When the sidewalk and driveway start to develop slippery patches of ice and frozen snow, it's easy just to grab the closest container of sidewalk salt and apply it liberally. Ice can be hazardous, so it's essential to take care of it as soon as possible, but going straight to sidewalk salt can cause damage to your pavers, natural stone, or concrete surfaces.
Salt is a very caustic substance and can cause all sorts of problems. If salt sits on damp concrete or manufactured pavers for too long, it will start to eat away at the surface and leave pock marks. Once the surface is damaged, the damage will spread over time. Salt can also cause flaking and color bleaching on natural stone products.
Besides being tough on your hardscapes, sidewalk salt is also not good for your lawn, shrubs, trees, and pets. If too much salt gets into the soil around your plants, it may be absorbed into their roots and cells, causing them to be less resilient to freezing temperatures, so they may not survive the winter. If pets walk across damp sidewalk salt, it can cause the pads of their paws to get really dry and cause painful cracks. It can also make them sick if they lick it off their paws later.
How to De-Ice your Walkways and Driveway without Salt
There are four alternatives to sidewalk salt that can help you de-ice your outdoor surfaces safely and quickly in the winter. They are also safer for pets, although there are still some health risks to be aware of. Whatever de-icer you use, keep the container out of reach of pets, and wipe their paws well after they've walked across any de-icer.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate is a biodegradable de-icer. It's safer than salt for both pets and plants, as long as it's used in small amounts. It is one of the more expensive options, but it will protect your hardscaping, landscaping, and pets.
Potassium Chloride is safe for plants when used conservatively. It's safer for your pet's paws, but it can make them sick if they lick their paws after walking across it. If a pet has kidney disease, it could be lethal if they lick it.
Magnesium Chloride is ideal for very cold weather. It will keep working down to 9ºF. Like potassium chloride, it's safe for pets to walk on but not safe for them to eat or lick. It's also safe for your lawn and shrubs. The bonus of magnesium chloride is that it doesn't leave much residue behind, so it's not as visually noticeable.
Calcium Chloride is also great for extremely cold weather since it keeps working down to -13ºF. It also works very quickly compared to other options. Similar to the other products, calcium chloride is generally safe for pets, as long as they don't eat it.
If you have a thick ice patch or just want to make your de-icer go further, you can cut it with small gravel, grit, or sand. This will help to improve traction and reduce the amount of de-icer you need to use.
Extra Steps to Prevent Winter Damage to Your Hardscapes
Besides using a salt-free de-icer, there are a few more things you can do to protect your concrete, pavers, or stonework during the winter.
Have a sealer coat applied to paved surfaces after installation. Sealer lasts 3-5 years and will need to be reapplied then.
Keep the snow shoveled off your walkways, patios, and driveways.
Clean up leftover de-icer and keep it away from plants. The sooner you can clean it up, the better.
Check all your hardscaping over in the spring, looking for signs of corrosion from the de-icer. Getting it repaired as soon as possible prevents further damage from weather or traffic.
Stop by our garden center if you need to pick up some de-icer or have questions about protecting your hardscapes. Our staff can help you find the right product for your yard and give you tips and tricks to get the best results.