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De-Ice Sidewalks and Driveways Naturally

10/30/2012 2:17:00 PM

Tags: de-icers, de-ice sidewalks, winter preparation

Shovel SidwalkCan you suggest a natural way to de-ice sidewalks and driveways without harming nearby soil and plants? 

Salt compounds that are commonly used as de-icers can be highly corrosive to nearby plants and soil. Besides injuring vegetation upon contact, salt leaches into soil and makes vital nutrients and water less accessible to plants. Salt compounds also leach into surface water and groundwater, where they can be toxic to wildlife.

At home, instead of managing ice chemically with salts, take a mechanical approach. Shovel paths early and often, or pay a neighbor to do so if you can’t manage the heavy lifting yourself. To increase traction on slippery surfaces, use sand or gravel. Snow tires on vehicles and cleats on shoes can also help you gain traction. If you must resort to a chemical de-icer, the least harmful products contain calcium magnesium acetate or potassium chloride rather than sodium chloride or rock salt.

For roadside plantings regularly exposed to salt spray from municipal de-icing, choose salt-tolerant species. For a list of salt-tolerant plants, see Purdue University Extension publication ID-412-W.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Right: Shovel the sidewalk early and often to avoid using chemical de-icers. 

Photo By Fotolia/Stefan Korber 

Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .

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1/4/2014 7:18:05 AM

11/29/2013 5:25:22 PM
I meant vinegar and baking soda not vinegar and water...

11/29/2013 5:23:40 PM
The deicer that's sprayed as a liquid on streets and on planes is 97% sodium acetate, a food grade chemical that biodegrades, is safe for plants and animals and protects concrete ( it's used to seal concrete ). It's also used to give salt and vinegar potato chips their flavor ( 1 to 1 with acetic acid ), to keep freshly cut meat or fruit from discoloring, and to retain the color of frozen vegetables. School age children often build volcanoes for science projects by mixing vinegar and water to make sodium acetate and CO2. Household vinegar is mostly water so the sodium acetate produced would be less than 10% sodium acetate with the rest being water but it should still work and if you like, you can boil it down ( just stop boiling if a skin forms ). Get a garden pressure sprayer, put in three tablespoons of baking soda and slowly spoon in up to two liters of vinegar letting the foam dissipate each time unless you want a volcano, stop when it no longer foams, then pump up the sprayer and spray your sidewalk before the snow falls. It's good to -18 Celsius while rock salt only works to -6.6 Celsius.

Joanne Pagee
1/27/2013 7:30:24 PM
make your own de-icer: use 1 teaspoon Dawn dish washing liquid, 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol and 1/2 gallon warm/hot water; put in spray bottle and spray onto surface.

Helen Kavanagh
11/9/2012 6:33:45 PM
I have been using wood ashes for years now, works great on ice!

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