Winter in Boulder County is a beauty to behold: Piles of pristine powder, sunny days, and the slopes just a short drive away. 

But one thing that isn’t fun about winter here is the ice. Ice makes for a slippery villain every winter, threatening to send our cars skidding across the road on our way home from a holiday party, and our feet falling out from underneath us as we bring in the Christmas tree.

You can’t stop winter, but you can stop ice, especially on your sidewalks and driveway. There are some interesting ideas out about how to combat ice (pickle juice, anyone?), but we usually recommend a two-step strategy:

  1. Always clear snow the day it falls. If that snow melts in the daytime sunshine, the water run-off is liable to freeze overnight, making for a dangerous walk to the car when you’re headed to work the next morning.
  2. Attack ice with ice melt! There are different kinds of ice melt out there, but the most common you’ll find is a chemical ice melt.

What is Chemical Ice Melt?

Chemical ice melt comes in the form of little crystals that you spread over icy surfaces. These products are typically made with chemical combinations including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium acetate, calcium magnesium acetate, calcium chloride, or magnesium chloride.

The main difference between these different chemicals is that they are effective at different temperatures. Some work better at extremely cold temperatures, and are thus more expensive.

But regardless of which chemical ice melt you use, they share many of the same pros and cons.

Pros of Chemical Ice Melts

There’s a reason that cities, professional snow removers, businesses, and homeowners almost all use chemical ice melt to keep roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways safe all winter long. The pros of chemical ice melts include:

Effective

  • Chemical ice melt is the most effective tool on the market for clearing surfaces of ice.

Melts ice quickly

  • In most conditions, chemical ice melts start showing results within just 15 to 20 minutes.

Easy to apply

  • Most chemical ice melts are available in solid crystal form, which makes distribution easy.

Affordable

  • Considering the effectiveness of chemical ice melts, the product is quite affordable for how much surface area it can treat.

Cons of Chemical Ice Melts

Chemical ice melts do have some drawbacks, but they’re relatively negligible as long as you use the product as intended. Nonetheless, let’s consider the cons of chemical ice melts before looking at tips for proper use.

Hurts vegetation

  • If your chemical ice melt gets into your lawn or landscaping, either as run-off into the soil or tracked by peoples’ feet, the salinity in these products can damage and possibly kill plant life.

Gets tracked inside

  • People walking across ice melt can track it into your home or business.
  • The chemicals can then leave a white residue on your floors and permanently damage them.

Damages driveway and sidewalks

Harmful to pets and small children

Corrodes metal

  • Ice melts containing magnesium chloride and calcium chloride can corrode metal, which means some cars are susceptible to damage if the chemicals are kicked up by tires.

How to Prevent Problems Caused by Chemical Ice Melts

Generally, the best way to prevent all of the above cons of chemical ice melts is to not use too much!

Remember, you don’t need to melt every bit of ice, you just need to make your pathways and driveway less slippery. 1/4 to 1/2 cup at most is needed for a 3’x3’ area.
Beyond avoiding overuse, follow these tips to prevent damage from ice melt:

  • Sweep up any remaining deicer after ice has been effectively melted
  • Keep bags of ice melt secured and away from pets and children
  • Don’t let your pets walk on ice melt
  • Don’t shovel snow or ice that’s been treated with ice melt onto lawn
  • Use floor mats inside your entrances for people to wipe their shoes off, and if at home, ask guests to remove their shoes
  • Rinse off your car after icy periods where it is likely to have come into contact with ice melt
  • Use a salt-free ice melt such as Safe Paw, which is guaranteed to be safe for pets and children
  • Try natural de-icing alternatives — read our guide on how to make alternatives to chemical ice melt here »

A Plan of Attack for Fighting Ice this Winter

As we head into winter, you need to get prepped with a plan to prevent the worst of snow and ice.

Battling the elements takes more than just a little ice melt. Snow and ice settles in on your roof, in your gutters, and on your lawn — places where ice melt won’t help.

You could make the winter easy on yourself by hiring the snow removal experts at GSC, but we understand if you want to tough it alone.

At the very least, take a bit of advice from our team: Read our guide on how to attack ice buildup this winter »