VIEWS: Eco-friendly De-icing Alternatives to Salt

Dispatch from SSC Consultant, Lorre Walker

Having moved to DC from Texas last year, this was my first “real” winter…and boy was it a doozy!! As such, I had never really given any thought to de-icers until I saw the use and extreme overuse of rock salt. I know it’s cheap, but salt can leach into the soil, changing its chemical composition and eventually flows into local waterways where it can poison fish and aquatic organisms and kill sensitive vegetation. Salt is also highly corrosive to paved surfaces, buildings, and metal (really bad for your cars). And most importantly, salt hurts my dog’s paws!!

My baby, Alison, experiencing her first real winter.

Here is a great article about the bad stuff associated with using salt,

You may think sand is also a good option, but it’s not. First of all, sand does not melt the ice, it only provides traction. Second, if not cleaned up promptly in the spring, sand can clog storm drains and transport absorbed contaminants into local waterways.

So, I thought I would suggest some alternatives for next winter’s icy blast. Here are some more eco- (and dog) friendly options:

  • Elbow Grease – Physically removing as much snow as possible is the best, most effective way to keep your sidewalks and walkways safe. Deicers are not formulated to melt through thick layers of compacted snow, so remove as much of the snow as you can by shoveling before you apply a deicing product.
  • Alfalfa Meal – It works effectively by not only providing better traction to walk on, but it also melts the ice since it contains nitrogen. What’s even better is that alfalfa meal is safe for the environment and can be found at most local nurseries.

  • Beet Juice – This winter, Chicago has been experimenting with a cocktail of salt and sugar beet extract, which is less harmful to surrounding land and water. As an added benefit, the mixture works better than pure salt at cold temperatures. The difference is dramatic: while regular salt works best above 25 degrees, adding beet juice extends the effective range down to minus 25 degrees. Known commercially as GEOMELT, the beet juice is made from the carbohydrate extract of sugar beets, and when mixed for use on roads can reduce the amount of salt needed by 30 percent.

  • Bare Ground – An all natural environmentally safe co-product of corn, grain, or agricultural processing sometimes containing distillers condensed solubles that is added to a base of Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2). Bare Ground is non toxic, water soluble, non flammable, biodegradable and less corrosive than water. 
  • CMA – Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is the most widely tested and used deicer in the acetates category. It is a natural acid that is soluble in water and it has chemical properties similar to vinegar. CMA products are used in both large scale deicing projects such as airport runways and environmentally sensitive roads, and small scale projects such as a front porch or sidewalk. sells eight different environmentally-friendly de-icer products including CMA options.

There are a lot of products on the market claiming to be eco-friendly, do your homework, read the labels, research the chemicals used.

Have you used any other de-icers at home or the office? Let us know by joining the discussion here. To investigate the environmental impacts of decisions you make at the office, including de-icing/landscaping products, consider an SSC Green Audit