9 Things Facility Managers Must Know About Ice Melt
Facility managers all over the Midwest, especially in places like Wisconsin and Minneapolis that experience heavy snowfall, have to use ice melt to keep their sites safe and ice-free during the cold season.
The question is: are they using the right product? Will their application yield the best results? In this article, we’ll discuss some of the best practices for every facility manager to keep in mind when utilizing ice melt.
What Types of Ice Melt Exist?
There are several different types of ice melt, and knowing which ones to use is essential for getting the most out of your time and money. When choosing a de-icer, facility managers should consider the surface they will be applying it to, the temperature, and the surrounding environment, as each one has its strengths and weaknesses.
Rock Salt (Sodium Chloride)
The most popular de-icer is rock salt or sodium chloride. Not only is it the most abundant, but it is also the most affordable.
There are a few downsides to classic rock salt, however. The most important of which is that rock salt is endothermic, meaning it needs heat from its surroundings to work properly and dissolve. This means that the temperature it works best at is about 15ºF or warmer.
Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)
Another popular ice melt is calcium chloride. This product will work at much lower temperatures. Some studies have shown effectiveness even down to -25ºF, which is significantly lower than the effectiveness rates of sodium chloride and many other de-icers. Its low working temperature is thanks to it being hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air, and exothermic, meaning it releases heat to dissolve ice. Both of these qualities make it an efficient and effective method for melting ice and snow.
Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2)
Effective down to 0ºF, magnesium chloride is another de-icer that will melt ice at lower temperatures, though not as low as calcium chloride. It too is exothermic and hygroscopic and is made up of about 50% water. It is significantly more environmentally friendly than sodium chloride, and safer for vegetation and animals.
Potassium Chloride (KCl)
If you operate within or work with areas that experience severely cold weather, potassium chloride should not be your first choice. It is most effective in temperatures above 25ºF, and should therefore be utilized in regions where the temperatures are warmer in the winter. It also has a lower melt volume capability than other ice melts and is not nearly as fast-acting as an alternative like magnesium or calcium chloride.
Urea is a unique de-icing option because, like potassium chloride, it only works properly at temperatures above 25ºF. However, the difference between the two is that urea is not corrosive to metal and will not negatively impact plant life to the same extent. However, it can be harmful to aquatic life as it will raise the biological oxygen demand in the water.
Endothermic or Exothermic?
Is ice melting endothermic or exothermic? First, it’s important to understand the difference between the two. Endothermic chemicals pull heat from their surroundings, like the pavement, to begin a chemical reaction — in this case, melting the ice. Exothermic chemicals, on the other hand, create heat during the chemical reaction. When they come in contact with water, these chemicals will release heat and warm the pavement to discourage water from freezing.
When ice melts, the water seeps into the concrete or pavement below, and if it refreezes, can cause the pavement to crack. And though ice melts can be either endothermic or exothermic, most favor exothermic chemicals as they are less likely to cause damage to the pavement because the water is less likely to refreeze.
When Is the Best Time to Apply Ice Melt?
When is the best time to apply ice melt? Ice melt should be applied at the first sign of snow because it works by chemical reaction; as precipitation (water) hits the ice melt, the melting process will begin. When you are reasonably sure that snow and ice are on their way, you can start spreading on lots, roads, and sidewalks.
How to Apply Ice Melt
Applying ice melt must be done with caution, as it contains chemicals. Following is a list of precautions to take before application:
- Wear gloves when handling and applying ice melt.
- Do not touch your eyes, mouth, or face when handling and applying ice melt.
- Keep ice melt away from children and animals.
- Always wash your hands well after handling and application of ice melt.
You can apply ice melt by hand or using a spreader, but obviously with larger commercial applications using a spreader will make the job more efficient.
Be sure to apply the ice melt uniformly, so as not to over-apply and damage the surface, or under-apply and risk ice patches. Purchasing an ice melt with colored dye, like Lightning Premium Ice Melter, helps with visibility and makes it easier to see where you have and have not applied already. The dye will not stain or damage surfaces.
Which Ice Melt Melts Ice Quickest?
Among the different types of ice melt, each has its pros and cons, and efficiency and speed are no exception. In order for ice melt to actually do its job, it must first penetrate the ice and dissolve into a liquid brine. Once the brine is formed, its lower freezing point aids it in breaking the bond between the surface and the ice.
As stated previously, calcium chloride is considered the fastest-acting ice melt for a few reasons. First, it is hygroscopic and therefore absorbs moisture from the air. Second, it is exothermic and its ability to release heat allows it to dissolve the ice that much faster. These two combined qualities make it the quickest de-icer on the market.
Which Ice Melt Is Safest for Concrete?
How do you melt ice without damaging concrete? The best way is to consider the different types of ice melt and choose the most concrete safe ice melt of the bunch. As mentioned above, calcium chloride is considered the safest option for concrete because of its exothermic nature. Exothermic ice melts can help ensure that the water seeping into the surface does not refreeze and crack the concrete.
In addition to your concrete safe de-icer, clearing the leftover ice melt from the concrete as soon as the snow and ice event is over and the ice has melted is also a great way to protect the surface from any further damage.
Which Ice Melt Is More Environmentally Friendly?
Ice melts are notorious for harming vegetation and the surrounding environment. However, not all of them have the same impact and some are less likely to negatively affect the nearby plant life.
The most environmentally friendly ice melts are magnesium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate. But overall, the most effective way to protect the environment is to use ice melt sparingly. By not over-applying ice melt in concentrated areas, you’re limiting the damage that it can do to your plants and saving you money at the same time.
Which Ice Melt Works Best in Cold Temperatures?
Ice melt effective temperatures vary depending on the product. For example, sodium chloride (rock salt) will melt ice best at around 15 ºF. Calcium chloride, on the other hand, is effective at temperatures as low as -25 ºF, easily making it the de-icer best suited for the most frigid weather.
Knowing the predicted temperature and weather pattern for your area will help you determine the best ice melt to use before or during a storm. This will ensure you do not waste time and money spreading ineffective ice melt for the weather condition in your area.
How to Store Ice Melt Properly
The optimal storage for ice melt is away from moisture, air, and sunlight. Ensuring your product is stored on a solid surface and covered from the elements is essential to keeping your ice melt from absorbing moisture and clumping in cold temperatures.
With the understanding that this isn’t always possible, to store ice melt correctly, do your best to keep the ice melt far from any moisture sources and out of direct sunlight.
Knowing the different types of ice melts, how to apply them, and when the best time to apply them is important. In addition, knowing whether ice melt is exothermic or endothermic, how to store them properly, which is best in the coldest temperatures, which is most environmentally friendly, which is safest for concrete, and which works the fastest will ensure that you as a facility manager can make informed decisions when applying ice melt to your property.