Tips on choosing de-icers for walkways

Anyone who has ever slipped on ice recognizes the need to keep steps and sidewalks clear of compacted snow and ice. Unfortunately, removing ice with a shovel is not easy.

De-icers sprinkled over snow or ice melt down to the hard surface and help loosen the ice for easy removal. They work by lowering the freezing point of the water in which they are dissolved, helping break the bond between ice and the pavement. Once the bond is broken, it is relatively easy to mechanically remove the remaining ice and snow.

Many homeowners have the mistaken notion, however, that deicers should completely melt the ice and snow and they tend to overapply these products. This increases both the cost of the deicing product and the potential for environmental degradation.

The two most widely used chemical deicers are calcium chloride and sodium chloride (rock salt). Some deicing products may contain potassium chloride, urea or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Calcium chloride is one of the most effective deicing salts because it gives off heat as it melts and has the ability to attract moisture from its surroundings, helping the ice to dissolve more quickly. Sodium chloride is relatively inexpensive but can burn plants and corrode metal and concrete. Potassium chloride and urea are more typically used in fertilizers like 10-10-10.

While these fertilizers can melt ice, the additional nitrogen and phosphorus has potential to run off and pollute nearby lakes and streams. CMA has fewer environmental risks than the above products but its greater cost reduces its utility except in environmentally sensitive areas.

Sand and kitty litter can be used to provide traction in sensitive areas but, by themselves, have little direct effect on ice melting.

For information on winter garden topics, feel free to contact Nancy Olsen at the Bladen County Cooperative Extension, 910-862-4591, or come by the office at 450 Smith Circle Drive in Elizabethtown.