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De-icers: Choosing the Right Weapon Against Winter

salt-vs-snow

Whether we like it or not, colder weather is heading our way again, and it’s time to start preparing for another harsh New England winter.  It is always better to go into winter with everything you need beforehand, rather than trying to find it when it’s too late.  De-icers are no exception to that.  A de-icer can be a great ally when it comes to pedestrian safety and limiting your potential liability.  There is much debate about what’s best to use for ice removal, and honestly there are a lot of things that factor into that.  What might work for one situation, may not be the best choice for another.  So today we’re going to go over the more popular types of de-icers being used, why they work, as well as their limitations.

Rock Salt

Sodium Chloride (NaCl), or rock salt as it is more commonly known, is a widely used de-icer.  It’s very popular due to its accessibility and affordability.  Rock salt is an endothermic de-icer, which means that it draws heat from its surroundings to dissolve ice and snow.  Rock salt is sometimes preferred due to the fact that it actually keeps an area dry, rather than just melt ice, making for safer and more ideal walking/driving conditions.  However, rock salt’s endothermy causes it to have a poor effective temperature of 20° Fahrenheit (-7°C), rock salt is a very slow and ineffective de-icer.  This means that in temperatures lower than 20°F, the rock salt will not work.  Rock salt’s composition and shape also makes it very corrosive and dangerous around plants and animals, as well as concrete.  So sodium chloride is best used in slightly milder winter environments, and should not be used around vegetation or animals.

Calcium Chloride

Calcium Chloride is probably the most popular of de-icers (especially in Northern states), due to its strength and ability to work in colder temperatures.  It’s lowest effective temperature is -20°F, and is able to melt snow and ice at a much faster rate than rock salt, which is due to its exothermy and hygroscopic properties.  These mean that calcium chloride has the ability to exert its own heat to melt the ice and snow, while strongly attracting any available moisture from the surface and/or air in which it is place into or onto.  Calcium chloride also has the ability to make abrasives that it is coated onto, freeze-proof, which ends up allowing the de-icer to embed itself into the ice or snow, unlike rock salt that tends to bounce and scatter.  In contrast to rock salt, calcium chloride is non-corrosive making it safer on concrete and vegetation, when used properly.  However, it is still harmful to animals because of its chemical makeup.  A well known disadvantage of using calcium chloride is it’s much higher cost in comparison to the cost of using rock salt.  But something to keep in mind when thinking about the cost of calcium chloride, is that its effectiveness is so much higher than rock salt, that you ultimately reduce labor, equipment, and material cost of reapplication.

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) is often used when de-icing in lower temperatures, on roads, sidewalks, and other similar environments.  It is also used a pre-treatment for incoming winter storms, because it helps to prevent ice bonds from occurring on pavement.  Magnesium chloride is an exothermic and hygroscopic material, like calcium chloride, which again means that it is able to exert heat and attract moisture from its environment.  It’s best feature is that it has one of the lowest effective temperatures of 0°F (-18°C).  Magnesium chloride also differs from other de-icers because it is a hexahydrate salt, so when it is in its solid form, it is 53% water by weight.  This means that more must be used when de-icing, so it can melt ice and snow at the same rate of calcium chloride and rock salt.  Some tests have shown that this water by weight ratio can, at times, make magnesium chloride slightly less effective than rock salt, at certain temperatures.  Although chloride-based de-icers will corrode concrete and pavements, it has been shown that magnesium chloride corrodes at a much slower rate than its calcium chloride counterpart.  Due to its chloride-base, magnesium-chloride can still be considered harmful to plants and animals, if not used properly.  


Urea

Urea is a less toxic alternative to other chloride-based de-icers, so it is much safer to use around plants and animals, but it does not always achieve the same result at the rate or effectiveness as its counterparts.  Urea is an endothermic de-icer, so it is pulling in heat from its environment to melt snow and ice, which causes it to have a pretty high, lowest effective temperature of 25°F (-4°C).  This high, lowest effective temperature can definitely be a major limitation when being used in colder climates, as well as in higher altitudes.  Because of these characteristics, it is best to use urea as a pretreatment method for driveways or sidewalks, in milder winter environments.  Even though urea is much less toxic than other de-icers, its high organic content can sometimes be harmful to the environment.  High organic content can often elevate biological oxygen demand in aquatic environments, which could harm aquatic life.  In addition to that, regardless of debate, urea deicer is not a suitable fertilizer because of its high nitrogen levels.  If a properly fertilized plant is exposed to too much nitrogen, it becomes at risk of overdosing on Nitrogen, which will ultimately kill the plant.  So suffice to say, if you are using urea in areas near rivers or lakes, or near a garden you want to take the organic content and nitrogen levels into consideration.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is a blended deicer, that is often used for road and/or pavement de-icing, because of its non-corrosive, non-toxic composition, making it safe to use on concrete and near plants and animals.  CMA is most often used in its solid form, much like rock salt, calcium chloride, etc, and has very similar effective temperatures as rock salt of about 20°F (-7°C).  Like urea, CMA is has very low toxicity levels and is not a chloride-based de-icer, making it safer to use around plants and animals.  But again, like urea, the composition of CMA has a high organic organic content, which can create high levels of biological oxygen demand, making it unsafe around water (in terms of runoff).  CMA does have a lot of characteristics that do set it apart from the rest, that makes it so sought after by professional and non-professional end users alike.  In comparison to rock salt, CMA doesn’t have a “saltier” taste, so animals are not compelled to lick where it has been placed, creating less of a risk for road hazards and/or animals ingesting dangerous chemicals.  On top of that, CMA also exhibits a vinegar smell, which also deters animals from wherever it has been spread.  CMA is a unique de-icer when it is used with snow, because it prevents snow from packing and sticking together, making it easier to melt and remove with a shovel, and safer to walk on.  When used before snowfall, CMA will inhibit snowpack and ice bonding onto pavement, again, making ice and snow removal much easier for the end user.  Even though CMA is commonly used for road de-icing, it does have a much higher cost than other de-icing alternatives.  Much like the argument for calcium chloride, the long term cost benefits of CMA tend to outweigh its initial cost.  CMA is low-corrosion, making it safe on concrete (which is tough to find), it reduces chloride corrosion, it’s low-toxic and biodegradable (making it safer around plants and animals), and like CaCl2, CMA requires fewer applications, ultimately saving time and money.

