I live in Minnesota: A beautiful state, but prone to some harsh months in the winter time. One of the main irritants tends to be ice.
The truth is, I love my state and the challenges it presents. Ice is not only an annoyance, but it can be a real safety issue. Falls on ice and snow account for more than 40,000 work injuries per year, and that doesn’t even count the falls that are off-the-clock. It’s especially bad during late winter when everything is melting, dripping, running, and refreezing. That’s when things start to get damaged, too. The constant thaw/freeze cycles cause undue hydrostatic pressure that can crack and flake concrete and asphalt, ice dams on houses, and in general do a number of man-made structures.
There is also the strong potential (and potential hilarity) of slipping and falling on the ice. If these worries plague you as well, read on to get rid of icy sidewalks.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Ice on Sidewalks and Driveways
It might sound dumb, but before you start clearing ice, you need to stretch. It’s extremely common for people to throw out their backs, lay themselves up, or end up in the E.R. because they thought they could Superman their way through the ice. I’ve been guilty of it, myself. Turns out, I’m old, and 10 minutes of stretching is way better than three days immobilized on the couch.
A recent visit to my chiropractor confirmed that the number of cases of people coming in with injuries — ranging from Tennis Elbow (too much shoveling or chipping) to back issues (falls on ice) — spikes up when the first few cold weeks occur.
This isn’t an all or nothing chore. You’re gonna be cold to start, but you’re gonna warm up quickly. Wear a few layers and remove them one at a time as you need to. Chances are, you’re gonna need less than a winter jacket but more than a t-shirt. Hoodies are a lot of fun.
Spread your ice melt.
There are numerous types of ice melt. There are so many, in fact, that choosing one can be downright overwhelming. For this reason, I’ve gone over some of the best, most effective kinds of ice melt available (see below). Whichever one you choose, follow the instructions on how much to use. I promise, it’ll be way less than you expect. “More” does not mean better. It just means “more expensive”.
If you just want to get a good ice melt, buy something basic like the Green Gobbler, here on Amazon.
Get rid of thicker ice and compacted snow.
For a thin layer of ice, throwing some ice melt down is often all you need to do. For thick ice or compacted snow, you may need some brute force. I’ve heard people say they’ve used hammers, sledge hammers,ice picks, shovels, etc., but the best thing, by far, is an ice chisel. Go to the hardware store and ask someone, they’ll have them. Use ice chisels in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer out and the ice and snow pack has had a chance to soften a bit. You can use them both for chopping straight down to break chunks off and, if it’s warm enough and things are soft enough, you can use them to slide between the ice and the concrete to plow big ol’ chunks loose. Best… tool… ever.
How the snow falls is also a major driver of what the ice situation will be like. A puffy, flaky snow that falls in cold weather will be easy to brush or shovel away, and won’t leave much ice. Snow that falls at or near the freezing point — the kind that resembles mashed potatoes once on the ground — will likely form ice and bind to the surface. You will need to be more careful with the second kind.
Finish with some ice melt.
After you’ve chipped all the ice up and cleared the chunks away with a shovel, throw a bit of your favorite salt or ice melt down. It’s a nice way to take care of any little bits you may have missed, any slippery patches that may have formed, and it helps to help keep new ice from forming.
Ice Melt Tips 'n Tricks
- As a good rule of thumb, use roughly 4lbs/1000sq ft.
- A coffee cup holds about 1lb of ice melt.
- A car takes up about 150sq ft. That area will require about half a pound of ice melt.
- How many cars fit in your driveway? Figuring that out will give you a good estimate of how much ice melt to use.
- You don’t want the crystals to overlap. A handheld seed spreader makes a good ice melt spreader and is a good way to spread the crystals evenly.
- You can make your ice melt go further by mixing it 50/50 with sand.
Best Ice Melts and Salts
I’m gonna keep this short and sweet: there are a million different ice melt products with a million different chemical compositions. The following is just a few of the more common ones and a bit about them. Remember, all ice melts are corrosive to some degree, especially to metal, and all ice melts can be tough on vegetation, so follow the directions and ONLY USE AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE TO (which is usually less than you think when sprinkling it).
