Winter Tips for De-icing Walkways Sustainably

Using salt to de-ice roads, parking lots, and sidewalks is a common practice to reduce driving and walking hazards but can result in a significant cost to aquatic habitats and drinking water quality. The growth and reproduction of fish, aquatic bugs, and amphibians are affected by excess amounts of sodium and chloride in deicing salts, as is drinking water quality in both surface and groundwater supplies. As homeowners, we can play a role in reducing salt use and thereby reduce impacts to our water quality: 

  • The best approach to reducing slipping hazards and the use of potentially harmful deicing salts is shoveling sidewalks to reduce snow accumulation and ice formation. 
  • Covering small areas such as your steps with heavy, waterproof plastic or a tarp before the storm can reduce shoveling and deicer use.
  • Focus use of deicing products on high use areas and slopes where traction is most important. 
  • Spreading the deicer before snow and ice start helps reduce accumulation and usage of salts. Note that salt and deicers are not effective when snow is more than three inches deep. 
  • If applying deicers after snow and ice is present, remove as much snow and ice as possible before application. 
  • Try adding sand for traction to reduce salt use.
  • Consider more sustainable alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), more effective at melting ice and snow when temperatures are above 25 degrees. See the EPA list of safer products: https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/products. 
  • Follow the label directions. If only a handful of salt per square yard is required, using more is not more effective, just more expensive. It also increases the risk to plants, animals, vehicles, and impact to groundwater. 

Stay green this winter and help to protect our wildlife, our drinking water, and our environment. Wishing you all a safe holiday season!

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