The same chemicals that expertly eat away at snow and ice can do similar danger to your property. Before you lean too heavily into the world of chemical deicing agents, it’s best to understand them and to understand when to use them and their impact on the environment.
Is Rock Salt Concrete Friendly?
Rock salt is the most common ice melting agent used in the snow removal business. It’s cost-effective, easy to supply, and straightforward to store in bulk. Sodium chloride is the most popular product on the shelves. While its name may make it sound like it’s grown in a lab, it’s the same stuff as plain old table salt. The primary difference between rock salt and table salt is that the sodium chloride used to melt ice is cut into much larger granules.
However, as innocuous as rock salt may seem, it’s very bad when used on concrete. One or two seasons of heavy rock salt applications will result in crumbling, eroded concrete. Soon enough, you’ll find that you may need to replace sidewalks, steps, or walkways. Sodium chloride’s cousins, potassium, calcium magnesium, and calcium chloride are equally as destructive to concrete.
What Kind of Rock Salt Should I Use on Concrete?
There is one variety of chloride-based deicer that is relatively safe to use on concrete. That product is known as “magnesium chloride” and it’s often marketed as “ice melt” instead of “rock salt”. Either way, just check the packaging to see what the active ingredient is. If the active agent is magnesium chloride, then you have the right stuff for your concrete.
Because magnesium chloride holds onto its chloride compound for longer than other varieties, it’s mostly washed away with snowmelt and spring rain. Alternatively, the chloride chemicals in other varieties of rock salt separate, where they carve into concrete, causing issues with its integrity.
Any kind of salt is terrible for plants and trees, so the more of it that washes away, the better for your clients’ landscaping, walkway, and porch. However, even magnesium chloride will give you problems if used too freely. Only use just enough to cover the ice or snow and don’t overdo it. As innocent as salt may seem, it’s a corrosive substance that you don’t want to blanket your clients’ property with.
Are There Any Salt-Free Ice Melting Alternatives?
The truth is, salt-based ice melts have always been the gold standard for removing snow and ice. It’s a great resource and in some cases, it makes your work of snow removal as easy as a flick of the wrist. However, salt-based ice melts are bad for pets, family, environment, and concrete. For people who want to steer clear of those dangers, there are salt-free and environmentally friendly ice melters that work just as well, if only in a different manner.
The safest ice melting agents on the market use urea as their active agent. You may have heard of that chemical—it’s a substance produced in the kidneys of most animals. It’s also a product of ammonia. While it may seem odd to use, the substance works wonders on snow and ice. Best of all, there’s no chloride whatsoever in its composition, so it’s friendly for your concrete and the environment. Urea-based is not corrosive, although it can kill your lawn if overused.
What About Glycol-Based Ice Melts?
Another alternative to sodium-based ice melts use glycol for their ice melting properties. There are two common varieties of glycol-based agents and they differ wildly in their chemical composition as well as their effect on your property.
If you’re going to go with a glycol-based ice melting agent, then propylene glycol is your best bet. Not only is this product super effective at melting ice down to -75 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s also pet safe, plant-friendly, and even safer for concrete since it is less corrosive. Most propylene products have aggregate added for traction since the product is commonly in liquid form.
If you’ve ever sat at your gate, waiting to board an airplane in the winter, while watching airport officials spray deicer on your plane’s wings, then you’ve seen ethylene glycol in action. It’s an extremely effective ice melting agent and the very same stuff that goes into the antifreeze in your car. While ethylene has a minimal effect on your concrete, it’s a sweet tasting, highly toxic solution that might be best relegated to aircrafts rather than your front porch.
Is There a Truly Concrete-Safe Snow Removal Solution?
Every concrete-safe snow and ice removal solution comes with its caveats. However, if you use these products sparingly and understand their chemical makeup and the effect they have on the environment, then you can make an informed decision on which product is best for your needs.
However, if what you’re looking for is a truly safe snow removal solution, then you might want to go back to the old way of doing things. With the right tools and the gumption, you can clear most pathways and driveways with a minimal amount of chemical assistance. You know more than anyone that most snow and ice can be picked up with a plow, no chemicals needed. A little hard work can go a long way—consider working your green-friendly process into your marketing. Today, most clients love the idea that their snow removal contractor is environmentally conscious. Whatever you do, ensure that you’re using these snow removal chemicals safely and responsibly—they are all seriously powerful.