Sodium chloride (rock salt)
Most people think that ice melt is usually made of salt, because we tend to broadly call it all “salt”. The fact is that most ice melt on the market is not salt, but if you get a sodium chloride-based product, it is real salt.
- Effective in temps above +15℉
- Least expensive
- Tough on paved surfaces
- Changes chemical composition of soil
- Can kill grass and plants
Calcium-based ice melts might be your best bet in cases where the outside temp is going to get quite cold. We also like calcium on wood (steps, porches) as it tends to be easier on those surfaces. This is a common ice melt.
- Effective in temps above -25℉ — probably the best product for ultra-cold days
- Quite expensive (can be mixed with rock salt)
- Works really well in all conditions
- Tends to be easier on wood (steps) and concrete and sodium-based products
- Can leave behind a slippery residue, but still much better than having ice
- Even so, we’d recommend a big bucket of Calcium Chloride Snow & Ice melt pellets, which you can get from Amazon.
If you are extremely concerned about plants and grass being affected by ice melt, a potassium-based product might be a good fit.
- Effective in temps above +12℉
- Better for plants than most
- Not as common; harder to find
Magnesium-based ice melts are perhaps the most common on the market today. Considered relatively safe for pets and grass, it is also usually pretty affordable.
- Effective in temps above -13℉
- Not as corrosive to metal as most
- Generally easy on lawns and plants, unless used in excess.
- Quite common and economical.
- Find here on Amazon.
Calcium magnesium acetate
If being eco-friendly is your thing, this is probably the one to go with. Still, you want to use any ice melt as sparingly as possible.
- Effective in temps above +20℉, and probably colder
- Made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (vinegar)
- Among the least corrosive and least damaging to vegetation
- Find it here on Amazon.
- Effective in temps above +15℉
- Less corrosive than most
- Safer for plants than most
- Not as dangerous to pets than most
- Effective in temps above -2℉
- Non corrosive
- Active ingredient found in many pet safe ice melters like Safepaws at Amazon
Natural Ice Melters
Heated sidewalks and driveways.
If you’re putting new sidewalks and driveways in, you can have heating systems installed below them to melt snow and ice. For old sidewalks, electric heat mats, like HeatTrak Mats, can be put down, plugged in, and will keep your walks clear of ice and snow all winter.
Be wary of these solutions, though. If it is cold outside, the melted snow and ice will simply turn in to ice at soon as it hits a colder surface. You might simply be trading ice in one spot for ice in another spot.
That’s right… water. Pour warm water on small icy patches or blast water through a hose connected to an indoor faucet at big thick patches of ice. For minimal refreeze, do this on warmer days when the sun is out and push any excess water off with a squeegee.
Vinegar and water
Don’t wanna hook up the hose? In a watering can, mix plain white vinegar at a ratio of 1:1 with warm tap water and spread it over compacted snow and ice. After it sits for a few minutes and starts getting slushy, grab an ice chisel, start chipping and scraping, and repeat if necessary.
Homemade ice melter.
Combine 1qt of lukewarm water with three drops of dish detergent and 1-3 oz of rubbing alcohol in a gallon jug, mix gently, pour on ice.
Combat Ice with Traction
Sometimes you don’t need or want to salt sidewalks and driveways. However, you don’t want to slip on the ice, either. The fact is that walking on ice is a bit of an art, but it also can benefit from certain products. There are a number of things that, while not effective at melting ice, are good at keeping you from falling and breaking your tail bone.
- Footwear with spikes: Icers, Yaktrax (found here on Amazon), etc. Never a bad plan. These products are gamechangers on icy conditions.
- Kitty litter: Spread it like you would salt. Make sure you get the non-clumping type.
- Bird seed: Black oil sunflower absorbs sunlight/heat and embeds itself in the ice which keeps it around longer. Cracked corn just provides good traction. Both provide birdies with a treat.
- Others: Pea gravel, sand, sawdust, wood ash, wood shavings are all somewhat effective on their own and can all be mixed with salt for better results.
- Traction grit: Available at most hardware stores, traction grit can be put in a shallow pan and heated in the oven at 250℉ for fifteen minutes and promptly thrown down on the ice. It then melts down and embeds itself in the ice and provides you with great, environmentally friendly, traction.