Melody is a busy mom who works full time and knows it is important to save time when it comes to effective snow removal techniques.
What's the Difference Between Rock Salt and Ice Melt?
Both rock salt and ice melt do the same job—but when and how you apply them is different.
- Rock salt is an ice-melting agent; it removes existing ice. It is a traditional (i.e., old-school) ice control measure,
- Ice melt is an anti-icer; it prevents new ice from forming. It utilizes cutting-edge technology.
It seems that each year we see increasingly strong and treacherous winter storms. We must be prepared for icy, winter weather in order to keep ourselves and our families safe. Salting products make sidewalks and driveways safer.
According to National Geographic, rock salt has been used on roads since 1895. It was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that ice melt became a popular solution for slick roadways. Out of 500 people I polled, 47% said they prefer ice melt over rock salt.
Over the past decade, ice melt has become a popular product because its chemical composition is thought to be less likely to cause damage to some types of surfaces, like driveways, than traditional rock salt. Ice melt uses ingredients like sodium chloride, calcium chloride and/or potassium chloride. Here is what you need to know about how they differ.
Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt
Let's take a closer look at some of the differences between the two products.
- Not effective on surfaces below 0° Fahrenheit.
- Corrosive to roads, concrete, and metal (your car).
- Made from sodium chloride (the same stuff table salt is made of).
- Table salt is virtually the same material as rock salt but is ground so fine that it is much weaker than oval rock salt crystals.
- Often costs less money than ice melt.
- Works in below-zero temperatures.
- Made from three main types of salt: calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium acetate, and other similar inorganic compounds.
- Differs greatly from table salt.
- An excessive build-up of some types of ice melt may become toxic to the environment (though newer, safer brands are now on the market).
- May be safer for pets.
- Often more expensive than rock salt.
Types of Rock Salt
Rock salt is rock salt. No matter which brand you buy there will be little variation other than the size of the pellets. It is made from sodium chloride and is cheap, easy to apply with or without spreaders, and is more traditional.
Best Rock Salt Brands
- Morton's Safe-T-Salt
- Safe Step 3300
- The Cope Company Salt
- Snow Joe Melt Premium
- Morton Pet Care Ice Melt, Blue
- Scotwood Industries Ice Melt
Types of Ice Melt
Ice melt comparisons are more complex. Ice melt describes a chemical class of salt that prevent ice from forming. Not every ice melt is made from the same ingredients or used in the same application.
Ice melt is less likely to cause cars to rust, damage rebar, pavement or concrete. Rock salt diminishes the lifespan of surfaces. This alone may justify switching to ice melt. There are also brands whose product line contains a pet-safe product.
Best Ice Melt Brands and Applications
- Calcium Chloride products such as Morton Ice Melt Pellets work quickly.
- Calcium Magnesium acetate such as Melt EB Ice Melter is commonly used by contractors and found to be a safer type of melt.
- Magnesium Chloride such as Melt Man Ice Melt is best for pet owners, however, it does not last as long as other ice melts and is more expensive.
- Urea ice melt is considered safer, even though it may still kill grass and plants. However, with the added safety, you lose effectiveness.
- Crystalline amide, used in Safe Paw ice melt, is one of the only ice melts that guarantees its safety around children and pets. It is time-released, effective, and doesn't damage surfaces. However, it is arguably the most expensive ice melting solution.
Characteristics of Rock Salt and Ice Melt
|Characteristics||De-Icing Rock Salt||Anti-Icing Ice Melt|
Sodium Chloride (NaCL), Calcium Magnesium Acetate
Potassium Chloride, Urea, Magnesium Chloride
Endothermic (absorbs heat)
Exothermic (Releases Heat) Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Endothermic: Urea
Kills plants when the salt to water ratio is 1:2
May also kill plants, but can be avoided by moderation and removing excess material.
Melts ice until 0°F.
Prevents ice from forming until -7 to -25°F
Not safe for pets
Some brands are safe for pets. Check label.
Metal and Sidewalk Damage?
Corrosive to concrete
Safe for concrete
Corrosive to pavement and rebar
Not harmful to pavement or rebar
How to Prepare for Winter Ice Removal
Property owners who live in cold climates prepare for winter by stocking up on supplies. It is best to do this ahead of time. Ice melt needs to be applied before the precipitation, whether that be rain, ice or snow. Rock salt should also be on hand before the bad weather comes in.
After a long warm summer and a cool relaxing fall, the last thing we want to think about is snow and ice storms. Anyone who lives in areas with cold, harsh winters knows that forgetting to buy road ice removal products can be a dangerous mistake.
What to Buy Before the First Snow
- Snow shovel or snowblower
- Rock salt or ice melt
- Ice scraper with snow brush
- Thick gloves
- Snow roof rake
In many areas, it is not uncommon for stores to run out of road salt and ice melt when a storm is coming. This drives prices up and can cause unneeded stress. The best time to prepare for snow and ice is to plan ahead.
Questions & Answers
Question: What's the best way to store rock salt or ice melt if you buy it offseason? Does it go bad?
Answer: Ice melt and rock salt are mineral and do not go bad or expire. They are hygroscopic. This means that all moisture, even from the air, might melt, dilute or contaminate both ice melt and rock salt. Some products can be stored in the air-tight, resealable package they were sold in. If you buy a product offseason, don't open it until you need it. If you have product left over from last year, then you might want to invest in a salt storage box.
© 2017 Melody Collins
Melody Collins (author) from United States on November 16, 2019:
We should certainly motivate our cities to be willing to compare new methods to old methods. There should at least be an in-depth cost analysis to find out if the old ways are still the best way. Change has snowballed, it's moving so fast. As promised, tech can solve problems, if we are willing to keep up with it. It's to the point where cities and industry must do a checking to make sure they aren't missing anything.
J on November 16, 2019:
Sounds like out State and City Highway Departments would save us all money if they stopped using the cheap Rock Salt. Our Bridges are falling apart fast as well as the cars we drive.