Products to melt ice and snow have been on the market for decades and chances are we’ve all used one kind or another of these substances, which are meant to keep you and others safe from slipping and sliding, especially when driving or walking.

But just how safe are they and are there some that are better than others? Which ones will get the job done while still being safe to handle?

Rock salt and health risks

Although, strangely enough, rock salt has become popular in modern culture – it’s being used in Himalayan pink salt lamps and “salt caves” for relaxation and rejuvenation – there are certainly concerns about its proper use and how it should be handled.

What we commonly refer to as rock salt is the chemical compound calcium chloride. Rock salt is not just larger crystals of table salt, as some may think, and you certainly don’t want to sprinkle this product on your scrambled eggs!

If not used properly, rock salt can cause harm to plants and animals as well as to humans. The most common injury to adults and children is “salt burns”, which can be caused when you handle rock salt with bare hands, especially when it’s already wet. Pets can suffer from salt burns on their paws as well, particularly when they walk atop the pellets and they get stuck in their paw pads. This can cause severe irritation, redness, and inflammation, and can also prompt a bacterial infection.

Inhalation or ingestion of rock salt particles can cause great harm to both humans and animals. It is suggested that you wear some sort of face covering when applying salt to surfaces so that you avoid inhaling or ingesting rock salt dust, especially on windy days, as it will irritate your mouth and throat and can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting in extreme cases. This is why a child should never be left alone in an area that is covered with rock salt or other similar products.

Animals can suffer similar problems. A pet can develop severe kidney damage or die from eating large quantities of rock salt. Even birds who ingest the substance become disoriented and unable to fly after eating the product and may or may not recover.

Landscaping and other environments

Rock salt used in abundance can indeed cause issues for plants and other vegetation. When salt is absorb by soil in large amounts, plants suffer defoliation and can die. In addition, it salt is placed near the roots of plants, the roots absorb the rock salt and not the other nutrients they require for growth. As a result, the plant suffers from deficiencies and may not grow properly or at all.

In addition, improper use of salt can cause harm to pavements, driveways, and other concrete or asphalt surfaces. Salt crystals can penetrate the pores of these surfaces, which brings in extra water that can later freeze, causing cracks and fissures to form. This effects the strength and longevity of these surfaces, especially as they go through a number of freeze-thaw cycles each winter. Eventually, structural repairs or replacement might be necessary…usually much sooner than expected.

Choosing rock salt vs other de-icers

Rock salt is still the right choice for many de-icing applications. It is especially suitable for large jobs as it is cost-efficient and gets the job done well and fairly quickly. It’s a reliable product that has been used for a long time and, when applied safely, will still be the logical choice in many instances.

There are, however, other options for de-icing, which are dubbed as safer for humans as well as animals and plants. Your de-icing specialist can review those options with you and help you select the product that’s right for the surfaces you need to de-ice.

Avoiding dangers when handling salt

If you do opt for rock salt as your de-icing agent of choice, it’s a good idea to let the professionals at Fraser Valley Snow Removal take care of the applications. If, however, you do find yourself handling salt, remember these important suggestions:

  • Use rock salt only in the recommended quantities. Do not overuse!
  • Wear protective gear when applying rock salt, including safety glasses (especially if it’s windy), gloves, and boots. Use a scoop or other device to remove the salt from its container rather than scooping it out with your hands, even if you are wearing gloves.
  • Always store rock salt in an airtight container and keep it out of reach of children and pets.
  • Be careful when walking pets so that they don’t step on or ingest the salt or drink from puddles that might include run-off from salt products.

Need more information on what products are right for your winter de-icing applications? Call the experts at Fraser Valley for a no-obligation assessment of your snow removal and de-icing needs.