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Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Home > Blog > Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt

What are rock salt and ice melt exactly? How do you know when to use ice melt vs. rock salt? Is one more pet-friendly and child-friendly than the other option?

These are common questions that many homeowners deal with in the aftermath of a snowstorm and during the freezing winter months. Removing snow and ice from your property is vital to keep yourself and your family safe. Ice melt and rock salt can help you prevent slips and falls. 

Below, we’re sharing the exact differences between the two products and when you should opt for one over the other.

What Is Rock Salt?

bulk of rock salt close up
Image Source: Canva

Rock salt is the mineral form of sodium chloride, also known as table salt. Rock salt is mined from underground deposits and forms large, chunky crystals. This inexpensive type of road salt works in temperatures above 12℉. Rock salt lowers the freezing point of water, which is why it’s been traditionally used on roads to prevent ice formation or melt ice that has formed on the road

The downside of rock salt is that it’s not environmentally friendly and can harm grass, shrubs, landscaping, and plants. It can also act as a corrosive on steel and concrete. Many are concerned about salty runoff flowing into the ground, so many areas have stopped salting their roads. 

If you choose this method, use small quantities as infrequently as possible to prevent damage to the environment and any plants in your yard. 

What Is Ice Melt?

pet-safe ice melt by Safe Paw
Image Source: Instagram, All About Dogs & Cats [@sgfallaboutdogsandcats]

Ice melt is a mixture of sodium chloride and magnesium chloride or calcium chloride. Calcium chloride is considered the best choice for fast ice melting and long-lasting ice prevention. Ice melt frequently comes in flake form, and many forms of ice melt even come with a blue color indicator for easy application. 

Be wary of manufacturers that claim they make safe ice melt that is environmentally friendly. Many of these blends contain calcium magnesium acetate, which is said to be less damaging than pure rock salt. However, after the calcium magnesium acetate wears off, you’re still left with the potentially dangerous rock salt. 

Ice Melt vs. Rock Salt

So, which is better for deicing ice surfaces, walkways, parking lot spaces, and driveways? 

Both deicer options work well to create traction and melt ice. However, there are a few significant differences that may help you choose between the two: 

  • Cost: Rock salt is typically cheaper than ice melt. 
  • Speed: Rock salt usually acts faster than ice melt when creating traction and reducing slipping risk. However, ice melt tends to work for a more extended period. 
  • Temperature: Ice melt works in lower temperatures, including negative temperatures down to 15 below zero. Specific blends with calcium chloride will work at even lower freezing temperatures, down to minus 25. Most rock salt blends work at 5℉ to 12℉ and above. Therefore, if you’re experiencing negative temperatures, you’ll want to look for an ice melt product, especially one with calcium chloride. 
  • Risk of damage: Both ice melt and rock salt can cause damage to concrete, vehicles, and asphalt. However, ice melt is believed to be less harmful to asphalt and vehicles, so if you have these on your property, ice melt may be a better choice. The New York Landmarks Conservancy shares that concrete steps and sidewalks should be a minimum of 6 months old before deicing products are applied to them to minimize potential damage. 
  • Landscaping concerns: If you’re concerned about your plants and landscaping, ice melt is definitely your best bet. More expensive rock salt may be better for lawn safety, but ice melt is still safer overall for your lawn. 

Is There a Pet-friendly or Child-friendly Ice Melt or Rock Salt?

Many substances are potentially harmful to pets and children, so taking care when choosing an ice melter or rock salt to use around your property is essential. 

According to the National Capital Poison Center, ice-melting chemicals containing sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, or carbonyl diamide can harm children and pets. When swallowed, they may irritate and upset the gastrointestinal system. The skin can dry out if these chemicals get on the skin or paws. 

Always keep your ice melt or rock salt products locked up or high up on a storage shelf to prevent anyone from getting into them. It’s unlikely that either will cause severe harm to your pets or children unless consumed in huge quantities. However, even a small amount of exposure to these substances can irritate and burn the skin, so it’s best to keep them away from rock salt and ice melt. 

In addition, make sure that you always apply ice melt or rock salt products while wearing gloves to protect your skin from burns and irritation. 

The Verdict

Both rock salt and ice melt have their pros and cons. Shoveling as much snow as possible or using a snow blower will limit how much product you need to apply and help the product work more effectively. Once you finish shoveling, apply the salt or ice melt to frozen areas with a cup or salt spreader, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Always wear gloves when handling them, and never leave the salt or ice melt bag unattended. Once the ice begins to melt, reapply the product to any thick patches and continue to shovel as you can. 

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