A guide for avoiding excess salt and de-icer while keeping surfaces safe during winter.
The first step is always to physically remove as much snow and ice as possible. Early removal avoids the creation of more work by helping to prevent slippery and compacted surfaces. If ice or compacted snow remain, try an ice chisel or scraper, or switch to a de-icing product.
Keep a variety of tools on hand to accommodate for different conditions and make the job easier:
Never apply salt or de-icer to loose or freshly fallen snow, as this is an ineffective use of salt, creating a slushy situation that requires more clean-up later on.
Save time and get the most out of a product by paying attention to the conditions at hand.
Plain rock salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) is ineffective below 15 °F. For colder temperatures, utilize calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or another product in the chart below.
If you have a strong need for bare pavement due to safety concerns or community members being high risk for falls, a brine strategy may be another option to apply strategically yet use less salt product overall. Brines, or anti-icing, are applied before a winter storm, and prevent ice from bonding to the pavement from the start. Store a brine in a closed container for later use, but be cautious to mix only as much as you'll need, because extra brine is still a saltwater mixture. Dispose of extras in a household drain, and not on pavement. Avoid completely coating surfaces as just a light, scattered spray is needed to prevent ice from bonding. Many municipalities apply anti-icing brines in the form of stripes down a road.
For exceptionally cold conditions or to experiment with non-chloride methods, use sand or grit for temporary traction. Sand and grit can also be applied to loose snow if needed (i.e. if you're in a hurry or are striving to avoid salt entirely - see below). Acetates are a non-chloride option, but still require the same careful application due to containing nutrients that can reach waterbodies, contributing to excess nutrient pollution.
When you must apply salt and de-icer, practice a proper spread pattern that has no overlapping crystals. This method follows the way salt and de-icer is intended to work, which is not to completely melt ice, but to break it up and disrupt its bond to pavement. With the right product for the temperature and giving the product the proper time it takes to work you can avoid using extra material and maintain a safe surface.
What happens when road salt reaches a lake? Click here to learn about chloride monitoring in local lakes.
Sweep up extra salt, sand or grit. If dry, salt can be put into a container and stored for later use. Sand that has been driven over may have lost its traction and may need to be thrown away.