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De-Icing with Salt, Sand, and Other Alternatives

The most common injuries in Canada during the winter are due to “slip and falls” on ice and snow. When the winter weather strikes, it’s important to take precautions in keeping driveways, walkways, and steps clear of ice and snow.

So the question is; when battling ice and snow, is it better to have salt or sand in your arsenal? We’ll break it down for you.

De-Icing with Salt

Sodium chloridecommonly known as rock salt – is the most common de-icing agent used in Canada. Salt lowers the freezing point of water, helping it melt and preventing it from freezing again at similar temperatures. It’s important to note, sodium chloride is only effective to about -9oC.

Salt is effective in high-traffic areas and on smooth, hard surfaces like asphalt and pavement. However; using salt does have its downfalls.

Some of the cons associated with sodium chloride include:

  • Negative Ecological Impact: Salt runoff can contaminate vegetation and ground water, so it’s important to be conscious where drainage will be directed in the spring so your lawn and gardens are not affected. Early signs of problems include stunted and discoloured plants.
  • Corrosive Properties: Sodium chloride is corrosive and can harm buildings and walkways if used excessively or improperly. Porous materials like concrete can absorb acidic brine, causing damage to masonry and leaving holes in mortar. Metal that comes into contact with salt can rust and corrode, potentially impacting a building’s structural integrity.
  • Harmful for Pets: Sodium chloride can hurt pets’ sensitive paws. Consider instead a pet-safe de-icer like calcium chloride, which is more expensive but popular among homeowners for use on private property.

When used properly, salt is an excellent material to keep on hand for when you need to tackle ice in high-traffic areas.

De-Icing with Sand

Sand is an abrasive material used to provide traction in slippery conditions. Unlike salt, sand does not melt, which means its effectiveness is not limited by temperature. It performs best when used in low-traffic areas (including gravel roads) and more potentially hazardous locations such as hills.

Sand will work in any temperature, but only when it’s covering a surface. If it becomes buried under snow, it will cease to be effective and more sand will need to be applied.

For the best results, look for a product with:

  • Angular or crushed particles. The pieces should be larger than a #50 sieve, but smaller than 3/8 inch.
  • A blend of sand and naturally occurring volcanic minerals – including zeolites –deliver superior results using less product.

Potential problems with using sand include:

  • Clumping in the Cold: Although it’s more effective than salt at low temperatures, sand can be prone to clumping in the cold, reducing its overall effectiveness.
  • Impact on the Environment: Although better than salt, sand that accumulates in drainage ditches and other reservoirs can wash into streams and lakes.
  • Messy Cleanup: Salt melts with the snow, but the sand will remain on the surface once the snow has melted. This means a thorough spring cleanup will be important.

Sand is good to keep on hand for when the temperature really dips or to safeguard low-volume or hazardous spots (like hills, railroad crossings, intersections, and severe turns).

De-Icing Alternatives to Salt and Sand

Other de-icing options offered include:

  • Calcium Chloride
  • Magnesium Chloride
  • Sodium Acetate
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Potassium Acetate
  • Urea

Some of these are designed to be less harmful to pets, plants, and property, including calcium magnesium acetate, which has a neutral pH. Some (especially calcium chloride and magnesium chloride) perform especially well at low temperatures.

Check out this handy table from About.com featuring lowest melting temperatures, and the pros and cons of common de-icing alternatives.



Lowest Practical Temp



Ammonium sulfate




Damages concrete

Calcium chloride



Melts ice faster than sodium chloride

Attracts moisture, surfaces slippery below -18°C (0°F)

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)

Calcium carbonate CaCO3, magnesium carbonate MgCO3, and acetic acid CH3COOH


Safest for concrete & vegetation

Works better to prevent re-icing than as ice remover

Magnesium chloride



Melts ice faster than sodium chloride

Attracts moisture

Potassium acetate





Potassium chloride




Damages concrete

Sodium chloride (rock salt, halite)



Keeps sidewalks dry

Corrosive, damages concrete & vegetation





Agricultural grade is corrosive

Clear Snow and Ice Often for Best Results

To prevent ice from building up – and make de-icers more effective when it’s time to use them – it’s best to remove snow and sleet as often as possible. Whether you’re using a snowblower or a shovel, make sure you have the right equipment to get the job done effectively and efficiently.

Visit us at Kooy Brothers for all of your de-icing needs!

Whether you’re looking for a walk-behind, tow-behind, hitch-mounted, or commercial spreader, let the experts at Kooy Brothers help you find the sand or salt spreader that will meet your needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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