How Safe Are Deicing Products?
While you apply deicing products to keep your walkways clear of snow and ice, remember that underneath the snow there is vegetation (though dormant) growing. Although it’s fairly common knowledge that deicing products can harm plants, what about pets and children?
Deicing products are primarily comprised of salt which can cause injury to trees, lawns and shrubs, as well as corrode concrete and even do bodily harm to humans if handled improperly or ingested. There is also the danger of your pets getting it on their paws which may burn them or they may lick their paws and ingest the salt which is toxic. Some deicer products are lethal to pets if ingested.
Salt damage to dogs paws. Photo: Stephanie Lee Moore on Facebook
Salt damages plants by dehydrating plant tissues (causing burn) or by being toxic in high levels. While most plants have some tolerance to salt injury, repeated applications of deicing products during the winter can result in dieback or even death the following spring. Misapplications or over application of deicers (i.e. dumping piles or using too much) can wash into the storm sewers, causing pollution of the water table.
Before buying or using any product, read the label carefully and thoroughly and use only as directed.
Below are four basic deicing products and some of their characteristics:
- Widely available and inexpensive.
- Doesn’t cause corrosion to concrete.
- Works best when temperatures are in the 20s.
- Most damaging to plant material.
- Use sparingly and in small amounts.
- Commonly used as a fertilizer.
- Expensive and not as widely used as a deicer.
- Works best when temperatures are above 15 degrees F.
- Relatively safe to apply near plants.
- Most common product used on our roadways before storms.
- Lowers the freezing point of soon-to-arrive precipitation.
- Can melt ice down to -15F.
- If applied in moderate amounts, it’s relatively safe for plants and pets.
- Corrosion potential is low, as is its pollutant possibilities.
Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)
- Low corrosion potential, so it’s less damaging to cars, metals, sidewalks and plants.
- Not a chloride product, the “salt” comes from the calcium-magnesium mix and the acetate replaces the chloride.
- Ice-melting properties are equivalent to traditional deicers.
- Expensive, may cost 20-30 times as much as sodium chloride products.
- Advertised as “pet friendly”.
Before using any product, clear away as much snow and ice as possible. Get out your shovel and do your best. If heavy snow is predicted, then try to shovel more frequently.
Remember, deicing products are not meant to melt all snow and ice, but aid you in your removal efforts.
If you want to avoid chemicals in your landscape, then consider using sand or kitty litter. While they don’t melt snow, they can provide some much needed traction in slippery spots. Sand and kitty litter are also safe for pets and plants and can be swept up when the snow melts.