Earth Gauge Tip of the Week: Smart About Salt

Reader Contribution by Earth Gauge
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During the winter months, salt and sand applied to our roads, driveways and sidewalks contribute to lake and stream pollution.  Fifty pounds of salt – one large bag – can pollute 10,000 gallons of water.  That’s equivalent to one teaspoon of salt in a five-gallon bucket of water.

Viewer Tip:  Many cities and states are working to reduce salt use while still keeping streets and sidewalks safe.  Using less salt at home will help protect water quality in your neighborhood – and it will save money, too!

  • Shovel first.  Clear away as much snow and ice as possible before you use a deicer.  Only use deicer on ice, not snow.
  • Save your salt.  Read the label and use salt sparingly.  Use about 30 percent less salt by wetting it with some water before applying it to icy patches.
  • Protect your plants.  Keep salt away from salt-sensitive plants.  Learn more about salt damage to plants at
  • Know your stuff.  There are many types of deicers and they perform differently at different temperature ranges.  The most common deicer, sodium chloride (“rock salt”), only melts ice to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride cost more, but work in colder temperatures.

(Sources: Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership.; Tom Scheuler. Snow, Road Salt, and the Chesapeake Bay. The Center for Watershed Protection.; Iowa State University, Centre for Transportation and Research Education. “Prewetting with Salt Brine.”)