9 Best Ice Melts for Driveways and Porches
This winter, keep your driveway, walkways and porch safe with a combination of ice melt and regular cleaning.
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How to Melt Ice
Winter snow and ice accumulations plague renters and homeowners everywhere. One of the most popular ways to combat this icy headache is with ice melt products. But there’s a staggering variety of choices, and with ingredients that sound like a chemistry quiz, how do you know which is the right choice?
Most ice melts are essentially a blend of salts and filler to provide a little traction. The exact type of salt you need depends on how cold it gets in your climate, the type of material you’re trying to clear, and how often that surface sees foot traffic.
We’ll take a look at the most common ice melt ingredients (sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate) along with some great buys for various ice-fighting needs.
Best for Concrete Surfaces
Ice melt works by lowering the melting temperature of water. So if it’s 20 degrees F outside and your melt product lowers the freezing temperature down to 0 F, then the ice around your home will melt. But then it will refreeze if the temperature dips below zero. And that freeze/thaw cycle can damage your concrete driveway.
Look closely at concrete and you’ll see that it’s covered with countless tiny holes. Ice melt creates a salt and water mixture called a brine, which fills those holes. If it refreezes, it expands, widening the holes and creating pitting and scaling. This is most common when using ice melts such as rock salt (sodium chloride) where the brine refreezes in relatively mild temperatures.
The best way to protect your concrete driveway is to find an ice melt that will maintain the brine into temperatures below the lowest temperature you’re expecting. If it never refreezes, you won’t have any issues!
Driveway Heat from Prestone is a calcium chloride-based ice melt that maintains the brine down to -25 F. (If you expect temperatures below that, we’ve got you covered later in this list!)
Note: Ice melt is never recommended for concrete less than 12 months old. So that first year, you should plan on clearing ice with a shovel or plow.
Best for Wood Surfaces
Wood porches and steps can be damaged by ice melt in different ways. Treated or sealed wood is more water resistant, but it still isn’t impervious to the freeze/thaw cycle. In addition, wood porches are held together by metal fasteners, many of which can be damaged by the salty brine produced by ice melt.
Wood porches feature one more complication: Wet wood is slippery! Calcium chloride melts draw in moisture. That’s normally not a problem on concrete, but they can make slick wood even more treacherous.
A better choice for wood surfaces are ice melts that contain CMA (calcium magnesium acetate). CMA isn’t nearly as harmful to metal surfaces as other types of ice melt salts, meaning that the fasteners holding your deck together won’t deteriorate. Because CMA is consumed by naturally-occurring bacteria, it also poses less of a hazard to surrounding plant life than rock salt.
The downside is that CMA is significantly more expensive than most other ice melts. Look for a blended CMA melt, like Snow Joe Melt-2-Go, that combines CMA with other, more corrosive salts. The result is a more wood-friendly ice melt that doesn’t break your budget.
You can also help keep costs under control by clearing as much snow and ice by hand as you can.
Best for Kids and Pets
As states and cities confront the fallout from decades of rock salt use on roads and highways, they are beginning to turn to non-conventional forms of ice melt. Minnesota has begun using beet juice, while other states are trying molasses and similar materials.
These non-traditional ice melts also appeal to homeowners who want solutions that are safer for the environment, kids and pets.
Snow Joe Beet It ice melt uses a blend of ice melts, including CMA, then supplements them with beet juice to stay as pet and kid friendly as possible. While you should always do your best to limit the exposure of kids and pets to ice melt, this beet-infused product is a good choice for backyard porches that see a lot of playtime. It’s also good if you have toddlers or infants who spend a lot of time in contact with the ground, where shoes and boots can track ice melt into the home.
Best Budget Ice Melt
It’s hard to beat a terrific sale! As of this writing, the best budget-friendly ice melt is this deal on Snow Joe bagged calcium chloride pellets. At about 50 percent off, the price is around 50 cents a pound, which makes it a terrific deal!
If you can’t find a good sale, then traditional rock salt is the cheapest ice melt option. Just be sure to take your expected low temperature and surrounding plant life into account.
Best for Ramps
Porches and driveways with accessibility ramps need special consideration during the winter months. Look for an ice melt compatible with all the construction materials on the ramp.
If you know the manufacturer or installer of your ramp, check to see what they recommend. Many manufacturers recommend magnesium-based ice melts, such as this magnesium chloride-based liquid de-icer from Covington. Liquid ice melts are applied with a sprayer, making it easier to hit all surfaces of a ramp.
Be careful when clearing snow accumulation on a sloped surface. And don’t use metal shovels on aluminum ramps, as they can be easily dented. Another consideration for aluminum ramps: Because they’re metal and not in ground contact, it’s not unusual for them to ice over earlier and stay icy slightly longer than the surrounding ground. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Best for Composite Decking
Composite decks are resilient and long-lasting, but they’re not invulnerable to abuse. Ideally, check the decking manufacturer’s website to see their recommendations for winter care. Generally speaking, less corrosive ice melts such as these calcium chloride pellets from Earthborn Elements are a good choice for composite decks.
Even if you’re not sure what type of decking you have, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. First, don’t mix sand or other abrasive with the ice melt, as they can leave scratches on the deck boards. (This is more of an issue with composite than wooden deck boards.) Second, if you use a shovel to clear snow, push along the length of the deck boards rather than across them. Lastly, clear any leftover ice melt with a good sweeping from a stiff-bristle broom.
Keep in mind your surrounding environment when you sweep. Much of the ice melt will fall between the deck boards, where it shouldn’t harm any plant life. But if you have a nearby flower bed, avoid any potential seepage by scooping the brine mix and tossing it into the trash.
Best for Mild Temperatures
Rock salt has a high potential for damaging porches and driveways, but it works in mild temperatures, when it can be used sparingly. It’s also traditionally one of the most affordable ice melts available, with a base cost that’s usually lower than other non-sale options.
Classic rock salt like Morton’s Safe-T-Salt is cheap, readily available and works to a low temperature of 5 F. Be stingy when spreading it, and avoid shoveling any slurry onto fragile plants or grass. The best bet is to take a layered approach: Apply a little and wait to see if more is needed. If you end up with excess, don’t panic. But if you find you have piles of rock salt on your driveway or porch, scrape it up and place it in the trash.
Best for Seriously Cold Weather
If you live in an environment with extreme cold, definitely take that into account when shopping for ice melt. Because ice melts work by lowering the freezing temperature of water, when the ambient temperature is cold enough, the ice melt simply won’t make a difference.
However, some ice melts have an “exothermic” reaction, which means they actually generate heat when interacting with snow and ice. That extra bit of heat means that they can be more effective in far colder temperatures.
Green Gobbler is a good example of an exothermic ice melt. According to the manufacturer, it has an effective temperature range down to -40 F!
Best to Ensure Even Application
If you read the directions on ice melt, you’ll notice they suggest applying an even, light coat. Which sounds great … until you’re standing in below-freezing temperatures, half-blinded by sleet, while the wind whips that thin layer of ice melt straight from your hand into your neighbor’s lawn.
Blue Heat gives you a leg up on nature because its blue tint is easier to see on the average snowy day. That helps ensure even distribution and avoid over-coverage. At $150 for a 40-lb. bucket, it’s pricier than many of the options on this list. But when you’re dealing with the reality of winter hitting you in the face, you may be glad you paid extra.