Tim Seymour, manager of Aubuchon Hardware in Greenfield, MA has seen an increasing interest in “green” deicers in recent years. “The whole world is going in that direction. Ten years, fast forward, you won’t be able to buy things like rock salt because they’ll be outlawed,” said Seymour.
Seymour added that he personally uses “100 percent calcium chloride. It doesn’t track into the house on my dog’s paws. It also doesn’t harm my lawn,” said Seymour. Many chemicals in deicers are known to cause burns on pets’ paws, and in the case of cats can be toxic if they ingest the deicer while cleaning themselves.
When looking at deicers, the first things you may want to consider are ways to reduce or eliminate use. For example, you can use an ice chopper, which is hard work, but better for the environment. Hometalk.com editor Chaya Kurtz has chopped up tough driveway ice with a garden edger, and highly recommends it.
If you do use a deicer, timing the usage with snow removal can make a big difference. In an article by Ellen Brown on the website Thriftyfun.com, she suggests the following:
- For dry/powdery snow, to sweep or shovel the snow as soon as possible to eliminate the need for deicer.
- For heavy/wet snow, apply deicer as soon as snow begins falling in order t prevent it from bonding and creating an ice barrier.
- For sleet/freezing rain, apply deicer early in order to prevent build-up.
- And for significant snowfall, over two inches, shovel first and then put down the deicer.
According to an article by Doug Kievit-Kyler, of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, chemical deicers generally work by either generating heat or extracting heat from the environment. Kievit-Kyler said that contact between the ice and deicing chemicals creates “brine.” “The brine seeps downward to contact paved and other impervious surfaces. The brine then spreads outward, breaking the bond between ice and cold surfaces,” he said. He added that many commonly used deicers can create an environmental hazard from run-off into bodies of water or by damaging salt-sensitive vegetation.
A truly green approach to deicers is suggested by the paystolivegreen.com website is the use of alfalfa meal. The site states that the meal provides better traction and melts ice due to its nitrogen content.
The five most commonly used chemicals for deicing
When deciding on deicers read the ingredients to determine what you are really purchasing and follow directions carefully.
- Sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt, began being used on roadways in the 1940’s. Salt is cheap, but the most damaging to the environment according to research by the Iowa State University. Salt is also corrosive to concrete and metal. Salt becomes less effective below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Calcium chloride comes in flake, pellet, or liquid form. Calcium chloride often out-performs other deicers due to its ability to give off heat as it melts as well as being able to work at extremely low temperatures.
- Potassium chloride usually has a high salt index and is known to damage foliage and inhibit root growth.
- Urea, which is synthesized from ammonia, has a lower potential to damage foliage than potassium chloride.
- Calcium magnesium acetate is a relatively new melting agent which is salt-free. The compound is made from dolomite limestone and acetic acid. Calcium magnesium acetate causes little damage to concrete or plants. It is often used in areas that are environmentally sensitive.
There are numerous green brands of deicer such as “Happy Paws” or “Green Earth Ice Melter.” You can find green deicers at most hardware stores, supermarkets, or online. “Green deicers are part of a larger movement. Sort of like, ‘one Styrofoam cup at a time,’” said Seymour.