When & Why You Should Use Liquid Deicer

Rock salt will always be a staple in snow removal. It’s the tried and true method that everyone knows is dependable. However, there are other methods for removing ice and snow that are worth investing in. After all, you pride your snow removal business as both innovative and dependable—so why not look toward a multi-faceted approach to removal? Having a diverse snow removal regimen will make you a versatile business—and clients will take notice.

Liquid Deicer Is a Versatile Tool

Have you considered investing in liquid deicers to complement your supply of rock salt? And what is liquid deicer, anyway? In essence, it’s a liquid salt solution that has a broader set of uses in snow removal than just plain rock salt. While it’s not in widespread use as a go-to product in snow removal, it’s quickly becoming one. And there are several reasons to add it to your arsenal before you’re left in the dust (or snow flurries) by other, more innovative businesses in your region.

Liquid Deicer Is an Environmentally Conscious Product

New plant growth after a winter thaw.

Because of their liquid state, salt brines are easier to control in their application. Because you’re covering a more precise area, you’re wasting less salt and are thus contaminating less ground with sodium chloride. Liquid deicer is not a compound that is fundamentally more safe than rock salt (or less corrosive), but you tend to use less of it and use it only where needed.

Liquid Deicer Spray Sticks to Surfaces

The salt crystals that constitute a deicing solution are smaller and mixed with a liquid. When applied to the surface of a road, the solution doesn’t scatter and bounce around as salt crystals do—it adheres to wherever it’s applied. This makes liquid deicing agents more effective by their ability to stay where they’re applied, prolonging their usefulness.

Liquid Deicers Are Multipurpose

Enlarged snowflakes sitting on the tip of an evergreen pine needle.

While it’s not as effective as rock salt at melting existing ice, it will work its magic after some time. However, a liquid deicing agent is best used as a proactive approach to snow removal. It can be applied before ice forms, which will mitigate ice formation before it even forms. This versatility can help your snow removal strategy by broadening your snow removal window, especially if you use it in conjunction with regular rock salt.

Balance is Important

It’s important to find a balanced snow removal strategy. There is no “magic bullet” approach to snow removal. It takes careful planning and using your experience and intuition to develop a method for snow removal that can be both proactive and reactive. Liquid deicer spray is great, but it can’t do it all for you. They have some drawbacks that you need to consider.

Liquid Deicers Are Most Effective Before the Storm

You don’t want to go to a client after a big ice storm with nothing but liquid deicer on your truck. Deicers are best used before ice forms, as they function best as an anti-icing agent (contrary to their name). While liquid brines do melt snow and ice, they do it at a much slower rate than regular rock salt. That brings us to our next question.

What is the Difference Between an Anti-Icer and a De-Icer?

Some of the compounds you apply to roads, sidewalks, and other surfaces in the winter act as “anti-icers” and as “de-icers”. While the two terms may be used interchangeably in some cases, it’s important to understand what the product you just bought does.

Anti-icers are best applied before a weather event. Whatever it’s referred to on the box, an anti-icing agent is a product that you apply before snow and ice accumulate. It will render that surface inhospitable to the accumulation of both ice and snow before they even have time to settle.

De-icers are best applied after a weather event. A good example of a de-icer is conventional rock salt. You apply it to already-existing snow and ice and it eats right through it. Any substance meant to be applied over snow and ice can be referred to as a “de-icer”.

So, how do you tell the two apart? You can memorize the chemical compounds and the reaction they have to snow and ice or you can simply read the directions. If your product is meant to be applied before accumulation, then it’s a de-icer. If it’s meant to be applied after, then it’s an anti-icer.

Liquid Dicers Cost More

A twenty-dollar bill stuck to a tree in the snow.

The upfront cost of liquid deicing agents is higher than bulk rock salt. However, because of their liquid nature, they are far more potent and take up less volumetric space. Because of this, the upfront cost is much higher but the cost of storage tends to be lower.

Liquid Deicers Require Skill

Rock salt is fairly easy to apply. Be it a shovel or a spreader hitched to a truck, rock salt’s application is as simple as throwing the salt onto the surface you’re removing ice and snow from. However, liquid deicers require more knowledge and experience in their application. You need to understand ground temperature, freeze tables, and consider the dilution of your product as ice and snow turn to water to ensure your solution will be effective and not just add more ice to your surface.

What Is Liquid Deicer Made Of?

Magnifying glass being used to determine the chemical composition of an item.

