I just tried to take my dog for a walk – and almost broke my neck. Even though I can barely see the ice, I sure can feel it. It's turned my steps into a treacherous one-way down ramp, and my driveway into an Olympic luge. I should have bought some de-icer yesterday. But when I went to the store, I couldn't figure out which product was both better for the environment and safer for my pooch, too. This morning, I researched the options. Here's what I found.
It's one thing to protect yourself from fallen snow; here are the top ten tips for that. Banishing ice is much harder – literally. If it's thick, you have to chop it up before you can shovel it off. If it's thin, like the ice I'm dealing with today, you've got three choices:
* Scatter something like sand or grainy kitty litter to create traction. The downsides? Neither actually melts ice, and both leave a big mess you'll have to clean up later so it all doesn't wash into the storm drains. Plus, you have to wait until after the ice forms. If you throw it down before hand, the ice will simply bury it, and you'll have to do it again later so it stays on the surface and actually creates resistance when you walk on it.
* Just stay inside until the temperatures heat up and the ice melts on its own. Probably for most of you, that's not really an option!
* Treat with an environmentally-friendly de-icer that's safer for pets, too. Upsides? You can pre-treat to prevent ice from building up, and treat again as the ice forms to keep your steps, driveway or sidewalk from getting too slick. Downsides? It's confusing to figure out which de-icer to buy. Some de-icing products are bad for wood (like my wooden steps). Some can't be applied to new concrete. Most salt-based de-icers can stain carpet and flooring when tracked into the house. Some products say they're eco-friendly, but turn out to contain ingredients like rock salt, urea, or sodium or magnesium chloride – chemicals that can burn plants and irritate pets that walk on them. Plus, they can claim they're "natural" or "eco friendly" because the use of those words isn't regulated by the government.
Here are the best options I've found to date. All of them can be purchased online. Many of them may be sold in your local hardware or pet store; if they're not, ask the store manager to stock them so other shoppers can buy them, too.
Safe Paw Ice Melter– This de-icer is the only one recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit organization focused on environmental research and advocacy. It's 100% salt free and leaves minimal or no residue when it degrades. The green pellets make it easy to keep track of where you apply it.
Storm Team Plus Liquid Ice Melt – The advantage of Liquid Ice Melt is that it can be used on wood and all kinds of other surfaces, including concrete, asphalt, and even satellite dishes. If you order online, you'll need to buy a pack of four 1-gallon jugs, which can get expensive, and a sprayer if you don't already have one. Either share the cost with neighbors, or ask your local hardware store to stock and sell individually. Ice Melt Pellets are also available, but they can't be applied to wood or new concrete.
Whatever de-icer you use, keep in mind that you will use less if you:
1) Apply before the snow and ice fall. Pretreat surfaces an hour or two in advance of precipitation.
2) Shovel snow and ice before they have a chance to accumulate. Once snow is deep, don’t throw de-icer on top of it. Wait until the snow stops falling, then shovel down to bare cement before applying de-icer again.
3) Shovel off the slush as the snow and ice melt. Otherwise, they'll refreeze and you'll have to apply all over again.