|

Best ice melts review: Top products for your driveway, walkways, and steps

Use Consumer Reports' five steps for smarter, safer deicing

Published: February 2014

Find Ratings blob logo

Apply your ice melt after you've removed accumulated snow with a shovel or snow blower.

While snow blowers and shovels are pretty simple to use, as with so many other products, choosing the right one from among the myriad choices can be confusing. The same thing goes for ice melt, also known as rock salt, snow melt, deicer, and a few other monikers. That’s where the Consumer Reports ice-melt guide will come in handy. Based on input from experts nationwide, we’ll help you figure out which product to buy for deicing all around you house, keeping your family and pets safe without damaging your driveway, walkways, steps, and even your yard.

We looked at widely sold ice melts: calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride (rock salt), and urea (carbonyl diamide). Home centers, hardware stores, supermarkets, and other retailers carry some or all of these ice melts, and you’ll also find them at specialty stores—pet stores, in particular—and online. You can use most of them at home, though calcium magnesium acetate is intended only for heavy-duty commercial use. As you’ll see in our ice-melt comparison, there are pros and cons to each. (Download a PDF of the chart.)

One thing to keep in mind: Based on winter 2013-14, which has seen widespread shortages of ice melt at big-box stores in many regions and at online retailers—have you visited a Home Depot or Lowe's or checked Amazon lately?—you'd be wise to stock up. Store unused deicer in an airtight container or heavy-duty trash can out of reach of children and pets.

(Watch our snow blower and snow shovel buying guide videos.)

Apply ice melt in a thin, even layer—and tread carefully on any icy surfaces.

5 steps to better deicing

Step 1: Get rid of the snow

Clear any snow accumulations using a shovel or snow blower.

Step 2: Apply it right

If you have one, use a wheeled or handheld spreader to ensure that you apply ice melt ice melt in a thin, even layer. (Rinse the spreader between uses.) Otherwise, sprinkle it on using a cup or by hand. Always wear gloves if applying by hand. If you apply too much in an area, spread it out with a broom or flush it with water.

Ice melts work by breaking the pavement-ice bond so the ice can easily be removed. Some experts recommend that you apply the ice melt before a storm. 

Step 3: Protect surfaces

Most of the damage to paved surfaces is caused by using too much ice melt and, especially for concrete, the freeze/thaw cycle that they’re subjected to. So follow the application amount on product packaging. If you're concerned about surface damage and want to increase traction on your driveway or walkways, consider other options, such as kitty litter, sand, or sawdust.

Some ice melts can truly damage paved surfaces, says T. Carter Ross, ‎vice president for communications at the National Asphalt Pavement Association.

Magnesium in any form (PDF), especially magnesium chloride, is very damaging to concrete, and concrete can become unstable after the corrosiveness in chloride-based ice melts eats away at the rebar. Similarly, acetate ice melts can cause asphalt pavements to strip easily, breaking the bond between the aggregate and the asphalt binder.

Tips:

  • Never use an ice melt on concrete that’s less than 12 months old because newly poured concrete needs time to cure and settle. Applying an ice melt can weaken the concrete and make it more susceptible to future damage. Opt for sand or gravel to add traction.
  • Avoid spreading ice melt around plants and getting it on your lawn. You can try to save plants or grass by soaking the affected area with 1-inch applications of water three to four times in the spring or replacing the soil in a small bed, adcording to Margaret Hagen, agricultural field specialist at the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension.
Keep your dog or other pet away from ice melt.

Step 4: Protect your family

If your child ingests ice melt, don’t force her to vomit, says Miguel Fernández, M.D., a professor of emergency medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio and medical director of the South Texas Poison Center. “Whatever is noxious going in, could be noxious coming up,” he said. Instead, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers (800-222-1222) before visiting the ER because they’re equipped to handle these exposures.

Step 5: Protect your pets

Always wipe your dog’s paws with a moist towel after walking outside on snowy days, says Louise Murray, D.V.M., vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. Trim the hair between the dog’s toes to reduce mineral collection, or put doggie booties on all four paws as extra protection.

Don’t let your dog lick ice melt or drink from puddles or slush pools when its outside. Even very limited amounts of 100 percent sodium chloride can be lethal to dogs.

Consider using a salt-free ice melt, such as Safe Paws or Morton Safe-T-Pet. But even those products could cause issues. “People are better off using these, but just saying it’s ‘pet safe’ doesn’t guarantee anything,” Murray said. Even urea (carbonyl diamide), which is considered safe—and is an ingredient in Morton Safe-T-Pet and a modified ingredient in Safe Paws—can cause drooling and vomiting if ingested. Purchase an ice melt with colored pellets or granules to make it easier to identify in the snow.

If your pet ingests ice melt, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680; $39 per incident), or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435; $65 per incident).

—Kaitlyn Wells

   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Home & Garden News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more