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Sand vs. Salt for Ice Control: Which Is Better?

Sand vs. Salt for Ice Control: Which Is Better?

Justin Rollin

When it comes to keeping roads safe and free of ice during the winter season, the debate between using sand and salt is ongoing. Many believe that the only way to tackle ice is by melting it, but there's another method for managing ice — covering it. Using sand for snow and ice management increases traction and can make 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.

Sand vs. Salt for Ice Control: An Overview

Explore the key differences between sand and salt for ice control in our concise comparison table. This will help you make informed winter maintenance choices.

Sand vs Salt for Ice Melt
Criteria Salt Sand
Effectiveness Quickly melts ice and prevents refreezing. Less effective at melting ice than salt. Provides traction and reduces slips.
Cost More expensive than sand, but still economical. Relatively inexpensive.
Environmental Impact Can contaminate waterways and harm plants and animals. Less dangerous to plants, animals, and waterways than salt. But it can be harmful for people with allergies.
Ease of Cleanup Generally leaves less residue. Requires thorough cleanup.
Temperature Range Salt is effective at melting ice down to 5°F. While sand does not aid in melting ice, it does provide traction in extreme cold temperatures when salt alone won’t work.
Availability Widely available and accessible. Widely available and accessible.
Application Typically applied during or after a snow storm. Typically applied during or after a snow storm.


Why Use Sand for Ice Control?

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: Have you ever walked across a sandy beach on a sunny day? You'd notice that sand absorbs and retains the heat of the sun. While it's not a fast process, laying some sand over the top of 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'll have little to no effect on that water supply.

Does Sand Melt Ice?

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 used, you'll find that it simply has little direct effect on melting.

However, sand is still a great resource in the middle of winter. While sodium chloride (traditional rock salt) still corners the ice and snow management market, using sand is a great way to introduce traction on slippery roads and sidewalks. That's exactly why your local municipality provides it for use in the winter.

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The Drawbacks of Using Sand for Ice Control

Overuse of anything will impact the environment in some way, even sand. While sand is a natural product, it can still have detrimental effects if it's 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 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.

Abrasive Materials You Can Use as Sand Alternatives

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. Nearly any particulate or aggregate will work in a pinch. If you're scrambling, here are a few we recommend:

  • Kitty litter: Clay-based kitty litter is terrible for the environment but, in an emergency, it can act as an alternative to sand when spread on a slippery surface;
  • Sawdust: 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 or municipality, 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.

Benefits of Using Salt for Ice Melt

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 doesn't 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. To form this brine, the salt must absorb moisture from its surroundings, as well as heat.

  • Wide range of temperatures: The most important thing 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 negative temperatures;
  • Effectiveness: 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;
  • Versatility: Salt should ideally be used as the snowstorm starts, but can also be re-applied as the snow progresses to prevent it from accumulating further.

Mixing Salt & Sand

Mixing Salt & Sand

Can the mixture of agents be more effective? Unfortunately, mixing sand with salt or any other de-icing agent won't increase its efficacy nor will it reduce the amount of the agent you need to use. Adding sand to these products will simply dilute the results of the product. So, why would you want to mix sand into your rock salt or other products?

The answer is simple; sometimes you need instant traction, especially in extremely cold temperatures where salt might not work right away, and a sand salt mix will do just that. Let's say your property or roads have a lot of hills. 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 solution you're looking for.

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.

Sodium Chloride

Sodium Chloride

In the winter months, nothing is more commonly used than sodium chloride, also known as NaCl or table salt. An inexpensive option, rock salt is a perfect winter tool when looking for great results.

  • Ice Away Rock Salt is a highly effective salt de-icer designed for maximum ice melting and easy spreading. Its specially-sized, chunky halite crystals work quickly and efficiently to melt ice. With a chemical composition of sodium chloride, Ice Away Rock Salt is effective down to temperatures as low as 5°F. It's the ideal solution for quick and simple ice melting, especially in parking lot applications.
  • Royal Blue Halite Rock Salt is a high-quality de-icer that is mined directly from the earth. Treated with an anti-caking agent to prevent clumping and hardening, this ASTM-1 grade rock salt is dyed royal blue for easier application. With its sodium chloride composition, it's effective down to temperatures as low as 5°F. Ideal for use in parking lot applications, Royal Blue Halite Rock Salt ensures efficient ice melting and better safety.

Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride is especially popular because it not only works in extremely cold temperatures, as low as -25ºF, but it also lowers the freezing point of water and can prevent ice from reforming.

  • Thunder Melt Ice Melter is a high-performance de-icer that combines sodium chloride and calcium chloride together. It quickly melts snow and ice down to -16°F. With its quick burn formula, it is designed for maximum effectiveness and lasting results. Manufactured in a bright violet color, Thunder Melt provides improved visual spreading. It's the perfect solution for efficient ice control in colder temperatures.
  • Sizzle Premium Ice Melter is a premium de-icer designed to be effective during the worst of weather conditions. Formulated with a combination of sodium chloride granules and calcium chloride pellets, it delivers fast and effective ice-melting action. The distinctive pink color of this ice melt allows for clear visibility during application on snow and ice surfaces. With its effectiveness in temperatures as low as -25°F, Sizzle Premium is a reliable choice for efficient ice control.

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium chloride lowers the melting point of the ice by quickly forming a brine that melts snow/ice effectively. Magnesium chloride is also safer for plants and pets alike, while still working at lower temperatures.  

  • Jiffy Melt® Ice Melt Salt Blend is a premium de-icer that combines sodium chloride and magnesium chloride for superior ice melting performance. With the addition of magnesium chloride, Jiffy Melt® is effective at lower temperatures (down to -10°F), activating quickly to break up ice. Whether it's sidewalks or parking lots, Jiffy Melt® is the ideal choice for efficient ice control.
  • Lightning Fast Ice Melter is a powerful de-icer that combines a mixture of sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, a corrosion inhibitor, and a proprietary blend for exceptional ice melting performance. With its effectiveness down to temperatures as low as -20°F, this product ensures swift and efficient ice melting. Packaged in a convenient 12 lb shaker jug, 25 lb bag with handle, or 50 lb bag, Lighting Premium is a solution for ice control in any weather condition.

Choosing the Best De-Icing Option: Salt vs. Sand

We all know that salt melts snow in cold temperatures, but there's more than one option. When it comes down to it, both sand and salt have their benefits for keeping sidewalks and parking lots clear of ice in winter. However, rock salt is often more effective at melting ice than just providing traction like sand. Products like Ninja De-Icer's bagged rock salt provide convenience and efficiency for ice melting. To determine the best de-icing product for your needs, be sure to get a quote from Ninja De-Icer today!