melting ice on driveway with salt

How to Melt Ice on Driveway: What to Do & What to Use

There’s a lot to look forward to in the wintertime, from holiday festivities to watching the world turn white, as snowmen greet you from your neighbor’s backyard. But winter can also be a massive inconvenience—especially when the temperature gets a little too low for comfort, and you’re stuck with an icy driveway underneath four inches of snow. 

Ice can be a huge safety hazard, especially for concrete driveways, which are prone to cracking when the ice melts, seeps into the concrete, refreezes, and expands. The last thing you want is to shell out a hefty sum for a concrete repair service—so read on to find out how to melt ice on driveways fast and easy!  

How to Melt Ice On Driveway

The easiest way to melt ice on a driveway is by enlisting the help of chlorides, which are salts that can reduce the freezing point of water. When a high concentration of salt is mixed with ice, the latter melts and forms a salt brine solution, which spreads and speeds up the overall melting process. 

a dog looking at a snow scraper

What Are The Most Common Types of Ice Melt?

Potassium Chloride

Potassium chloride is a common ice melt that’s often perceived as a less effective solution, as it’s only usable at temperatures -12 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. It’s not the best choice for wood surfaces and areas with plants but is an affordable option that doesn’t sacrifice road traction nonetheless. Potassium chloride can be a choice in the early months of winter—or if you’re located in an area that doesn’t get too cold. 

Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride is a fast-acting ice melter that can efficiently remove ice from driveways, roads, pavements, and similar concrete structures. It’s one of the most efficient commercial deicers that can melt snow at temperatures down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. It absorbs moisture from the environment and naturally generates heat as it dissolves into the ice, which makes it particularly efficient in extremely cold weather. 

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium chloride is a tough competitor among pet owners, as this option is considered a pet-safe ice melt (though keep in mind that it’s still best to completely avoid contact to prevent irritation, burns, and other possible issues from popping up). Magnesium chloride absorbs moisture from the air and releases heat to melt ice faster, but it’s not an extreme-climate friendly solution as it can only work in temperatures -5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

Why Does Salt Melt Ice?

Water at 32 degrees Fahrenheit reaches its freezing point, causing ice to spread across your entire driveway. What’s important to know is that the entire sheet of ice isn’t fully frozen. Only the bottom of the ice will have solidified, while more layers of snow continue to pile on top—causing a constant interaction between ice and water. 

Salts or chlorides are ionic compounds that reduce the freezing point of water. When spread, the top layer of snow can no longer freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, ice melt salt can absorb moisture from the environment and generate heat, which allows the melting process to spread into the frozen underlayers. 

This simple combo allows you to quickly remove ice from snow accumulation on your driveway. Post-maintenance involves no more than a little shoveling up to get rid of the leftover pieces of ice and pellets. 

When Should I Salt My Driveway?

It’s best to salt your driveway before heavy snowfall, as it allows the salt brine solution to work its way into the existing layers of ice while preventing the newly accumulated snow from solidifying. If snow isn’t projected to fall anytime soon, it’s best not to wait until the freezing temperature goes beyond the capacity of your calcium chloride pellets (or whatever salt you choose to use), or it will no longer be effective. 

As for the salting schedule, it’s best to play things by ear so as not to oversalt or undersalt, as the outdoor temperature can drastically change every day. 

bucket of salt deicer

Different Types of Salts 

We covered the different types of chlorides above. But apart from those chemical mixes, there are also derivatives of salts that can be used to melt ice on driveways and other concrete. 

Rock Salt 

Rock salt is a form of sodium chloride that works similarly—it forms salt brine, melts ice, and doesn’t compromise road traction by reducing slip. A big downside is that this salt only works in temperatures 5 degrees Fahrenheit and above, which can be great in places where the cold months are friendlier but won’t be useful when you live in a very cold climate. 

Table Salt 

Since table salt contains the same properties as other salts, it can melt ice as well! But like rock salt, table salt isn’t an efficient solution when the temperature goes significantly below the freezing point. It’s also not an economical solution—as table salt is sold in small bags for consumption, and you may need over 10 pounds to cover your driveway. So while it can be an alternative to other salt when you’re in a pinch, it isn’t practical for regular use. 

How to Melt Ice On Driveway With Salt

It’s important to know that while salts are efficient ways to counter annoying winter ice on your concrete driveways, their powerful deicing properties can be a little corrosive for sensitive pavements. The big idea is that you should use ice melt products strategically to prevent damage while solving the problem of slippery surfaces. 

What You’ll Need 

Make sure you have the following items before starting to thaw the ice on your driveway: 

  • Ice melt 
  • Shovel 
  • Bag (for keeping the shoveled salt) 

Follow these steps to get rid of the ice on your driveway quickly: 

  1. Spread ice melt evenly all over your driveway. The amount you need differs per brand and type of salt you use. A general rule of thumb is to use about half a cup of ice melt per square yard. Make sure to keep the salts away from pets, children, and plants. 
  2. Optional: If you’re in a hurry, place some hot water in a spray bottle and spray the salt pellets to activate them faster. 
  3. Wait about 15 minutes for the ice to melt. If you’re working with a very thick layer of ice, this process may take a little longer. And if you spread the ice melt before a snowstorm, wait for the snowfall to finish before checking back. 
  4. Use a shovel to pick up the excess pellets or salt to prevent causing harm to your pets, kids, and concrete. 

