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By Glenn Haege
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Use these products to melt ice, help prevent slipping

The big snow storm we had two weeks ago puzzled a great many people. You had to shovel the snow, but that left the walk so slippery it was dangerous.

What should you do?

If shoveling leaves slippery concrete, put down something that will stop the surface from being dangerous. A light sprinkling of rock salt or other ice melter will do, but sand might be even better.


Sand doesn't melt ice or snow; it provides excellent, earth-friendly traction. Ice melters melt along with the ice. The chemicals can be deadly to lawns, bushes and perennials. They can also hurt a pet's feet. Sand is neutral and stays where you put it. If you have ice melting off a roof making outside steps hazardous, this ability to stay put can be a lifesaver.

There are two types of sand to consider: play sand and traction sand. Most hardware, home and garden centers carry play sand. It is relatively fine but serves the purpose. Traction sand is much larger and has ragged, sharp edges. That's the whole point. The sharp-edged grit digs into ice and will not permit you to slip.

Traction sand is a good product to keep in the trunk of your car during winter. It adds weight to the rear wheels, and spreading it can provide the traction you may need if you get stuck in a snow bank. Traction sand comes in 50 pound bags, and Quikrete also makes it in 60-pound tubes designed for storage in the back of pick-up trucks. You can get traction sand at many good hardware stores and most home centers.

Ice melters

Ice melters should not be used for snow removal. They break the bond of the ice or snow, thereby making it easier to shovel.

Not all ice melters are created equal. There are hundreds of different names, but most are made from the same ingredients. Here's a shopping guide to help you choose.

• Rock salt (sodium chloride) is the least expensive. It's the stuff the cities spread over the highway every winter. It is only effective to 20 degrees. When it gets really cold, rock salt doesn't do a thing.

• Sodium acetate, calcium magnesium acetate, potassium chloride and urea are friendlier to the environment than rock salt. They are basically fertilizers that also melt ice. Use the product around sensitive shrubs; it's also safe for pets.

• Magnesium chloride, sodium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate are effective to 5 degrees. Potassium chloride is effective to 12 degrees, and urea is effective to 15 degrees.

• Calcium chloride is a very powerful melter. It comes in pellets and flakes. The pellets last longer because they do not turn to liquid as fast as flakes. Calcium chloride is effective down to minus 25 degrees.

Both magnesium chloride and calcium chloride are good at melting ice. However, both are liquid in their native state and will return to liquid if not stored in an airtight container. Don't buy large quantities of these products with the idea of storing what you don't need until next year. If the bag is not airtight, you could wind up with a bag of very expensive water.

Blending different ice melters can bring down the cost. Peters Chemical Co. warns that most blends contain 90 to 99 percent rock salt. Rock salt is the cheapest but is also the least effective ice melter you can buy. Try to determine composition before you buy a blend. Don't pay twice the price of rock salt if the blend only contains 5 or 10 percent of a higher-priced chemical.


Ice melters are only meant to break the bond between ice and the under surface. Spread it like chicken feed; let it work for a half hour, then shovel.

If you are bothered by icicles hanging from the roof, you have an insulation and ventilation problem. Fix the problem by adding cellulose or fiberglass insulation into the attic.

To solve the short-term roof snow problem, rake 2 or 3 feet of snow away from the roof edge with a snow rake.

If the gutters are frozen over, cut apart a couple pair of old panty hose and fill each leg with calcium chloride pellets. Knot the open ends and place them on the gutters.

The calcium chloride will melt through the ice and keep the gutter free flowing. Put a couple of the filled pantyhose on top of the gutters wherever you have icicles, and around corners and down spouts.