Alternatives to Salt: What else melts snow and ice?

Given the high rate of urban development in the Greater Toronto Area, the amount of road salt being applied each year is continuing to increase. In combination with plowing, the application of road salt has traditionally been the primary means to remove snow and ice across northeastern North America. This is due to salt’s high degree of effectiveness, ease of use, and low initial cost. Only in recent years have the impacts of road salt on the environment and built infrastructure been considered.

A number of viable alternatives to traditional rock salt (NaCl) have emerged over the past number of years in response to the growing understanding of the environmental and economic impacts of salt use. This technical brief explores the pros and cons of the most commonly used alternatives to salt: alternative chloride deicers including calcium chloride (CaCl), magnesium chloride (MgCl2), and treated salt; acetate deicers; and agricultural by-products. Pertinent information including relative cost, typical application rates, and lowest practical working temperatures are also included. It is up to each individual company or road authority to determine the products that are most appropriate in their situation; this brief provides information on these alternatives to help inform decision making.