Best Practices for Using Ice Melt for Facilities Managers

Ice Melt on sidewalk

Now that winter is on the way, it’s time to talk about best practices for using ice melt products. No matter where you work— whether you are the facilities manager at a sports complex, a school, or for a local government— you need fresh insight into tackling ice this winter.

Ice causes headaches for everyone, and that includes the people responsible for removing it. Cleaning ice makes areas passable and safe for everyone. By clearing ice, you make your buildings and grounds accessible to customers and clients (no one is going to want to risk injury to get into a store), not to mention people with disabilities.

You’ll also reduce your liability. Should anyone slip and fall on your property, that will cost you more time, money, and potential medical expenses. You could also see your insurance premiums rise. Your city also likely has ordinances that require you to clean ice (and snow) or risk stiff fines.

Here are a few best practices for facilities managers faced with ice in the coming winter.

What are my Options?

All deicing products are not created equal, so you want to make sure that you choose the best one for your particular location. Here are two  performance-related questions to ask about a particular product:

  1. How well does this particular product work at the lower temperature range that your area typically experiences?
  2. How quickly will it melt ice, thus limiting dangerous conditions?

First, it is useful to understand how ice melt works. It needs to dissolve in water to lower its freeze point. This creates a substance that melts the ice on contact. Calcium-based solutions are referred to as “brine.” Though it may not appear to be the case, there is always water on top of ice. If temperatures are high, more water is present. At lower temperatures, less water is present. Putting a deicer on ice that is fairly dry on the surface means that it will be slow to melt.

You need to look for a deicer that is hygroscopic. It attracts moisture from the ice and from the air to start its dissolving process. You also want a deicer that is exothermic. It chemically reacts with moisture to release heat, which speeds up the melting process.

Option #1: Rock Salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl)

Rock salt is a commonly used deicer because it is readily available and inexpensive. However, it is endothermic. It requires heat from the surrounding moisture in order to dissolve, and its lowest effective temperature is +20°F (-7°C), so it can take a long time to melt ice.

It is also corrosive to metals (because of its chloride base) and can damage lawns and plants if too much is used or if a large amount is applied directly to them.

Option #2: Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)

Calcium chloride is the most commonly used non-sodium deicer. Its lowest effective temperature is -25°F (-32°C), which makes it more effective than most deicers. It is both hygroscopic and exothermic, two more attractive attributes that make it effective in areas with colder temperatures and it’s fast-acting.

Since it is chloride-based, it can also corrode metals and damage greenery if too much is used or if a large amount of the deicer is applied directly to vegetation.

Option #3: Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2)

Magnesium chloride’s lowest effective temperature is 0°F (-18°C), and while it is both hygroscopic and exothermic, it releases less heat than calcium chloride. It is also a hexahydrate salt: It is 53% water by weight.

Because its water content is so high, more needs to be applied to an area for it to work effectively, and it tends to be more expensive than rock salt, for example, and is slightly less effective. Because it is chloride-based, it will also corrode metals and can damage vegetation.

Option #4: Potassium Chloride (KCl)

Potassium chloride is endothermic. It has a high lowest-effective temperature of +25°F (-4°C), so is less effective in areas that see bitter cold days and nights more often than not. It also works slower than the other deicers mentioned and has a low melt volume capability.

Like other chloride-based deicers, it also has the potential to corrode metal and damage vegetation.

Option #5: Urea

Urea is similar to potassium chloride in that it is endothermic and has the same high lowest effective use temperature of +25°F (-4°C). Because it is not chloride-based, it does not corrode metal and is less poisonous to plant life. However, its high organic content means that it can elevate biological oxygen demand in bodies of water, making it dangerous to aquatic life.

Hygroscopic and exothermic deicers are the most effective in areas where the temperature is colder. That said, you also want to be aware of inadvertent damage to metals and to plant life when applying a deicer.

Tips for Using Ice Melt Effectively

Since we’ve covered the different types of deicing materials and their pros and cons, let’s talk about how to use ice melt effectively. As we’ve already mentioned, none is without its potential drawbacks.

