Salt vs. Brine: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Salt bin against a brick wall.

kk_tt / Getty Images

The magic elixirs of salt and brine are certainly nothing new, they have been used on our roadways for awhile now. Salt is of course used during the winter in certain areas to clear off roads and provide more traction for drivers. Brine on the other hand is derived from gas and oil wells, and is often used to cut down on dust particulates by spreading on gravel/dirt roads.

Put the salt and brine together, and suddenly you have a mixture which is capable of melting snow with much more efficiency and with less salt, and the reason for this is simple.

The Good

Salt sprinkled on interlocking brick.

beekeepx / Getty Images

Dry salt in frigid temperatures often just lays on top of the snow and blows around. In other words, it takes awhile for it to set to work.However if you wet the salt with a chemical such as brine, it sticks to the roadway better, allowing more of it to do its job without getting blown around.

The brine enhanced salt also enables the mixture to work better in frigid temperatures, because it melts the salt, which then allows heat to be given off quicker, which further speeds the process of melting the snow and ice. Sounds pretty good doesn't it?

So good in fact, that a number of nations are using the mixture, such as Austria, areas around the UK, and some parts of the US. But as there is nothing quite perfect in this world, there is a bad side.

The Bad

Brown boots stand on salt and brine on a sidewalk.

Михаил Руденко / Getty Images

While it is claimed that the brine/salt mixture is actually more environmentally friendly, because it allows the road crews to use less salt, there is still the fact that brine itself is a chemical derived from oil and gas and not quite like spreading daisy petals over the asphalt.

Some reports have even gone as far to call brine, hazardous waste (heavy metals, radiation, etc.), which is being legally dumped on our streets and highways. Of course it is tested for caustic materials before it can be dumped, but there is concern that too often reports are not as reliable as we would like to think they are.

The Ugly

A car parked on a snowy road beside a salted sidewalk.

Dmitry Marchenko / EyeEm / Getty Images

To bring up even more ugliness, the brine mixture has also been found by Volkswagen in a recent study to accelerate the corrosion of vehicles. This has already caused multiple vehicle warranty issues in Austria, where the mixture is commonly used.

With the economy the way it is, the motor industry is naturally upset with the thought of multiple issues from customers with premature corrosion-caused suspension and body damage. So the question remains, should the mixture be used for the safety of the driver, or discontinued for the safety of the environment?