Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Open Mike

by Mike Epler

December 12, 2007

After the past week's weather, I thought it may be helpful to inform everyone of some common materials used to melt ice from sidewalks and driveways. This information is probably a week late for you, but it's better late than never, especially since winter is really just beginning.

As far as de-icers go, we have many choices of products, but there are some differences between these products that can be important to us. None of these de-icers are quite ideal, as each one has its share of drawbacks, but it's nice to know we have alternatives besides a shovel. The five most commonly used de-icers are: calcium chloride, sodium chloride (table salt), potassium chloride, urea, and calcium magnesium acetate. The following information about these popular de-icers was compiled by Ward Upham, a horticulture specialist at Kansas State University.

Calcium chloride is the traditional ice-melting product. Though it will melt ice to about minus 25 degrees F, it will form slippery, slimy surfaces on concrete and other hard surfaces. Plants are not likely to be harmed unless excessive amounts are used.

Rock salt is sodium chloride and is the least expensive material available. It is effective to approximately 12 degrees F but can damage soils, plants and metals.

Potassium chloride can also cause serious plant injury when washed or splashed on foliage. Both calcium chloride and potassium chloride can damage roots of plants.

Urea (carbonyl diamide) is a fertilizer that is sometimes used to melt ice. Though it is only about 10 percent as corrosive as sodium chloride, it can contaminate ground and surface water with nitrates. Urea is effective to about 21 degrees F.

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), a newer product, is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the principal compound of vinegar). CMA works differently than the other materials in that it does not form a brine like salts do, but rather helps prevent snow particles from sticking to each other or the road surface. It has little effect on plant growth or concrete surfaces. Performance decreases below 20 degrees F.

Limited use of any of these products should cause little injury. Problems accumulate when they are used excessively and there is not adequate rainfall to wash or leach the material from the area. Since limited use is recommended, it is best to remove the ice and snow by hand when possible. When they are applied, practice moderation. We are often prone to over-applying just to make sure the ice and snow melts. Keep in mind this can damage concrete surfaces as well as the plants and grass growing along the walks and driveways. These problems are normally latent and do not show up until spring or summer.

- If you have any questions or inputs about products or methods used for melting and removing ice, feel free to contact me at the Leavenworth County Extension Office on the corner of Hughes and Eisenhower roads in Leavenworth, or call (913) 250-2300. I can also be reached by email at "" for questions concerning this article or any other related topic.


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