ice melt agent applyed to the sidewalk.

How can distributors help end users tackle the threat of ice and sleet while minimizing the risk to pedestrians and, ideally, preventing (or, at least, limiting) long-term damage to key components of the local infrastructure? 

The old axiom that "less is more" rings particularly true when it comes to ice melt application. It's more about communicating the environmental demands of individual situations and teaching end users to be prepared — especially in a time when the supply chain troubles make the quick acquisition of needed product more of a challenge. What combination of products helps reduce the overall environmental footprint while still tackling the demands of providing safe and walkable exteriors in harsh winter months? 

Many operators fall into the trap of using either too much ice melt or too little — being strategic is a critical component of effective usage. For example, when the weather forecast calls for potentially icy weather, deploying a thin layer ahead of the storm is just as ineffective as dumping large quantities of product to prevent ice buildup. Instead, as the weather is worsening, train customers to apply a moderate amount of ice melt in layers, allowing the materials to work their magic as the ice is starting to accumulate. While the snow is building, the lower layers of saline content will help erode the base of the ice and keep things warmer and more fluid. This means that the ice will be more pliable. Instead of thick, impenetrable layers, the ice will take on a softer and slushier consistency, making for easier shoveling and plowing — reducing the overall time and effort involved in removing the icy layers.  

Orr cautions that, because these melting options all break down to salt in one form or another, there’s no avoiding potential environmental risk. Because chlorides can have a detrimental effect on concrete surfaces, it’s helpful to consider mixing the product with something like sand — not only as a way to stretch the product, but to limit the overall amount applied and prolong the life of surfaces. It helps to provide traction while also allowing the salty content to tackle and melt ice molecules that are present. 

Indeed, Orr also recommends that users pay attention to the weather conditions and the specific temperatures involved in a weather event. 

When things get colder, that's when the choice of product plays a key role with regard to how effective or not a particular approach is going to be. However, it’s also not all about the temperature. Depending on how cold winter weather is characterized in various geographic locales, there are other weather-related factors to consider.  

A major factor distributors should talk to end user customers about is how quickly snow, sleet or ice accumulates, and how much the wind chill will affect the weather situation during a given event. Colder, harsher wind can lead to surfaces freezing faster than expected or remaining colder for longer — and it can also mean the potentially melted runoff re-freezes. Chloride-based products are typically best suited for these more intense conditions.    

However, improper use of some ice melt can corrode vehicles and cause permanent damage to bridges and parking decks, wearing down cement and brick over time and causing expansion cracks, says Ward. Generally, the rule of thumb is to educate customers to use as little ice melt product as needed. 

Once any weather event subsides, recommend customers try and scoop, shovel or brush as much of the remaining salt residue as possible off the parking and walking surface. Doing so will limit potential runoff as the weather clears.  

Every type of product has a different suggested usage, and it's critical sales strategies also emphasize application instructions. Misuse of ice melt can have ramifications for the interior of buildings and surrounding area. Help customers save money, time and stress by approaching inclement weather in a strategic way.  

Stocking Up

Sand is a common additive to ice melt products, allowing users to stretch their supply and adjust to the intensity of a weather event. It helps to add traction to surfaces without dramatically raising the salt content that runs off during the melting process.

Using sand as an additive poses its challenges, however. It’s a cheap way to stretch supply when inventory is hard to come by, but it creates both short- and long-term tasks that will need to be addressed by end user customers. Sand itself doesn’t melt ice, it just provides traction. It easily gets tracked into buildings and personal vehicles, making a mess as it dries that will require sweeping and vacuuming. Too much sand going into drains and sewers can also cause problems.

However, it can be prudent to offer clients the opportunity to add sand to their orders as a backup measure, helping them to be prepared in a time of increasingly volatile weather patterns, especially in areas that aren’t as used to extreme cold.


Jackson Silvanik is the Managing Editor for Sanitary Maintenance, and lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky. He joined Trade Press Media in 2021 and also edits and writes for Contracting Profits, Facility Cleaning Decisions and

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Optimal Ice Melt Types, Application Strategies