Ice melt blends have grown in popularity among end users over the years because they cost less than 100 percent calcium chloride or magnesium chloride ice melters. Blends are comprised of a mixture of chemicals — for example, magnesium chloride mixed with sodium chloride. With these mixtures, ice melt manufacturers say some companies are making misleading claims about the effectiveness of their products.

As a result, ingredients and performance claims of blended ice melters are under heavy scrutinization in the jan/san marketplace. For example, rock salt only works to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but magnesium chloride works to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. A blend of these two, however, may claim it works to the colder temperature, which is inaccurate and misleading.

“There are a lot of companies out there that are making completely, unrealistic claims,” says Kevin Wice, president of XYNYTH Manufacturing Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “There are a lot of manufacturers out there that are marketing product ‘A’ as if it were product ‘B.’

As a result, some manufacturers of ice melt have begun disclosing their product ingredients on packaging, brochures and on their websites. In fact, there has been a call to action by some of these same ice melt manufacturers for full disclosure and verification of ingredients and performances of treated deicer products because of enhanced product claims causing confusion within the market. Manufacturers are looking to hold those suppliers accountable who make performance claims, yet don’t disclose ingredients necessary for substantiation.

What’s In The Product?

Manufacturers like Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt, a proponent for ingredient disclosure, say if end users know what exactly is in the ice melt blend, they will be able to make more educated purchases and choose a product that will work best for their particular circumstances.

“Disclosure on blended ice melters is needed because some manufacturers are making performance claims that are not substantiated by content ingredients,” says Bob O’Connell, marketing manager with Cargill Salt. “The benefit of substantiated claims is that buyers know what ice melting performance they can expect from the products they buy. The challenge is that not all will disclose what’s in the bag, so buyers are unable to determine what they are getting for their product purchase.”

Manufacturers say the benefit of full disclosure with ice melting products is that it will help buyers separate marketing claims from expected performance based on product contents. However, Greg MacDonnell, business manager for Occidental Chemical Corp., Ludington, Mich., says there will be manufacturers who will not follow along.

“There will be many who will resist this as there are a large number of products in the market that consist primarily (95 to 99 percent) of sodium chloride but make claims that are more reflective of the ingredients found in the least quantity (1 to 5 percent) in the product,” he says.

One way for manufacturers to differentiate and substantiate their claims is by registering their ice melting products with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program.

“Third party validation is the best way to ensure that melter performance claims align with what is stated on packaging,” says Sara Matuszak, brand manager, Morton Salt, Chicago.

The DfE approval is the closest thing available to ice melt certification and makes it mandatory that manufacturers disclose their non-trade secret ingredients for certification.

“We fully support this long overdue movement to have ice melt producers completely and accurately disclose the ingredients of their products,” says MacDonnell. “Any marketplace that suffers from outrageous marketing claims for too long loses credibility. We have invested heavily in this business and marketplace and want to see good stewardship and ethical marketing at the core of the industry.”

Although DfE certification helps level the playing field, Matuszak says disclosing ingredients doesn’t necessarily provide end users with critical performance data. Other manufacturers agree,  saying it needs to be taken further.

“We believe that substantiating melting claims with research is much more beneficial to our customers than disclosing full ingredient lists with percentages,” says Todd Spencer, sales director with North American Salt Co., Overland Park, Kan. “Backing up melting claims would give customers confidence that products will perform as expected; interpreting ingredient lists may not.”

Still Holding Back

Some manufacturers do not advocate disclosing patented ingredients on their packaging and marketing materials because they believe that disclosing specific details of their formulations jeopardizes the proprietary nature of their product development. So, O’Connell says manufacturers are only listing those ingredients that are the off-patent, commonly accessible, Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) measured ingredients, which impact ice melting temperature, speed and melt volume.

“We are in agreement with providing the content of the various ice melt products, however, we also believe that providing the exact percentage of ingredients would be paramount to Heinz revealing the exact amount of the 57 ingredients contained within their ketchup,” says Mary Kay Warner, marketing manager with International Salt, Clarks Summit, Pa. “The success of any company is the result of many things, one of which is the proprietary nature of formulated products. To provide the information that is instrumental to the success of a business goes against the very nature of business competitiveness and the ingenuity that is inherent with successful business enterprises.”

MacDonnell says a major reason some suppliers resist full disclosure with ice melters is because they have something to hide, and uncovering the truth will damage  their credibility.

“There are producers making claims that are inconsistent with the known performance of their product’s contents,” says MacDonnell. “For example, some companies add one percent or less of calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) to their product and then claim their product will not corrode despite more than 90 percent of their product contains a chloride-based ingredient, which will corrode metals under certain conditions. The small addition of one item, in this case, CMA, does not alter the fundamental performance of the dominant ingredient. If buyers know precisely what a product’s contents are, they can better assess expected performance and make a good buying decision.”

Don’t Forget The Basics

Packaging disclosure of ice melt ingredients and their percentages is a first step in the right direction. But manufacturers say it is only meaningful if buyers and users can understand the ingredients. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge a product’s performance without an understanding of the components contained within each manufacturer’s product.

“Ingredient disclosure and even SHRP melt value data unfortunately assumes that the end user is as fluent in the products as the manufacturers are, and that is often not the case,” says Mike Ossian, LEED-AP, Ossian Inc., Davenport, Iowa.

Thus, manufacturers are educating buyers on what ingredients make up an ice melt product. Besides listing ingredients on the packaging of products, manufacturers are giving customers more options to access a product’s ingredients. These include places such as MSDS and technical data sheets, FAQ’s, product literature and on manufacturer websites.

Manufacturers also publish brochures on the common ice melt ingredients, conduct seminars at industry events to educate individuals within the industry on products and performance.

“We spend a lot of time and energy behind education of distributors and end users,” says Wice. “So when they see [basic components] on an ingredient list, they’re much more educated.”

If a product’s packaging does not disclose its product ingredients, manufacturers tell purchasers and end users to be skepticle of the product.

“Always be suspect of any product that does not list what’s in it,” says Ossian. “More often than not, it’s a bag of salt and they want you to think it’s something more.”

Manufacturers say if a product does not have its ingredients listed on the packaging, end users are left to play a guessing game as to whether the ingredients are safe to use or not.

“We provide the component minerals on each bag of our product line, along with very complete product literature that tells customers what each product is, what it does, how it works, and how to apply it, making the purchase decision easier and more accurate,” says Spencer.

Manufacturers are also going to great lengths to provide information to purchasers that was obtained from independent organizations that have conducted research on the main ice melt product components available in the industry.

“We always encourage customers and potential customers to take the time required to understand the components of the ice melt products and their respective performance capabilities so that they are making informed choices with respect to product selection and are not disappointed in the outcome of their winter maintenance processes,” says Warner.