Gass column: As winter sets in, how to decipher de-icing materials

How many of us know what de-icing substance is suitable in what conditions?

Cloquet sanding truck
A City of Cloquet sanding truck flings a mixture of washed sand and rock salt onto 22nd Street behind Cloquet High School in February. (Pine Journal file)

Brrrrr — We are jumping right into early winter, I guess. Forget the rest of fall and let’s welcome the gusty arctic chill right on in.

If you were lagging behind on your prep for the season change, unlike the very fat squirrels, you're likely operating on full blast (just like the heat in your car). Welcome the rotation of the dresser, giving fresh air to the currently stuffy and creased winter wear stored away last spring. Welcome back to the routine of warming up the car. Welcome back scraping the windshield. And welcome back the threat of ice on the sidewalk.

Although maybe not on everyone’s minds, when the weather brings on the freeze, I often consider ice buildup on the roads and pavement. I imagine there are others like me and even some who are proactive enough to buy a bag or two of winter de-icing compound well ahead of snow flying.

However, how many of us know what de-icing substance is suitable in what conditions? I’ve taken the time to review what to use when, making a sort of buyers guide. Keep this in mind if you apply de-icing materials during winter.

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) — Melting point to 20 degrees and offers less damage to metals along with your yard and vegetation. Tough on concrete, though, and no more ideal than others for our waterways.


Sodium chloride (NaCl) (rock salt) — The same stuff you put on your meals at the dinner table. This cheap compound is suitable for melting ice down to temps of 15 degrees. As temperatures dip, it takes a little longer for the reaction to happen so be patient. More salt will not make it go faster.

Magnesium chloride (MgCl) — Similar properties as rock salt, but performs to lower temps reaching 10 degrees below zero at max melting tolerance. Just as corrosive and damaging as we know rock salt to be.

Potassium acetate (KAc) — Melting point to 15 degrees below zero while offering lower impact to your pavement and yard, much like CMA above. Still very damaging to our aquatic systems.

Calcium chloride (CaCl) — offers the lowest melting tolerance of 20 degrees below zero, with all the same high impact that the chloride (salt) group of compounds does in corrosion and harm to vegetation, soil and waterways.

Sand and abrasives — Do not melt ice, but instead provide traction. Work at all temps, but need to be on top of the snow or ice, so keep this in mind when we cycle between freezes and thaws. These are a good alternative to throwing out salt, especially when it’s really cold. Collecting it in spring minimizes harm to our waterways, too.

With all the products available, know what you buy. Look at the label to see what is in each bag. Some might offer blends, while others just one compound. Don’t fall for advertised claims as none of these products are “environmentally friendly” or “work faster” than the rest.

If you use any compound within its temperature tolerance, keeping 3 inches of spacing between each grain and wait a few minutes, you’ll see the results your after. Keep this in mind as you prep for the change of season.

Chris Gass is is the education and outreach coordinator at the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District. Reach him at 218-384-3891 ext. 5. Information on the SWCD can be found on Facebook and at .


Chris Gass
Chris Gass

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