Proper Ice Melter Application

Using the right amount of deicer and applying it properly have never been more important. The use of deicers is increasingly scrutinized against heightened standards for environmental protection as well as the desire to avoid damage to landscaping, pavement, building structures and architectural components, and vehicles. Reducing tracking of residual deicer into buildings and resulting cleaning and maintenance expenses are also increasingly important. The goal of any ice melter application procedure should be to make sure sidewalks, parking lots and other surfaces are free of ice and safe for pedestrian and vehicular traffic while using just enough deicer to get the job done right. Following are suggested guidelines for achieving this balance.

Plan Ahead

A proper application program starts with a thorough review of the facility to identify areas where ice control is critical. Determine the sizes of surfaces and frequency of pedestrian and vehicle use, taking into account that some areas may not be used except during peak days such as holidays and weekends while other areas could be used at any time of the day or night. Be knowledgeable about your snow removal and deicing equipment capabilities. Develop a strategy for deicer use, choosing the right material for each job. Nature is unpredictable and major winter storm events can quickly deplete local supplies of deicing products. Don’t get caught short. Make sure the right materials are ordered and inventoried in advance so you have them when you need them. Follow supplier instructions for storage to be certain that ice melter is in condition to be used immediately as the need arises. Develop a storage plan to prevent runoff from deicer storage areas. See: Storage and Shelf Life.

Define Standards and Procedures

Set specific ice melting service standards and procedures to ensure application occurs on a timely basis as soon as an ice hazard is present, or at least before the first pedestrian or vehicle traffic is likely to arrive. Tardy application of ice melter can place maintenance crews in a hurry-up mode, resulting in over-application of ice melter in a misguided attempt to speed the melting process, or inattention to uniformly applying the correct amount of ice melter to thoroughly clear surfaces of ice. Maintenance crews should review and refresh their understanding of product application instructions – as well recommendations for safe use and handling – before the first use of ice melter each season. A small amount of time spent training crews in proper ice melter application will not only help protect the safety of pedestrians and motorists, it can help reduce waste, limit environmental impact, prevent costly damage to landscaping and pavement, and limit time and expense required to keep interior floors and carpets clean and safe.

Calibrate All Deicer Application Equipment

Calibration of application equipment is important to be certain that ice melter is properly applied to achieve effective ice melting, cost-effective product use and the lowest possible introduction of ice melter into the environment. This is especially important where large quantities of deicers are applied from vehicles across large areas of pavement. Even handheld spreaders should be calibrated to control actual application rates. The McHenry County Snow & Ice Control Handbook for Sidewalks and Parking Lots1 provides an example calibration procedure that includes an orientation to spreader calibration for smaller-scale operations.

Apply Anti-Icing Treatments Before Anticipated Snow or Ice Events

When significant snowfall or freezing rain is predicted, application of a liquid deicer beforehand can prevent snow and ice from bonding to the pavement. This makes physical removal easier and cuts down on the volume of deicers needed later. According to the Winter Parking Lot and Sidewalk Maintenance Manual2 widely used in Minnesota, “Anti-icing is the most cost-effective and environmentally safe practice in winter maintenance.” Anti-icing treatments can require only a quarter of the ice control material and cost just one-tenth as much as deicing procedures implemented after a storm.

Emphasize Mechanical Removal, Aided by Deicers

From a cost and environmental impact standpoint, the most efficient way to clear sidewalks and parking lots of ice is by mechanically removing as much snow and ice as possible before applying ice melter.

Avoid the Temptation to Over-Apply

Using more than the recommended amount of any deicer won’t speed up ice melting. It will only lead to increased waste, higher costs, and undesirable runoff of excess deicer to the natural environment. Selection of an ice melter that performs quickly and effectively at low temperatures is critically important because when rock salt or another material with limited ability to melt ice at low temperatures fails to perform, the first tendency is to apply more in the hope that “more will work better”. See: The Case for Calcium Chloride. While wasteful application of deicer is costly, there are additional costs associated with over application. Landscaping, pavement and other property can be damaged. And the amount of residual ice melter tracked onto interior floors and carpet can increase, making hard surfaces slippery and potentially dangerous and increasing floor and carpet cleaning expense.

Disperse Product Properly

Use of a handheld, mechanical dispersing spreader is typically a far better choice than using a simple scoop, especially for smaller areas like entryways and steps. Walk behind, push spreaders work well for sidewalks and parking lots where a greater surface area exists. Spreaders provide more even distribution patterns, help avoid deicer piles that can lead to tracking mess, and help make sure the proper amount of deicer is used – in some cases reducing waste by as much as 50%.

1Snow & Ice Control Handbook for Sidewalks and Parking Lots, McHenry County, IL, Anon., 2010.

2Winter Parking Lot and Sidewalk Maintenance Manual, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, C. Dindorf and C. Fortin, 2010.