Is liquid deicer salt? A lot of clients may ask you questions about liquid deicer ingredients. It’s best to have an informed answer ready. Luckily, there’s an easy answer to that question. The most common liquid deicers are simple sodium chloride brines. That means they are composed of a proportion of water and salt—the very same salt that goes into rock salt.

Liquid deicers work differently than rock salt, not due to their chemical composition, but due to the way they’re applied. They’re more precise and readily stick (and stay put) onto surfaces, making them a proactive solution to snow removal. Because the salt is diluted by water, they’re slower acting but more persistent than regular rock salt.

Common Types of Liquid De-Icers

Many types of de-icers come in a liquid form. Each product has its distinct properties. No two are alike.

Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)

Effectiveness: 15 F or above

Most Effective: After Weather Event

Ecological Impact: High

Corrosiveness: High

Yes, even rock salt can be considered a liquid deicer. It’s common for snow removal companies (and homeowners) to dilute their rock salt into a 3-to-1 ratio (water to salt) of hot water. From there, you have more flexibility in how you deploy your salt and how thin you can spread it.

Calcium Chloride

Effectiveness: -20 F or above

Most Effective: After Weather Event

Ecological Impact: Low

Corrosiveness: Lows

Calcium chloride is most often stored as a liquid and mixed with rock salt to increase the salt’s ability to penetrate snow and ice. Calcium chloride also has an exothermic reaction to moisture (just like rock salt) and will work with the salt to change the melting point of snow and ice, thus neutralizing it faster than rock salt alone.

Magnesium Chloride

Effectiveness: 0 F or above

Most Effective: After Weather Event

Ecological Impact: Low

Corrosiveness: High

Magnesium chloride works much in the way as calcium chloride but no as effectively in sub-freezing temperatures. It’s most often mixed with sodium chloride (or even sand) and applied to roadways. Wet salt will scatter less and the addition of magnesium chloride will lower the salt’s effective temperature, though not as greatly as calcium chloride. Mixing salt with magnesium chloride will allow you to use less salt as well.

Potassium Chloride

Effectiveness: 12 F or above

Most Effective: After Weather Event

Ecological Impact: Low

Corrosiveness: Low

Potassium chloride works in pellet or liquid form and is not typically added to rock salt. On its own, it can function as an ice and snow melter at 12F or above but does not work as fast as rock salt and previously-mentioned rock salt additives. However, because it has no actual rock salt it lacks the potential to cause corrosion damage to concrete and vehicles.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)

Effectiveness: 15 F or Above

Most Effective: Before Weather Event

Ecological Impact: Low

Corrosiveness: Low

Best used as a pre-treatment before snow and ice form, CMA is almost in its own category as far as how it works to melt snow and ice. Rather than produce an exothermic reaction (heat) and change the melting temperature of precipitation, CMA changes the surface adhesion of snow and ice particles; it makes them drier and less likely to stick to each other or surfaces. Because there is no salt in CMA there is little to no corrosion concern.

Potassium Acetate

Effectiveness: -32 F or Above

Most Effective: Before Weather Event

Ecological Impact: Low

Corrosiveness: Low

Potassium Acetate works in much the same way as CMA. Best used before snow and ice form, it is applied over a surface and, as snow and ice begin to accumulate, changed the surface-bonding qualities of their particles. Ice cannot form because its particles do not adhere to one another and snow simply blows away. Its effective temperature is much lower than CMA, which makes it a great solution to your anti-icing strategy.

When Should You Choose Solid Salt Over a Liquid?

In a perfect scenario, you would want to always defer to liquid de-icer (even when dealing with rock salt) because it works faster, adheres to surfaces easier and longer, and is all-around a more efficient means of applying your product.

However, all of that water means it’s harder to transport due to its weight and can be tricky to store compared to solid material. To put it simply, liquids will always perform better, but logistically, or more complicated to depend on as a primary source. If you solve the transport and storage problem, then stick with liquid products.

With Liquid De-Icers, Timing is Everything

As an expert in snow removal and a business owner, you shouldn’t be asking yourself the “which” question when deciding on if you should use liquid deicer or rock salt. Instead, you should be asking “when”. The truth is, both are vital components to a versatile snow removal company. If you only invest in one or the other, you’ll quickly find that you’re unable to properly react fast enough to your customers’ needs.

Every step of snow removal is important to you. So being proactive is just as important as the follow-up. With that in mind, a strategic approach to snow removal that begins with a liquid deicer and continues with rock salt will win your clients over and keep them coming back to you season after season.

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AG Excavating, Inc
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