Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Use Deicers and Anti-Icers on Sidewalks and Driveways

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Steps with snow and ice on them

Using deicers or anti-icers on steps can help prevent injury from slipping

When freezing weather hits, sidewalks and driveways can become dangerously slick. And if you’ve ever gotten out there with a shovel, you know how tenaciously that ice can cling to your driveway! Deicers and anti-icers are chemicals that help to break or prevent a bond between the ice and concrete, making it easier to shovel.

It’s important to remember that these products are not intended to melt large quantities of snow or ice. For thick layers, you’ll still need that snow shovel! Deicers and anti-icers contain chemicals that can be toxic to the environment and corrosive to your driveway concrete, so it’s important to apply them sparingly and according to package instructions.

Bag of Ice Melt brand deicer and traction aid

Many deicers, like this one, contain several different salts along with other ingredients

About Deicers

The most common products available to homeowners fall into the category of deicers. Deicers are made of mineral salts and work on the chemistry principle that salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water. As the salts dissolve, they seep down to form a liquid layer underneath the ice that allows the ice to be easily removed.

Bag of rock salt deicer

Rock salt is the least expensive deicer

While many products contain a mixture of ingredients, the most common deicing chemicals are:

  • Sodium Chloride (Rock Salt): This is the cheapest deicing material, but it has a couple of disadvantages, since it only works down to 15° F, is damaging to concrete and plants, and unhealthy for pets.
  • Potassium Chloride: Works similar to rock salt, is better for areas with warmer winters, and is one of the less toxic options.
  • Street covered in snow

  • Calcium Chloride: Works at much lower temperatures (down to -20° F) and is less toxic. One advantage of calcium chloride is that it attracts water and creates heat, which means it will actively dissolve ice rather than sitting on top of the ice.
  • Magnesium Chloride: Has similar qualities as calcium chloride, but works down to about 5° F.
  • Urea: Deicers containing urea or chemical fertilizers may seem good for your lawn, but they’re the most corrosive to concrete and the least recommended of all the deicers.
  • Other Options: There are also a few options for non-chloride based deicers. Safe Paw is an amide-glycol blend that is marketed as salt-free and safe for pets. Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), is a more environmentally-friendly deicer made from limestone and acetic acid.
  • Sand and Kitty Litter: Both provide better traction on ice, but won’t actually melt ice.
Container of Driveway Heat deicer

Calcium chloride generates heat when it dissolves

About Anti-Icers

Anti-icers are applied before snow and ice fall to prevent ice from building on pavement. For homeowners, the most common anti-icers are simply liquid salt solutions (the same as deicers, only in liquid form) that are sprayed onto driveways and sidewalks before a snowfall.

Other types of anti-icing chemicals are used by maintenance crews to prevent ice on parking lots and roads. These viscous, sticky sprays aren’t widely available for home use.

Ice Removal Tips

  • Go Easy: Use the minimum amount of deicer or anti-icer needed. Remember that it’s only supposed to break the bond to make shoveling easier; it’s not supposed to melt it all.
  • Sprinkle Early: The sooner you can apply an ice removal product, the better. Head out right as the snow or ice starts, and sprinkle a thin layer on sidewalks and steps to prevent a sticky buildup.
  • Crystal deicer

    Crystal deicers work the fastest

  • Check Effectiveness: You should see the ice begin to melt within 15-30 minutes. If it isn’t melting, the temperature may be too low for your product.
  • Pellets vs. liquid: Pellets or crystals are best for applying on top of ice, so they can melt their way straight down. Liquids are best applied as preventative measures. Deicing flakes are less effective.
  • Be Aware of Risks: Deicers and anti-icers can be harmful to humans, pets, and your lawn, particularly if over applied. They can also interfere with the freeze-thaw cycles in concrete and damage your driveway, and the liquid layer can increase rusting of iron and steel. To protect your home and loved ones, use these products very sparingly. If deicers and anti-icers are applied properly, it doesn’t take much to get great results.

Further Information



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2 Comments on “How to Use Deicers and Anti-Icers on Sidewalks and Driveways”

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  1. Henry W. Kirchner Says:
    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Just a short note to thank you for referencing my articles concerning deicing within your publication “How to Use Deicers and Anti-Icers on Sidewalks and Driveways.”

  2. Leilani Lewis Says:
    February 9th, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Are there any de-icers that are safe for animals?

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