When freezing weather hits, sidewalks and driveways can become dangerously slick with ice. Shoveling or walking on untreated ice often leads to slips and falls that cause serious injuries, so it’s important to treat your walkways with deicers or anti-icers before the snow falls to make them easier to clear when the weather clears up.
Deicers and anti-icers are chemical products that break the bond between ice and concrete, making ice easier to remove.
There are numerous options for deicers and anti-icers to thaw your driveway and sidewalks, although most deicing agents only help melt ice, not heavy snowfall. In some cases, you will still have to remove ice and snow manually.
Types of Products
There are two primary categories of ice-melting products for home use: deicers and anti-icers. Both serve important purposes, but they have key differences.
Deicers contain salts and other minerals that lower the freezing point of water. As they dissolve, they form a liquid brine layer underneath the ice that makes it easier to remove.
Common deicing agents include:
- Calcium chloride: This solution works at temperatures as low as -20°F. It attracts moisture and generates heat to actively melt ice, making it less damaging than sodium chloride.
- CMA: Calcium magnesium acetate is an eco-friendly deicer made from limestone and acetic acid. It’s less harmful to plants and concrete than salt options.
- Magnesium chloride: This solution is similar to calcium chloride, but it works at temperatures as low as 5°F. It also sticks to surfaces better than salt deicers.
- Potassium chloride: This chemical works like rock salt, but it’s less toxic. It’s good for warmer areas and is less damaging than sodium chloride. However, it may not work well under colder temperatures.
- Sand and cat litter: These substances help provide traction but won’t melt ice. However, they may help break the ice bond. These aren’t ideal to use for extreme storms, but they can help if you’re in a pinch.
- Sodium chloride: This solution is the least expensive, but it can damage concrete and plants if overused. It works at temperatures as low as 15°F.
Anti-icers are liquid products that you apply before any ice forms. They create a barrier preventing ice from bonding. When using anti-icers, you must reapply after they lose their effectiveness.
Common anti-icing agents are the following:
- Brines: These include water with magnesium or calcium chloride salts. They can freeze at very cold temperatures, so they’re best for warmer winters.
- Agricultural products: These can include corn and beet liquids, which are biodegradable and less toxic. They work at temperatures as low as 20°F.
Proper technique maximizes deicer and anti-icer effectiveness while minimizing harm. Be sure to apply using the following tips:
- Rinse concrete to remove salt residue and prevent deterioration over time.
- Reseal concrete to protect surfaces from salt penetration.
- Spread a thin layer of deicer or anti-icer evenly. The product should start working in 15 to 30 minutes. If not, reapply, or the temperature may be too cold for the product to work.
Deicers and anti-icers contain salts and chemicals that can harm plants, waterways, and concrete when overused. When used improperly or excessively, driveway salt harms the environment, so follow package directions and use it sparingly.
Deicer runoff pollutes lakes, streams, wetlands, and coastal areas. You can reduce your impact by only using minimal amounts on stairs, ramps, and high-traffic zones. Also, sweeping up the product instead of hosing residue into storm drains can be a big help to the environment.
Pay attention to the temperature rating and only apply what’s needed to break the ice bond, not melt all the ice and snow. In our experience, when combined with manual shoveling, these products offer an effective solution for snow and ice management at home.
So, Are Deicers and Anti-Icers Right for Your Home?
When you use the products properly, deicers and anti-icers can effectively clear ice on walkways and driveways during winter. It’s important to protect your home in winter, so we recommend you use ice melts sparingly, follow directions, and minimize runoff. Combined with shoveling, responsible deicer use helps manage snow and ice at home. Salt-free options are safest for plants, waterways, and concrete.
For more salt-free options, check out our guide on how to melt ice without salt.
FAQs About Deicers and Anti-Icers
How long do deicers and anti-icers take to work?
The melt times for deicers and anti-icers vary depending on the specific product and weather conditions. However, most begin working within 15 to 30 minutes after application. Check labels for guidance on expected melt times.
What is the best deicer for concrete?
The best deicers for concrete are non-salt, CMA products containing calcium magnesium acetate, which won’t corrode surfaces. Calcium chloride and potassium chloride are also concrete-safe.
Are deicers bad for the environment?
Excess salt deicer use can harm plants, pollute waterways, and damage concrete. Limit your use to high-traffic areas and use eco-friendly CMA or biodegradable products instead. When used properly, deicers can provide important safety benefits.
Can deicers hurt pets?
Ingesting ice melts, particularly those with salt, can irritate paws and cause stomach issues if your pets consume it. If you want what’s best for your pet, choose pet-safe CMA or potassium chloride deicers. Still, be sure to rinse paws after walks and use booties for protection. Call your veterinarian if your pets ingest any ice melt.
Should I pretreat walkways with an anti-icer before a storm?
Yes, applying anti-icers before snow or freezing rain helps prevent ice bonding on walkways, stairs, and high-traffic areas, eliminating labor-intensive removal.