Sidewalk salt spread the walking path to melt the snow and ice.

Winter Salt Effects On Lawn and Garden

Excerpted from: How Does Sidewalk Salt Affect Your Home & Yard?

  Each winter, snow-covered cities spread sidewalk salt for safer driving conditions. De-icing products do more than clear your sidewalk and driveway.

  Sidewalk Salt

Sidewalk salt, also known as road salt, ice salt and rock salt, is a common, affordable and effective de-icing compound used by cities and homeowners across the country. But it does have some downsides.

Sidewalk salt that gets into your lawn and garden can damage to a slew of things around your home. You may be willing to accept the potential side effects, or decide to try greener road salt alternatives. Here’s what you need to know.

  Types of Sidewalk Salt

Bucket with salt to melt ice from the sidewalk.

Many types of de-icing compounds, including chlorides and non-chlorides, get lumped under the sidewalk salt umbrella. There are four common ice melt active ingredients: sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate.

While each has a different chemical makeup, they all melt ice by lowering the freezing point of water below 32 degrees F. Ice will still form if temperatures drop far enough.

Sodium Chloride

  Lowest melting temperature of 15° F

  Negatively impacts plants

  Least expensive option

Calcium Chloride

  Lowest melting temperature of -20° F

  Negatively impacts plants

  Harmful to skin, may cause ulceration to your dog’s mouth if ingested

Magnesium Chloride

  Lowest melting temperature of -10° F

  Negatively impacts plants

  Most harmful to concrete

Calcium Magnesium Acetate

  Lowest melting temperature of 20° F

  Has the least effect on plants

  Most expensive option

  What About 'Pet Safe' Sidewalk Salt?

Dog walking on sidewalk in winter.

A good pet friendly ice melting product will be specifically formulated to be less toxic, so that pets will not become dangerously ill in the event that they do accidentally ingest the material.

Another major priority for pet owners is the safety of their furry friends’ paws after they have walked over the surface of areas with rock salt. The crystals from ice melt have a tendency to get stuck in the padding of a dog or cat’s paws.

Magnesium chloride has a low toxicity level for humans and dogs, making it safer to be around than the highly toxic sodium chloride. Magnesium chloride pellets are also round-shaped, so they will not cut or irritate pet’s paws the way sharp crystals will.

Pet-safe ice melts are considered slightly safer but may still cause gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting or diarrhea. These ingredients are also less effective at melting ice.

  Effects Of Salt On Lawn And Garden

Heavy use can lead to brown and stunted greenery, particularly if you use products containing sodium chloride.

When “salts settle around the roots of the plant, they can create an environment that prevents the plant from absorbing water.” Salt can even pull water out of plant roots. This may lead to brown grass.

Excess salt in your soil also affects a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. Instead of getting things like potassium and phosphorus, the plant will soak up salt, which can lead to chloride toxicity.

Since plants can’t sweat out salt, those that have excess sodium will push it into the leaves. The leaves will then die and fall off, thus removing the excess from the plant. Deciduous plants are less susceptible to damage over time than evergreens because they shed their leaves every year.

  Effects Of Sidewalk Salt On Home

Cracked concrete driveway.

De-icing salt is well known to cause rust on vehicles. Washing your car often in the winter helps, but limiting your use of salt is key. Salt can also stain your floor mats, so be sure to clean them while cleaning your exterior.

Another major concern is sidewalk salt’s effect on concrete driveways, patios and sidewalks. Although de-icing products are unlikely to visibly damage concrete itself, melting and refreezing exacerbates existing problems.

The ice that melts needs to go somewhere, and sometimes that means between the cracks in your driveway. Salt doesn’t interact with the cement that bonds the aggregate together, but the ice acts as a wedge that can structurally weaken your driveway.

Ice melts can cause damage below ground, too. Salts are by nature very abrasive, so they can weaken your pipes and even cause leaks.

  Minimize Damage

If all you need is a little extra traction, there are simple solutions. Start by trying sand. It won’t make snow or ice melt faster, but it will give your tires and shoes more grip.

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