Go easy – and early – on the ice melt

The forecast is calling for freezing rain, sleet and snow this weekend. If you plan to use an ice-melting product, it’s best to do so early on.

And use a light hand if you apply it. Too much deicer can damage plants and concrete surfaces, especially when dry weather follows and there’s no rain to leach it out, according to Ward Upham of Kansas State University. The problems won’t show up until spring or summer.

“Everybody has a habit of putting it on too thick or leaving it on the concrete after it’s done its job and everything’s fine,” said Diane Herian of Augusta Ace Home Center in Augusta.

Instead, it’s good to know how deicer works and use it accordingly. The main way that it works is by breaking the bond between ice and pavement, usually by causing the ice to melt. In general, the thinner and newer the ice, the better deicers work, so apply early if possible. You can pretreat before a storm as long as you know it’s not going to rain first, Herian said.

If snow falls, to make the pavement safer for pedestrians, shovel as soon as you can after the snow lets up so that it doesn’t get compacted and turn to ice. If ice falls before snow, remove snow before applying deicer on top of the ice.

Because limited use of deicers is recommended, it’s best to remove snow and ice with a shovel if possible, Upham said.

Ice melt should not be used to increase traction. If slick spots or slush are left behind, sand or cat litter can be applied for traction. But be aware that slush and traction material can turn slimy, and the traction materials also will need to be cleaned up and not tracked into the house.

Herian says some of her customers custom-order deicers that advertise themselves as being safe for pets. Another trend is that people buy shaker jugs, then smaller bags to refill them, rather than leaving a bag sitting around with a cup inside it for sprinkling, she said.

“They want to be able to close it so they don’t have a spill or a mess,” Herian said of her customers.

The ice-melting product that probably does the least damage to the environment is calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the principal compound of vinegar). CMA works differently from other deicing materials “in that it does not form a brine-like salt but rather helps prevent snow particles from sticking to each other or the road surface,” Upham said. “It has little effect on plant growth or concrete surfaces.” But its effectiveness decreases at temperatures below 20, he said.

Calcium chloride works at lower temperatures, down to 25 below zero, but it can form a slippery, slimy surface on concrete and other hard walkways. The Ace brand contains this ingredient along with others for better performance, Herian said. But be aware that it can damage wood and should not be used on decks. Always check the label for specifics.

Sodium chloride (rock salt) is the cheapest option, effective down to about 12 degrees, but it is corrosive. Urea is effective to about 21 degrees but can contaminate ground and surface water supplies with nitrates.

Be careful not to track deicer into the house, because it can leave chemical residues. And once the need for traction material is over, clean it up, so it doesn’t pit concrete, harm plants or pollute waterways.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.