Get ready! How to safely de-ice your driveway or your sidewalk

Is there a way to melt the ice without wrecking the environment or hurting your pets' paws? Maybe.

February 7, 2019
Icy walk

© Vladimir Sotnichenko |


It's not usually something we need to think about around here, but all of a sudden we're dealing with snow like we're living in Minnesota. Usually, when we get one of our rare snowfalls, it melts the next day, so you don't have to worry about clearing your driveway or shoveling your walk. But this week we're looking forward to substantial snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures over several days. I don't need to tell you what this does to your commute. But it also makes for a puzzling question around your house: How do you melt the ice and clear your paved surfaces so you can walk out your front door without doing a backflip on the frozen ground?

Consumer Reports tackled this issue, and they have some answers here. They break down the different kinds of what we call "rock salt" and while they're all basically the same -- salt melts ice, duh -- they caution that the coated kind that's supposed to be safe for pets and plants is only safe up to a point, and then the coating melts and at the end of the day, you're more or less back to regular old rock salt. And rock salt can often do the job better than anything, especially here where we don't usually have a foot of snow to get rid of.

A couple of suggestions that might help if you decide to use the hard-core rock salt: They say after the snow and ice melt and the remnants of salt remain on our walk or driveway, you should shovel it up and dispose of it so it stays out of your plants and off pets' feet. And if your pets do tend to get irritated by salt underfoot, a good idea is a pan filled with water by the entrance to your house, along with a towel. Give Fido a footbath and towel his paws off before he comes in the house. He'll feel better and he won't track gritty salt all over your Brazillian bamboo hardwood floors.

And speaking of your floors, there are cautions against using kitty litter -- a popular alternative to salt -- because it tends to clump, not melt stuff. So it just makes your sidewalk lumpy and it tracks funky, sticky, scratchy stuff into your house. (Read more about that here.)

The best suggestion for doing the actual ice control is simple -- mix whatever salt you buy with sand and toss the combination on your walk. That gives you a good hybrid of melting power and traction.

One thing they don't mention in the CR story that probably makes the most sense if you're in decent shape? Get a good shovel and get after that snow as soon as it falls. The less accumulation you leave on the driveway, the less there is to melt and freeze. Sure, that's the hard way, but it really works. Beyond that, maybe . . . .  a flamethrower? I know that'd be the choice my 7-year-old son would enjoy the most!