Calling something a “deicer” is like calling a product “natural”. It’s a seemingly specific qualifier that, in reality, means everything and nothing. There is no official standard for is can and cannot be considered a “liquid deicer”. If it’s applied to surfaces in liquid form and melts snow and ice, then it pretty much fits the bill.
However, just because the definition of liquid deicer is loose doesn’t mean that all products are equal. It’s still important to know what is in the most popular products so you can use it correctly. Let’s explore common liquid deicers and how they vary from one another.
Common Types of Deicers
There are 6 common categories of deicer that can be applied as a liquid. They are most beneficial in their abilities to be easily stored, sprayed in a wide radius from a truck or by hand, and their versatility in defeating low temperatures that can sometimes thwart pure rock salt.
Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt)
Effectiveness: 15 F or above
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.
Effectiveness: -20 F or above
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.
Effectiveness: 0 F or above
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.
Effectiveness: 12F or above
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
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.
Effectiveness: -32 or Above
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.
Liquid Type (Dilution Amount) Affect Performance
How you dilute your liquid deicer and what chemicals you add to it will change its snow and ice melting qualities. The industry breaks dilution types into 4 categories.
These solutions are not diluted and sprayed-on as is at a high temperature. They work quickly but will drain away from the surfaces they are applied to much faster due to their low viscosity.
Liquids in the type 2 category are thickened with a polymer pseudoplastic, which increases their adhesion to surfaces. These liquids are less likely to drain away or be blown off by wind or vehicles.
While type 2 is almost like corn syrup, type 3 variations more closely resemble maple syrup. These types of deicers adhere to surfaces better than Type 1 liquids but do not have the incredibly high viscosity of Type 2; they are somewhere in-between both.
Similar to type 2 fluids, Type 4 fluids have a slightly longer-lasting effect on surface adhesion. In the field, the biggest distinguisher is the dye color, which is typically green.
Chemical Makeup & Dilution Are Both Important
All liquid deicers have unique characteristics that make them a great choice under certain circumstances. While rock salt is the most commonly applied ice melt product it is limited by temperature. However, as an additive, it can still be a rock star.
While efficacy is one thing, it’s also important to dilute your solutions (or purchase pre-diluted solutions) that will adhere to surfaces long enough to be practical for your clients. Consult your region’s bulk salt vendor to see what products they have and what they recommend for your use-case.