Home Ice Management
Using smoke & mirrors to create consumer confusion.
Last year, around Halloween, we discussed snow and ice control chemicals with some new, miraculous ingredient—a “witch’s brew,” with some very high performance claims. I advised that vendor claims regarding the ingredients and their performance should always be verified before purchase.
More than a year later, there are still vendors that misrepresent the character and performance of their product, either intentionally or out of ignorance; and customers are still purchasing without verification.
Recently it was learned that a product was being sold as a non-chloride de-icer when it was not. As a result, there is now scrambling going on by many to fix it. The purchaser obviously is not happy. But in reality, the homework on this product should have been done before the purchase—and especially before any use.
Know what you are buying:
Rule No. 1 when buying any product: “Know what is in it, how much of each ingredient it contains, and what each ingredient and the total mixture does in terms of performance, cost, corrosion and environmental impact.”
Before buying or using any product, know what it is through written verification. If the vendor/manufacturer does not or cannot provide a list of ingredients from an independent source, then perhaps this product should be passed over. Looking at the material safety data sheet (MSDS) may provide insight as to what components the product may contain, but buying a product from this information alone is not recommended.
Ask for a chemical analysis from a credited independent source with the relative proportions of ingredients, particularly those claimed to have “special” powers. Be well aware of what it is before buying for use.
What does non-corrosive mean?
Corrosion is hard to quantify with regard to de-icing chemicals. In truth, there is no such thing as an absolutely non-corrosive de-icing chemical. Corrosion levels will vary greatly, depending on the types of metals, the type of chemical being used and the circumstances surrounding its use.
Chloride-based chemicals with no additives typically exhibit high potential for corrosion. There are a number of inhibitors that can be added to chloride-based chemicals that will reduce the potential for corrosion. These chemicals are typically marketed as “corrosion-inhibited” and not “non-corrosive.”
De-icers with the lowest corrosion potential are usually based on organic compounds such as acetates. While these chemicals have low corrosion potential, they still exhibit some level of corrosion depending on the metal and other environmental factors. In general, the lower the corrosion, the higher the price—and this is true with non-chloride products as well.
Ask for references, and contact people who have used the product you are considering. Also ask for results of laboratory tests from independent and credible labs that provide and verify the information needed to make a sound decision based on facts and not a sales presentation.
Organizations such as the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters (PNS) run such tests and maintain an approved products list, which may prove helpful. Visit
www.wsdot.wa.gov/partners/pns to view one such list.
Do not simply fall for a good marketing campaign. Ask questions, and insist on specific answers—in writing—from a credible source.
Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in Walla Walla, WA.
By B Carter
I recently traveled to the ISSA jan-san industry conference and trade show in Orlando, where ice melt products represented a sizable portion of the goods promoted on the trade show floor.
What struck me as interesting, and a little off-putting, was the number of packaged dry-blended products being offered with very little disclosure as to the proportions of their constituent blends, and the levels of downright misinformation promoted as gospel.
Product misrepresentation :
I believe that chlorides—be they sodium, calcium or magnesium—are not only cost-efficient, but also represent the largest platform on which most of today’s products have been built. Without this foundation, we would have no melting capacity or ability to ensure the walking, parking and driving safety of the surfaces we’ve been charged to maintain.
My concerns stem from the fact that a product that may contain from 5% to 10% of a high-performance ingredient is being promoted inappropriately. For example, a 5% inclusion of a non-chloride may be promoted by some manufacturers as guaranteeing protection from corrosion.
Additionally, products that are dry blends of different chlorides are being promoted in such a way as to state the product is capable of performing to the lowest working temperatures of the “hottest” ingredient, when the proportion of that one element represents only a small amount of the overall blend. None of this is being clearly stated in writing on the package.
I understand that some manufacturing methods may not make a complete certificate of analysis-type documentation possible. Products that are silo-blended, for example, may contain a range of any one ingredient, depending on the blending expertise of those manufacturing the product. Specifically designed blend stations are capable of much greater accuracy.
Either way, my problem is in that there doesn’t seem to be a consistent standard of disclosure in our industry coming close to that of the food business, where ingredients and proportions must be declared.
The right blend:
Sodium chloride (standard rock salt) is the workhorse of our business. Chemically, it’s a relatively low-cost way to achieve good melting results to temperatures of 15° to 18° F. Salt, however, is endothermic; it requires heat to create brine and to activate its melting properties. That means salt needs heat from the sun and perhaps friction to work.
Salt is chemically incapable of naturally attracting moisture, as is the case with premium magnesium and calcium chloride products. The “hygroscopic” property of being able to draw moisture works hand in hand with an ability to generate chemical heat. This is the definition of exothermic energy, where premium products are pretty much self-sufficient melting compounds.
Sodium chloride has obvious limitations, so it seems reasonable to promote the fact that a combination of calcium and sodium chlorides would deliver a superior result. The calcium would bring its hygroscopic property (absorbing moisture), which would hasten the formation of brine, generating heat (exothermic) and activating the sodium in the blend to start melting snow.
Calcium, according to product literature from one manufacturer, is capable of working to temperatures approaching -25° F. If these figures represent the performance of premium 87% calcium chloride, is it reasonable to assume that a blended product of 20% calcium and 80% sodium chloride would work to the same impressive figure? I think not.
There would indeed be benefit and an expanded working range to a lower temperature, but given even a rich mix of 20% calcium chloride and 80% sodium chloride, the enhanced range would be nowhere near the -25° F figure as promoted for pure calcium.
The startling reality is that the industry does nothing to prevent against overstatement of performance.
Next, let’s consider the use and promotion of non-chloride materials such as calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which is a fine anti-icer but has very little ability to actually melt snow. The use of CMA promotes the softening of hydrogen bonds in water that prevent solid hard ice crystals from forming. Interrupting the formation of these crystals is what allows for easier plowing and the prevention of ice bonding with the surface.
CMA is a fairly non-corrosive material on its own. This being the case, if CMA is blended at nominal rates of 5% with 95% sodium chloride, would it be safe to say that the product was particularly effective at lower melting temperatures, or even non-corrosive? Again, I think not.
Any inclusion of CMA would naturally lower the proportion of sodium in the mix, and lower the overall levels of expected corrosion. For real corrosion protection, though, a much richer proportion of CMA (near 40%) might be needed. At wholesale prices of $1,500 or more per ton for dry CMA, the financial sensibility of such a product makes no sense.
Striking a balance:
The economic and environmental sustainability of the snow and ice management industry depends on finding the balance between cost and performance. All products, regardless of cost and quality, will work with different levels of efficiency.
Consider the properties we mentioned above (endothermic vs. exothermic and hygroscopic). Using straight salt or low-end blends comes with its own cost-benefit analysis. Your products of choice may be cheaper, but it may also take four or five times the amount of a lower quality product to deliver desired results.
The end game—finding the sweet spot between cost and performance—is best determined by buying and using the best quality products available, and using just enough to get the job done. That’s true environmental and economic sustainability.
B Carter is director of sales for Innovative Surface Solutions, Inc.