Snow and Ice Maintenance Tips for Residents
Do you know…
- It only takes one teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water.
- Salt seeped into the environment can:
- Raise sodium levels in our drinking water and increase treatment costs.
- Harm fish, plants and other wildlife.
- Corrode vehicles, roads, bridges and parking lots.
- Salt can make it safer for us to walk and drive around. It helps keep roads open, and allows businesses, government and social services to stay open with little interruption.
- Since there’s no easy or cheap way to remove salt from our environment, we can all do our part to reduce the amount of salt we use and be #WinterSaltSmart by following the below tips.
What should you do before a storm?
- Have your shovel or snow blower ready
- Shovels may be all that you need around NoVA. To make it easier on your back, there are versions with wheels. Remember to take breaks and avoid overloading your shovel with wet snow.
- For big storms or heavy weight snow, snow blowers can be helpful.
- Gather all the provisions you’ll need to stay home for a few days
- Make sure to stock up on enough food, drinks and medicine (including prescriptions) before the storm.
- Always make sure to assemble an emergency or storm preparedness kit.
- Have your salt and/or traction materials ready (for more details visit “Materials to Treat Snow and Ice”)
- Always store your materials indoors and away from rain and snow.
Choosing the right salt
Below is a table with temperature ranges for some of the more common salts. For more information on these salts and some alternatives, visit “Materials to Treat Snow and Ice,” and for more information on the temperature ranges of the different salts visit “Temperature Ranges and Terminology for Salts.”
Type of Salt
Lowest Practical Melting Temperature1
Salts that contain chloride
NaCl (sodium chloride) also called “Rock Salt”3
MgCl2 (magnesium chloride)3
CaCl2 (calcium chloride)3
KCl (potassium chloride)4
Salts that do not contain chloride
CMA (calcium magnesium acetate)3
KAc (potassium acetate)3
1The temperature that a salt will melt ice in a reasonable amount of time. Also called “Lowest Effective Temperature.”
2The lowest temperature that a salt can melt ice. This is not a practical temperature to reference (see the warnings below).
What to look out for when purchasing salt
- Labels like “safe,” “pet-safe” and “environmentally friendly” can be used inaccurately on certain products, so be sure to read the ingredients.
- Choose the material based on the “Lowest Practical Melting Temperature” not the “Eutectic Temperature.”
- To understand this better, visit “Temperature Ranges and Terminology for Salts.”
- Materials to avoid: All nitrogen and phosphorus salts are illegal in Virginia.
- Nitrogen salts include urea, ammonium sulfate and potassium nitrate, etc.
- Phosphorus salts may have “phosphate” (PO4) in the ingredients, although these are rare.
What to do during and after a storm
- Clear snow by shoveling early and often.
- Make sure to clear snow and apply salt only where it is needed.
- Apply salt after clearing snow. Never use salt to “burn off” snow. It will quickly dilute and requires excess use.
- Salts should be applied as follows:
- Sodium chloride: One 12-oz coffee mug holds enough salt to treat a 20-foot driveway or ten sidewalk squares. Aim for about 3 inches between pieces of rock salt.
- Calcium chloride: apply at a rate that is one third of the rate used for sodium chloride.
- Note: when applying dry material, it’s best to use a hand spreader, like those used for fertilizer.
- Image Credit: Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization
- Salts should be applied as follows:
- Be patient and give the salt time to work. The colder it is, the longer it will take for the salt to melt what snow or ice remains after shoveling.
- If the sun comes out and you can wait, let the sun do some of the work before you apply salt.
- If it is too cold for your salt to work, or you’d rather not use salt, use traction materials instead. These include, sand, bird seed (make sure to use a native blend) and zeolite crystals (like EcoTractionTM).
- After the storm, sweep up the extra salt or traction material and use it again next time.