Rock Salt Vs. Calcium Chloride

Understanding what product you’re using to melt snow and ice isn’t just good knowledge to have—it’s important for the health and safety of your tenants, or anyone that enters your property. While the two are similar in what they do, the chemical makeup of both rock salt and calcium chloride is different and, thus, their application varies. While there are other products out there (like magnesium chloride), these are the two most-often used.

In the industry, you’ll see these components referred to as sodium chloride and calcium chloride. We find that it’s easier to give these two products understandable names. With this in mind, let’s call them rock salt and ice melt.

There is one other product we’ll briefly mention: urea, otherwise known as potassium chloride, can be used as a pet-friendly ice melt. However, it’s not very effective and can be harmful to vegetation.

What is the Difference between Rock Salt and Ice Melt?

ice crystals

Each has its use, and, when used wisely, both will work wonders for snow removal. However, if used incorrectly, both products will be ineffective, expensive to you, and hazardous to anyone on your property.

So, let’s break the products down into how they’re used:

  • Rock salt is great at melting snow and ice after it has fallen, assuming the temperature is above 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ice melt is a proactive product, which is best used before snow and ice form. It will ensure that neither snow and ice will easily adhere to a surface and will even work during temperatures of minus 20 degrees, so it’s effective well below the freezing point. Ice melt typically comes in the form of pellets or as a liquid spray.

Of the Two, which is More Cost-Effective?

Rock salt is a simple, bountiful product. If you’re a professional, you can buy it by the pallet and at cost. As long as you store it correctly, bulk rock salt will last you until you need it. Because it’s so prolific, rock salt is the cheapest of the two products.

However, if you’re using rock salt when you should be using ice melt, or using too much rock salt altogether, then it’s not going to save you any money. It’s best if you have both and use them strategically.

Which Works Better in Colder Temperatures?

a walkway covered in snow during a blizzard

As previously mentioned, ice melt is going to work best in colder temperatures. However, it’s a waste to spread it out after a blizzard, once temperatures have risen to above 20 degrees. Instead, use ice melt before a blizzard, especially if the temperature is going to dip well below freezing.

Which One Works Better?

If you’re a veteran of the snow removal industry, then you already know that there’s no “better” or “best” version of anything in your arsenal. Instead, your knowledge of snow and ice, the climate, and your carefully cultivated intuition will guide you best as to what product to use.

However, if you’re simply trying to understand what works best on paper, then ice melt is your best bet, assuming you apply it before snow and ice form. The reasoning behind this is it’s not as hindered by cold temperature as rock salt. If you’re in the Midwest, then you’re no stranger to below freezing conditions. Most days in January, February, and even much of March are well below the temperature in which rock salt is effective.

Our advice is to start the season with rock salt and continue using it, when applicable. When needed, especially in late winter, begin dipping into your supply of ice melt. You wouldn’t mill a fly with a bazooka, so you wouldn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on exclusively using ice melt.

Which One is Safer and Less Corrosive?

a pothole that was the result of damage caused by improper rock salt application

On paper, ice melt is safer than rock salt for melting snow and ice. However, as we’ve illustrated previously, what looks good on paper has little bearing in the real world. Overusing any snow and ice melt product is bad for the environment—think of the chemicals you’re spreading on the ground and, once the thaw comes, think of the rivers it’ll eventually find its way into.

Instead of concerning yourself with the “safer” product, focus on only using as much of either product as you need for a job. It’ll save you money and the environment all at the same time.

Both Products Will Do You Well

The best conclusion to draw from questioning the efficacy of both products is that they both have their uses. A well-rounded snow removal business is one that has many tools in its

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Al Gossen
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AG Excavating, Inc
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""I’ve worked with different bulk salt providers in the past, but I trust Ninja De-icer. They always have product. Those guys were great and easy to work with because they communicated and always came through when I needed them. Highly recommend."
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