Man slipping and falling on ice

Winter weather brings a whole host of challenges for facility cleaning managers, not the least of which is keeping tenants and visitors safe, and the buildings as clean and inviting as possible. In this respect, snow and ice melt products are invaluable weapons in the fight against Mother Nature.

At first blush, successfully deploying these tools would seem pretty straightforward, but it’s more complicated than one might think. Their effectiveness can be enhanced or undermined by a variety of factors. Consequently, proper education about each product is essential.

Product Selection

“Regardless of the formulation, the environment where you are using the ice melt and the climate/weather will determine product effectiveness,” says Lauren Fallon, manager of marketing and product strategy, Salt Division, for Compass Minerals, Overland Park, Kansas. “For example, the melting temperature of rock salt/halite is only effective down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, so if faced with extremely cold temperatures, it’s recommended that departments use an ice melt containing more than just sodium chloride. Instead, use something with magnesium chloride or calcium chloride with melting temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit.”

In addition to temperature, managers should consider locations where products are needed when choosing the best ice melt for the facility. For large areas such as parking lots, where facility cleaning managers often want a visible ice melt, one containing high-visibility crystals combined with a magnesium chloride and sodium chloride mix may be a good solution.

“Too much rock salt is often a waste,” says Martin Tirado, CEO of Mequon, Wisconsin-based Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). “It can pollute water and damage property such as green areas and hardscapes like floors and concrete.”

Those concerned about spreading ice melt near landscaping may want to opt for products with 100 percent magnesium chloride, as this may be less harmful to the greenery.

“For areas surrounding vegetation, entryways and/or pet-friendly areas, it’s recommended the ice melt contain lower chloride amounts and require less product application,” says Fallon. “Due to these sensitive areas, we recommend selecting an ice melt designated with Safer Choice by the U.S. EPA.”

As the above examples illustrate, facility managers won’t want for options, which can make things a little confusing. Jack Loughrey, senior account manager with Dalco Enterprises, New Brighton, Minnesota, says that ice melts come in three shapes — crystals, flakes or pellets — which can affect application and/or performance.

Some ice melts are single-component, says Loughrey. These include rock salt (sodium chloride), potassium chloride and calcium chloride. However, blended products — such as sodium chloride formulated with additional ingredients like calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, urea and potassium chloride — are the most common.

“Many blended products are tinted with a colorant to aid in proper application,” says Loughery. “Many also contain patented proprietary ingredients to enhance performance.”

For example, manufactured ice melts — such as those using a sodium chloride base and having various chemical coatings — are designed to elicit a faster reaction to heat or to respond faster to moisture. The same can be said for liquid deicing products, which can be very effective, but are less commonly used.

It’s important to know that every snow or ice melt product will have a “maximum freezing point,” which will vary depending on the formulation. Managers should be aware of product limitations and factor in the temperatures common in their area before purchasing.

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Proper Application Of Ice Melt Improves Effectiveness