Hold the Salt, Please

Is salt the solution to icy streets?. (Photo: Nate Grigg [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

When I was in Seattle over the holidays, the city was hit with one of those epic snowstorms that only hits once a decade. Seattle, a fairly hilly and car-centric burg, was essentially shut down during the storm because city officials refused to use salt to clear treacherous roads. The reason? Fear that the salt would enter local waterways and harm the salmon population. Environmentally admirable, yes, but after uproar from Seattlelites and more than a couple serious collisions and disabled vehicles, the city reversed its no-salt policy for extreme weather situations.

Now as an artic blast grips a huge swath of the country, many shivering (hopefully not slipping) citizens are left wondering if they should hold the salt. How you deice the area around your home and garden — sidewalks, exterior stairs, driveways, patios, etc. — obviously doesn’t have as grand of eco-impact as deicing the streets of entire metropolis, but the folks in Seattle did have a legit concern. Deicing salt — according to the National Research Society around 10 million tons of the stuff is used on US roadways annually — poses a variety of environmental woes and not in terms of water pollution: it’s harmful to plants and trees, soil, and land-dwelling animals. It also isn’t too gentle on cars.

Below are a few commercially available consumer products for use around the home that won't have you committing "a salt and battery" on Mother Nature. Do you use an eco-friendly deicer that works magic? What about a homemade recipe? Don't keep it to yourself — tell me about it in the comments section.

♦ IceClear De-Icer @ Planet Natural ($20/1 gallon) A nontoxic, salt-free deicer that boasts a special formula of renewable resources derived from agricultural products.

Bare Ground Deicer @Clear Air Gardening ($46.99/1 gallon) A grain-based deicer that's nontoxic, water soluble, and biodegradable. Use post-storm to clear ice or pre-storm as an anti-snow agent.

♦ Enviromelt @ Cleaningpro ($49.90/35 pound drum) A long-lasting, biodegradable, and chloride-free deicer that's pellet based and not harmful to vegetation. Low-toxicity to humans, pets, and aquatic life.

♦ Earth Friendly Products Ice Melt @ Organic-Vida ($10.95/8 pounds) A mild, magnesium chloride hexahydrate-based solution that's safe for pets and vegetation.

Magic Salt ($20.23/25 pound bag) An EPA-approved salt-alternative made from distillery waste that's less corrosive than distilled water. It's nontoxic, biodegradable, and won't harm your home, plants, or pets.

I've also been reading quite a bit about folks, particularly in the Midwest, using beet juice (or molasses) as a deicer although from what I gather it's only effective when combined with salt and calcium chloride.