommend if you’re scrambling:
Kitty litter: clay-based kitty litter is terrible for the environment but, in an emergency, will act as an alternative to sand when spread on a slippery surface.
Saw Dust: while not as abrasive, sawdust is an even more eco-friendly way to reduce the slipperiness of an icy surface. Check with a local tree service, they might even give it to you for free.
Wood Ash: wood ash is, as the name implies, the leftovers of burning wood. You’ve seen it at the bottom of a fire pit the morning after a campfire. While wood ash resembles a powder it has a significant amount of grit to it, which makes it another eco-friendly method for cutting through the slickness of ice and snow.
Why Not Use More Effective Sand Alternatives?
Though sand on icy roads can be a short-term solution, salt works better and will still improve traction and melt ice. Below we've listed some de-icing products that will better protect streets, parking lots, and sidewalks.
In the winter months, nothing so commonly used is sodium chloride, also known as NaCl or table salt. An inexpensive option, this rock salt is a perfect winter tool when looking to apply very large amounts with great results.
Calcium chloride is especially popular because it not only works in temperatures starting at -25ºF, it also lowers the freezing point of water, and can therefore prevent ice from forming more.
Magnesium chloride is a unique option for ice management thanks to its high water content. This salt lowers the melting point of the ice by quickly forming a brine that melts snow/ice effectively. Magnesium chloride is also safe for plants and pets alike.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate
Most people choose this de-icing solution because of its lack of negative impact on the environment and infrastructure. It does not damage plants, grass, which you will be thankful for come spring, or even concrete or metal.
If you are looking for the best solution to combat icing, Ninja De-Icer rock salt will help you. Check out our products that are on sale. We have been serving communities in the Midwest for many years and are ready to help your facility or property next time! Get a quote today!