What type of salt is used for snow?

by | Feb 21, 2024 | Equipment, Snow Removal

What type of salt is used for snow?

Sodium chloride is the most commonly used de-icing salt for Canadian roads. Sodium chloride is sold under names such as rock salt, road salt, snow melt, or ice melt. It is affordable and readily available.

Sodium chloride is effective in breaking down ice and snow, but it’s effectiveness decreases as the temperature gets colder. In very cold conditions, common to Calgary, sodium chloride may struggle to melt ice. Sodium chloride works best around -10 C°. Sodium chloride is fairly corrosive, and is know to cause damage to concrete and metal structures over time.

Other types of salt used for snow

Magnesium Chloride – Magnesium chloride is salt which differs from sodium chloride in that it is exothermic, meaning it gives off heat, to melt ice and snow. Magnesium chloride salt is effective at melting at temperatures well below zero. It is also less corrosive than sodium chloride. Magnesium chloride salts are generally more expensive than sodium chloride.

Calcium Chloride – Calcium chloride salt is often used for dust suppressing for gravel roads. This chemical is a powerful de-icing agent and can effectively melt snow or ice at very cold temperatures common to Calgary. However, calcium chloride is fairly expensive and so is not commonly used for de-icing purposes.

Potassium Chloride – Potassium chloride is typically found in the form of red or white granules. This salt takes it’s color from iron contained as a remnants from mining process. Potassium chloride is not that effective at de-icing in extreme cold conditions, so it is suggested to be mixed with other de-icing materials on winter roads.

Other de-icing strategies

Liquid calcium chloride – Liquid calcium chloride is a natural salt brine that can be applied before or after a snow or ice storm. A liquid applied product such as this is good for freeze-proofing sand that is spread on icy roads. Being in liquid form means this application of de-icing product can be more uniform and evenly distributed over the target area, roads, and pathways.

Gravel and sand – Sometimes you can rely upon creating friction on the driving or walking surface with a mixture of gravel or sand. This product increasing the surface traction available for vehicles and pedestrians. The product can also help to break up snow and ice over time due to it’s abrasiveness. This does mean come snow melt time in the spring that clean up of the excess gravel or sand left over will be required. Another name for sanding chip mixture is Pickle.

What salt do we use in Calgary?

In Calgary, AB, Canada we use a combination of sodium chloride and fine gravel mixture to both melt ice and snow and improve traction for vehicles and pedestrians. The sodium chloride is the most cost effective option, and seeing as Calgary has a large network of roadways and highways, this product makes sense from a gross scale perspective.

More information on City of Calgary road salt management plan can be found here:

 What type of salt should you use for your property?

If your property is not too large and you are looking for maximum effectiveness, magnesium chloride is the best combination of effectiveness and safety to your plants, property, and any animals. Magnesium chloride is less corrosive than it’s more corrosive counterpart sodium chloride. This means it is safer for your concrete and asphalt surfaces, as well as being less harmful to plants and animals. It is also effective at very cold temperatures.

Are there any alternatives to salt?

You can try to rely strictly on gravel and sand for the purposes of traction. However overtime as vehicle and pedestrian traffic continue, the product will sink into the built up snow and ice, and become less effective. It will need to be topped up periodically and re-spread to ensure traction is maintained.

One expensive option for snow melt for a property is to install radiant heating tubes in the walking and driving surfaces. This is known as hydronic heating, and can serve heated driveways, heated walkways, or heated patios. This will melt snow and ice prior to even getting the chance to build up in the first place. This leaves your driving and walking surfaces essential maintenance free throughout the winter months, no need to shovel, and no need for de-icing chemicals.

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