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melting ice, icy driveway
Everyone loves a winter wonderland -- until they have to shovel the snow and de-ice the driveway. Photo: D'Arcy Norman, Flickr

Rock salt may be effective at melting ice on your sidewalks and driveways, but at what cost? Numerous studies cite salt's ability to wreak havoc to the natural environment. The heavy use and overuse of traditional rock salt (sodium chloride) can corrode concrete and asphalt, as well as damage plants. Plus, rock salt is your four-legged friend's worst enemy. It can get stuck in the paws of dogs and burn or irritate their skin.

So how do you prevent a walkway or driveway from becoming dangerously slippery slope while still being kind to the environment and keeping paws and asphalt intact? Luckily, there are numerous natural de-icing options, ranging in price from ten to a few thousand dollars.

Here are our three top ways to de-ice driveways and walkways the natural way, depending on your budget.


Salt de-icers will get the job done, but are often harmful to the environment. Photo: Arvind Grover, Flickr

Opt for less harmful substances to scoop onto your driveway after a snowstorm.

- Cat litter: Make sure the type you use to lay down on ice and snow buildup is natural and biodegradable. Options range from Yesterday's News (made from recycled paper and available in 5-, 15- and 30-pound bags) to Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Clumping Litter (consisting of corn fibers and baking soda in a 10.5-pound bag).

- Sand: Sold at most landscaping and home-improvement stores, sand is a better alternative than rock salt, but still comes with a host of potential problems. It can easily wash into waterways, disrupting stream life. So make sure not to use sand near storm drains, as excess sand can clog drains and cause flooding. You also want to be careful about tracking sand into your home -- via the bottoms of shoes and boots -- because it's abrasive particles can damage wood flooring and carpet. To keep damage to a minimal, park shoes and boots on an entryway rug or inside the garage or mudroom.

- Other household items: To get traction on icy surfaces, you may also use sawdust, shredded corn cobs, peanut hulls, gravel, straw and wood chips. All are environmentally friendly and readily available.

De-icers containing chlorides can be harmful or irritating to pets, concrete, asphalt, plants and the environment, but there are a handful of products designed specifically for sensitive paw pads and general eco-safety (though they're primarily marketed as pet-safe). Safe Pet Ice Melter costs around $30 for a 20-pound bag, or $20 for an 8-pound jug. The chloride-free product is sold at places like Ace Hardware. Also available is Safe Step's "Sure Paws". A 20-pound bag of the organic, natural salt-free deicer costs $20, and an 8-pound jug slightly less. Another popular option is Safe Paw, available in an 8-pound jug for $20 on Amazon.

HEATED DRIVEWAY ($300-$5,000)

Heated driveways, walkways and parking surfaces are becoming increasingly popular, as they eliminate the time-consuming and labor-intensive aspects of snow removal. Photo: All Warm

If money is no object and you desire an effortless snow removal system, think about installing a heated driveway, which uses radiant heating to melt ice from below. The standard design features cables or tubing under the driveway and sidewalk that are heated by electricity or hot water.

"A lot of our calls are from serious DIY people, who do a lot of research and then they turn it over to us," says Tracy Stanger, CEO of WarmZone in Salt Lake City. The company installs two kinds of radiant heating for driveways: hydronics or electric cables from a Scandinavian company (costing between $8-$9 a square foot). "We're seeing electric as the fastest-growing segment," Stanger explains. "There's no moving parts and no maintenance."

These are more often installed under concrete or asphalt for new-construction houses, only because the cost to rip up the driveway is astronomical. "We don't really recommend retrofitting," says Stanger. "It can be done, but it's almost like getting a new driveway." If you choose to install under brick pavers, a sand base is added as the bottom layer, followed by the cables and finally a second layer of sand with the pavers on top.

Another hidden cost would be in upgrading the voltage, if your home is not currently set at the proper voltage level (around 240 volts). "You have to be careful about that," advises Norma Hess of All Warm in Cleveland, which uses a Norway-made cabling product. "Otherwise you won't be able to turn on your toaster."

Tempting as it may be to install the product on your own, professionals recommend you only lay down the cables. "The final hook-up should always be done by an electrician," says Stanger.

Heff agrees. "You need a certified electrician to do the hook-up. It's not something you just plug in."

Psst...Our sister site ShelterPop is hosting a design challenge -- go vote for your favorite student-designed product!

Shovel Snow Easier with Cooking Spray
Snow Removal: What to Do After a Blizzard
Eco-Friendly Tips for Deicing Your Driveway [CasaSugar]

  • Bruce

    Driving on treated winter roads does have the benefit of loading up the underside of your car with slush that is filled with salt and sand mixed in with the snow. One item to do is to leave your car outside the garage for awhile allowing the slush and stuff to fall on to your driveway.
    This does two things.
    First you get the ice melt and sand on the driveway where you need it and second it helps to keep the garage a bit cleaned and dryer.

  • BTDT

    The article failed to mention gas fired infra-red. Low energy and amazingly effective.

  • Coop

    I hardly think a little rock salt is "a dog's worst enemy." May be a little irritating, but nothing compared to sandspurs, ticks, fleas, heartworms . . .

    Anyway, I think you left out a few options for keeping your walks and driveway passable (note that you didn't limit this discussion to keeping pavement CLEAR because you suggested sprinkling a variety of stuff over top of the snow/ice). First, there's the snow shovel. Use it BEFORE you walk or drive all over the new snow and it's usually pretty easy to get everything short of a blizzard cleaned up. A similar but more expensive device is the snow blower; they now come with electric start, are self-propelled, and some even have built-in hand warmers in the handles. Then there's the plow - attach one to your lawn and garden tractor or even your truck. You could buy a whole tractor with a plow for less than the cost of a heated driveway. Go with a used one and you could probably get a cab, too.

    Ultimately, you have the option of just letting the snow lie. Just walk carefully or buy some snow-grips for your shoes; those can be had for less than the price of a good snow shovel.

  • kit

    To leave the snow or ice and get good shoes? Tell that to the person who sues you when they fall. In the city in which I live- you have a duty to clean your walks to the bare sidewalk.

  • Coop

    Kit - Good shoes? In the winter, I wear BOOTS. If I need to "dress up," I change into my "good shoes" when I get there. Although, I still define "good shoes" as ones you can actually use in all weather conditions. . . (We don't have sidewalks where I live, so I was thinking only of the walk between our driveway and front door. But, that's a good point - in more collectivist areas, you're forced to clear the sidewalks whether you use them or not.)

  • Al

    I've always found using leftover fertilizer mixes, when used two to three applications work well as a traction assist on steps and walkways, and after their service, if you shovel the slush and toss it wide to the lawn area, does no harm. Try using leftovers from the late season treatment you put down.
    As with any ice melt, it's best to remove footware before bringing it all into the house and on to carpets and floors.

  • Coop

    I forgot another old tip you can use. If you have a fireplace (or if you like to grill out in the snow like I do), throw the hot ash/embers on the driveway when you clean them out. Obviously you don't want to throw them against your tires - and you'll want to be pretty damn sure that none of your vehicles leaks fuel - but you can put them under your car's engine to help keep it warm, too. Granted, this will create quite a mess, but the hot embers will melt snow/ice and ash is very abrasive so it provides excellent traction. You just won't want to wear your shoes in the house.

  • Geezer Dave

    Or you can become friends with Oprah and go to Australia every winter.

  • Jim

    I'd rather freeze than be near Oprah thanks.

  • Tilemaster

    Haha, how about a romote controlled snow plow!?
    But for heated floors or snow melting systems, I must admit that there is no one better to deal with than Warmzone.

  • 10 Comments / 1 Pages

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