How to 'De-Ice' a Driveway When Road Salt is Hard to Find

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snow Covered Road

Every year, the city of Calgary gears up for what will likely be a brutal winter, manifested by bitterly cold temperatures, piles of snow and slick conditions on the road due to ice. In order to cut through it all - hopefully making the road safer to drive so that motorists can avoid a car insurance claim - road salts are strewn across the highway to provide added traction. In fact, between 30,000 and 40,000 tons of road salt is applied to the city's streets alone, never mind what's spread in Alberta overall.

What would happen if the city were to run out of road salt? This is an issue that Albertans themselves often encounter when they want to make their driveways less treacherous, as heavy demand for road salt can make it hard to come by among retailers and consumers.


Fortunately, there are alternatives to traditional road salt that can serve as a sufficient replacement when supplies are sold out. Automotive guru Eric Lai recently put together some recommendations for what treatments do the job well.

  • Table salt. Just about every home has salt, used, of course, to add seasoning to favorite foods. But it can double as a sufficient form of traction.

  • Water softener. Another way to make driveways less treacherous is through the use of water softener, which is usually for inside the home when cleaning or for various maintenance purposes. Lai noted that according to Cargill Salt, water softener salt is frequently used for ice melt purposes as well. The only problem is that it there are types that aren't especially conducive for spreading, as the pieces can be chunk-like rather than small granules. It's a good idea to talk to whoever may be working in the maintenance section of a retail chain where water softener salt products are sold about which is the most ideal for applying to slippery walkways and driveways.

  • Pool salt. The backyard pool may be the last thing on most people's minds in the dead of winter, but the treatments that are used in it during the swimming season can come in handy when it's cold outside. Lai noted that pool salt, used for chlorine purposes, works well on snow and ice, as does pickling salt and sea salt.

  • Kitty litter. Even if you don't have a cat, virtually every car safety expert says it's a good idea to keep a bag full of kitty litter in the trunk of the vehicle. The stuff that cats use to do their business can fairly easily spread underneath tires that are stuck on a snow or ice patch, providing the extra traction needed to get moving. The one caveat to kitty litter is that it doesn't cause ice to melt.

  • Sand. It may be a pain to clean off from the car in the winter, as snow plows pour tons of it onto the province's streets each year, but sand helps vehicle tires adhere to the roadway more easily. However, similar to kitty litter, sand doesn't cause snow to melt.

As for what type of salt the city of Calgary uses, it's chiefly composed of fine gravel - 97 percent of it, in fact - with another 3 percent being different forms of chloride, including potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium. When road surfaces reach a temperature of between 0 and minus-10 degrees Celsius, this is usually when the mixture is used most extensively.