Driveway ice can create dangerous driving and walking conditions and typically warrants prompt treatment. Rock salt, or sodium chloride, and other salts are traditionally used to melt driveway and road ice, but are undesirable under certain circumstances because rock salt can damage some driveway surfaces and harm nearby vegetation.
Salt-free deicing compounds can be used in a manner similar to deicing salts to melt ice. Calcium magnesium acetate, which is made from acetic acid and dolomitic limestone, is a salt-free deicer that is costlier than salt deicers but is less damaging to concrete and vegetation, making it a suitable salt alternative in sensitive environments. Another rock salt alternative is urea, which is primarily used as fertilizer.
Enhanced Radiation Absorbers and Abrasives
Enhanced radiation absorbers are dark materials such as graphite or coal ash are applied to an icy driveway to accelerate the rate of melting by increasing the absorption of sun energy. Although these materials are generally inexpensive and have little or no environmental effect, they work slowly, can be messy around buildings and become ineffective if snow or ice accumulates on top of them. Abrasives include materials like sand or kitty litter which provide traction when applied to the ice. Although abrasives do not directly melt the ice, they can also be mixed with a deicing compound to enable better spreading and lower the amount of deicer used.
Electric Heating Cables or Mats
Electric heating cables or mats eliminate the need for chemical treatments and call for manual labor only at the time of installation or placement. They require only a nearby source of electricity. Cables are generally installed at the same time that the driveway material itself is poured or laid. However, cables can be placed in certain driveways by cutting a shallow trench, laying the cable, then sealing the trench so that it is waterproof. Electric heating mats are often moveable and are most effective in small areas of heavy traffic such as doorsteps.
Well-timed manual removal of snow and ice can effectively decrease or eliminate the need for rock salt or salt-free deicers. Shovel any snow off of the top of the ice, then use an ice chipper to break up thick ice sheets or a metal shovel to scrape any easily separated ice from the driveway surface. Remove as much ice as can be easily dislodged early in the day, then take advantage of the warmer daytime temperatures by removing loosened ice in the late afternoon or early evening before temperatures begin to drop.
Angela Ryczkowski is a professional writer who has served as a greenhouse manager and certified wildland firefighter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional studies.