Whether that’s the temperatures at which it remains effective, the amount of ice it can (or can’t) melt, and the potential hazards it poses to other living matter in the area where it is used, no deicer is flawless. That said, the effectiveness of any deicer is determined, in part, by how it is applied.

Tip #1: Be prepared

This is the most obvious tip of all, and logically, any good facilities manager knows the importance of being prepared. Still, in the spring and summer months, it’s easy to put “ice melt preparedness” at the very bottom of a long “To-Do” list.

Make sure that you know ahead of time how much deicer you will likely need, and make sure that you have it ready to go. You never know when winter is going to show up and make safe movement nearly impossible. While you have no control over the weather, ensuring that you have enough product on hand means that you can apply it whenever you need it.

Don’t underestimate the value of pre-treatment. This prevents the ice from adhering to walking and driving surfaces in the first place and you’ll use less deicer overall. You should also apply a deicer during and after storms to maximize their effectiveness.

Tip #2: Use a quality deicer

We’ve all heard the old chestnut, “You get what you pay for.” This applies to deicers as well. We’ve already addressed commonly used deicers and some of their qualities, so make sure that you choose a deicer by taking into account your budget, likely temperatures, and the impacts of the deicer on surfaces and the environment.

If you discover that ice is not melting despite appropriate application, you may not have the right product for your facility’s needs. In general, 2-4 ounces of product should be used per square yard.

Tip #3: Properly follow all the directions

You want to make sure that you use the deicer as directed to ensure maximum efficiency, and your safety (and the safety of others). You should wear protective eyewear and clothing. Remember that hygroscopic deicers draw moisture from the surrounding environment; that can include your skin.

More is not better, in the case of deicers. Over-application can damage surfaces and vegetation, so be sure not to be overzealous in your spreading. That can accelerate the freeze and thaw cycles that damage concrete, though most chemically treated concrete is safe.

Use a spreader that allows you to adjust the amount being spread and that has a shield. The deicer should flow smoothly and uniformly through the spreader to provide adequate, consistent application. A color coverage indicator can be helpful, as it will allow to see you where you have spread enough deicer and what areas need attention.

Tip #4: Don’t forget to shovel

Ice melt is meant to be used in conjunction with other clearing methods when you’re dealing with snow. You’re going to need to use some elbow grease and break out your shovel, your snow blower, or your snowplow to completely clear an area.

Tip #5: Don’t forget about mats

Cleaning interior floors are time-consuming and expensive throughout the year. However, winter brings with it additional contaminants and an increased risk for slipping and falling.

Using mats inside and outside of your facility reduces the amount of dirt and moisture that get tracked through the building, and make walking or using assistive devices safer. And, it’s easier, quicker, and less expensive to clean mats than to clean entire floor surfaces. A three-mat system is the most effective:

  • Outdoor mats in front of entrances encourage the scraping and wiping of feet before people enter the building, and they collect larger amounts of dirt and moisture.
  • Indoor mats just inside doors collect more dirt and moisture as people enter the building.
  • Mats throughout the building help collect excess debris. Consider using 30-60 feet of indoor matting in your facility.

Tip #6: Clean your floors

Mats are effective in reducing the amount of dirt and moisture on your floors, and you need to effectively clean them as well as any residual ice melt. Canister and backpack vacuums have direct suction, so they are more effective at picking up clumps of ice melt or other debris.

When you clean your mats, you can use a little (or no) soap and an ice melt residue remover to get rid of the white powder left behind. You should have additional mats so that you can switch out ones that are completely saturated with water (or that have grown noticeably filthy). Make sure that they dry completely before putting them back out for use.

Tip #7: Properly store your ice melt

Ice melt needs to be stored away from air, moisture, and sunlight, so put any open bags in airtight containers. If you have an unopened bag, you might want to wrap it (along with any airtight containers) in dark wrap to reduce damage to the ice melt by ultraviolet light and to provide additional protection from moisture.

Do you have questions about your ice melt needs?  Kenney Machinery sells ice melt products! We can answer your questions and point you toward the right deicer for your facility. Contact us today for help with your winter preparations.  We look forward to assisting you!