Firestorm

On top of these common de-icers, there are some blended de-icers as well.  At KL Jack we provide HLF’s Firestorm™ which is the only magnesium/sodium/urea blend.  Firestorm™ also contains HLF’s own FS2000™, which is a liquid that is designed to enhance the lowest effective temperature of magnesium chloride, all while being 70% less corrosive than salt.  The lowest effective temperature for Firestorm™ is as low as -25°F (-32°C), making it the lowest possible melt temperature on the market, and starts melting ice and snow on contact.  As soon as it hits the ice, you can hear the ice cracking!  The FS2000™ blend helps to prevent refreezing under extreme winter conditions, making it perfect for areas with colder temperatures and icy conditions.  Firestorm™ uses CMA as well, so it is free of chloride, and therefore safe to use around pets, children, and animals, and when used properly, safe around concrete.  Firestorm contains a rust inhibitor, protecting nearby metals from corrosion.  It’s bright orange color provides a visual marker to ensure the effective and efficient distribution of Firestorm™.  The combination of Firestorm™, urea, CMA, and FS2000™ makes this particular de-icer a leader in its class for effectiveness as well as safety.
Again, KL Jack is a proud supplier of HLF’s Firestorm™, and we’re currently running a full pallet sale through the months of October and November.  So if you want a head start on your battle with the winter elements, check out our flyer here, to learn more about Firestorm™, and the great offers we have here, at KL Jack!

So Where Does that Leave You?

Needless to say, there are a lot of options to choose from, when trying to decide which de-icer to use this winter.  From rock salt, to calcium chloride, to blended items like Firestorm™, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck, and something that will work for whatever environment you are in.  There are a couple things to keep in mind when trying to find the best deicer: how well does the lowest effective temperature of a de-icer match the coldest temperature that you are likely to face during winter months?  And how quickly will material melt ice to minimize traffic, pedestrian, or other dangerous conditions? Finally, you should consider cost, both short term and long term.  If cost is a major concern for you, and you find yourself in milder winter conditions, rock salt would be a fine choice, but you want to keep in mind animal and plant hazards.  If you are faced with extreme cold, you should consider items like calcium chloride or Firestorm™, because it is fast acting.  Even though the initial cost may be slightly higher, you will ultimately save money and time due to not needed to re-apply either de-icer as often.  Often times, damage to pavement is caused by frequent freeze/thaw cycles. De-icers that have low freeze points, or low lowest effective temperatures, greatly reduce the normal rates and frequency of freeze/thaw cycles.  So if you are hoping to maintain pavement conditions, it’s recommended to use de-icers that have low freeze points, like Firestorm™ and calcium chloride.  If you are concerned with potential harm to children, plants, or animals, it would be recommended that you used items like urea, Firestorm™, CMA, or magnesium chloride, because of their low chloride levels.  A standard rule to ensure the best de-icing results, for any of these products is the manual removal of snow/ice before applying your de-icer of choice, then using only as much de-icer as needed to get the job done.  It is not recommended to dump a de-icer on top of large amounts of ice or snow in hopes that it will melt faster, you will end up running a higher risk of harming the area in which the de-icer was placed, depending on what kind of de-icer you are using.  Again, these are suggested items, and they work best when used properly, so be sure to read user manuals as well as their chemical/elemental charts.  To learn more about the various de-icers discussed in this article, please see the resources listed below.  Be sure to visit www.kljack.com to learn more about Firestorm™ and the various fall and winter items we have available both online and in store.

de-icer safety rating (1)


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Resources:
hlficemelter.com
braensupply.com
grassodevelopmentcorp.com
peterschemical.com
oxycalciumchloride.com