 

man removing ice from driveway with a scraper

How to Melt Ice On Driveway Without Salt

Method 1: Homemade Ice Melt 

If you aren’t keen on enlisting the help of salt to keep your driveway ice-free or need a quick solution before your ice melt arrives, you can create a homemade solution using common items you may already have at home. 

What You’ll Need

  • 1/2 gallon of hot water 
  • 6 drops of dish soap 
  • 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol 

Simply place all these ingredients in a bucket and spread the concoction on your driveway! The combination of boiling water, soap, and alcohol will cause ice to bubble up and disappear while preventing new ice from forming within hours of application. 

Method 2: Urea

Urea is a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, making it a plant and animal-safe ice melter. However, like other alternatives to chemical deicers, Urea can only be used in limited temperatures up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, which is even less effective than rock salt. Also, while generally safe for plants, overusing Urea can cause chemical burns on sensitive plants and unwanted elements (such as algae) to bloom in nearby sources of water, such as ponds and lakes. 

What You’ll Need 

  • 10 pounds of Urea per 100 square feet 

Simply spread the Urea across the driveway and wait for the ice to melt! If you use a granular option, you may have to shovel up the excess right after. If you use liquid Urea, most of it should dissolve during the process. 

salt crystals melting ice

What’s The Best Way To Melt Ice On Driveway?

The best way to melt ice on the driveway is to use a mixture of various salts that work for your area’s climate conditions. But if your driveway is small and the cold months don’t reach extreme levels, opting for an alternative to chemical deicers can also be a viable option.

  With Salt Without Salt
Pros
  • Easy to use—simply spread across the driveway and wait for the ice to melt 
  • Fast-acting 
  • Viable for extremely cold temperatures
  • Can be a cheap option depending on the salt mix 
  • Usually chemical-free and safe for kids, plants, and animals 
  • At-home solutions can be made with common ingredients—perfect for emergency use
Cons
  • If not applied property, it can be harmful to concrete 
  • Generally harmful to pets and plants so it needs to be applied with care
  • Difficult to use in large spaces
  • Not effective in extremely low temperatures
Estimated Time 15 minutes 15 minutes
Estimated Cost Approximately $20 or less per 50-pound bag Approximately $25 for a 50-pound bag of Urea and $15 or less for an at-home solution 
Products You Need Any salt mix, such as sodium chloride, magnesium chloride pellets, and more Urea or ingredients for making an at-home solution 
Tools You Need Shovel and bag for removing excess pellets Shovel and bag for removing excess pellets when applicable
Difficulty level 2/5  3/5 (need to be careful handling hot water) 

 

melting ice on driveway with salt

FAQs About Removing Ice On Driveway 

Can I use hot water to melt ice on the driveway?

Hot water can partially thaw the ice and may completely remove extremely thin layers. But it generally isn’t powerful enough to get rid of all the ice stuck on concrete. Consider using hot water with rock or table salt when an ice melter isn’t readily available. 

What’s the fastest way to melt ice without heat?

Simply spread an ice melter like calcium chloride to melt ice. This chemical naturally generates heat using moisture in the air, so you don’t need to manually add hot water into the equation. 

Does vinegar melt ice on the driveway?

Vinegar can melt ice on the driveway when combined with wood ash and water. While vinegar is acidic enough to lower the melting point of ice, it needs these other ingredients to effectively remove pesky layers from the driveway. 

What Happens When You Don’t Get Rid of the Snow and Ice on Your Driveway?

First, the driveway will become slippery, which can be a massive safety hazard. There’s also a chance for the changing temperature to cause constant freeze and melt cycles on the concrete, which can cause cracks to appear. 

How long does it take for salt to melt ice?

It takes approximately 15 minutes for the salt to melt ice, but this can vary depending on how thick the ice is and when you apply the pellets.

Can I put water softener salt on a driveway to melt ice?

Water softener salt often comes with potassium chloride, which is a popular ice melter. But while you can use water softener salt to melt ice on the driveway, using actual sodium chloride or other types of salts and alternatives is more cost-efficient. 

Does baking soda melt ice?

Baking soda works similarly to salt—it lowers the freezing point of water. You can use it with hot water to melt thin layers of ice or soften thick ice to shovel away. 

Takeaways

There are lots of ways you can melt ice on the driveway, but the most efficient solution is to rely on ice melter salts. These include potassium, calcium, and magnesium chloride, which can be spread in large areas to melt ice quickly with little work required. However, it’s important to exercise caution to keep your driveway, pets, plants, kids, and even yourself safe by following the application instructions of your ice melter of choice. 

Where To Buy Ice Melt?

Standish Milling offers a wide range of ice melts, including alternative options like Urea. We have 50Lb Magnesium Chloride Flakes, the pet-friendly Pestell Paw Thaw Ice Melter, and even budget-friendly, smaller bags like the 20Lb Remove Ice Melter

Choose from our amazing range of options or give us a call to find out the best ice melter for your driveway.