What is Ice Melt?

The time of year has come again, when we have to deal with the problem of icy pavements.  To make the pavements safe, most people use an ice melting compound, there are many of these on the market, but what is the difference? How does it work? In this article we will explore these issues.

The active ingredient used in ice melt is usually a combination of one or more of the following ingredients:

Rock Salt: This is the most commonly used product, yet it has limited effectiveness in extreme cold and does not melt ice below -9 ºC. Rock salt does not chemically attack concrete, but it is corrosive to rebar and steel. This product is corrosive and can damage lawns, trees and shrubs.

Magnesium Chloride: This is considered to be the best overall ice melting compound.  Magnesium chloride is a liquid in its natural state and has an affinity for returning to a liquid. When solid forms of this compound come into contact with water, they release heat. In practice, once it touches ice or snow, they immediately pick up water to form a strong brine, emit heat to give added de-icing effect, create more water, and form more brine. This process is repeated over and over.  Magnesium chloride is also less corrosive on materials such as metals and concrete than other ice melting compounds. This method is also considered to be one of the most environmentally friendly, of all the common ice melting compounds and is less harmful to plant life as well.

Calcium Chloride: This is similar to magnesium chloride. It is a liquid that is then converted into pellets by removing the water. It can quickly absorb moisture from the atmosphere so it can work at extremely low temperatures, down to -30 ºC. The cost is generally higher for an ice melt that contains calcium chloride. Calcium chloride can also damage nearby lawns and other vegetation.

Urea: This chemical is commonly found in fertilizer, but that does not mean it is safe around vegetation. At high concentrates urea is harmful to plants. Since urea does not contain chlorides it is less corrosive and safer to use on concrete containing rebar and around steel structures.

Ice melting products may also contain sand or clay additive to help with traction.

How the products work

All de-icers basically work the same. De-icers work by attracting moisture to form a liquid brine to generate heat to melt the ice. The product must reach the pavement to become effective. Once on the pavement this brine can spread out on the ice and break its bond with the pavement. As the ice is loosened it can be easily shovelled away.

The rate of melting depends on how fast the specific chemical reacts to the existing moisture. Ice melting products work best if applied before snow or ice accumulates. Spread the ice melt thinly over the surface, in very cold weather it may be helpful to add some water to the product to begin the melting process as it is the chemical solution of the product and water that actually does the work.

Determining product effectiveness

One of the first things to look at is the range of temperatures that a product will work in a reasonable time period, generally 15 to 20 minutes. Calcium chloride works in the coldest temperatures, and magnesium chloride and rock salt also rank high in this category.

The ice melt must dissolve into a solution quickly to be effective. Since calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are liquids in their natural states they return to a liquid quickly. Then when these chemicals come in contact with water a reaction is caused that gives off heat to melt ice and snow. Overall, magnesium and calcium chloride rank the highest in effectiveness based on speed.

No matter which ice melt you decide to use keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don’t over apply the chemical.
  • Always follow the instructions on the label.
  • Don’t try to melt everything. Before applying ice melt, make sure any snow accumulation has been shovelled or brushed off.
  • Wear gloves when applying ice melt. The chemicals in some products can irritate skin.
  • Make sure the container is tightly sealed when storing the product. Ice melt products can absorb moisture from the air and harden.
  • Don’t use ice melt on new concrete that has not fully cured.
  • All products will have some impact on the environment. If you suspect plants have been damaged from runoff (look for stunted growth, portions of the plant dying back, browning of foliage), flush the area with plenty of water in the spring.

 

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Created by Mistral Pure Chemicals. View website

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