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Homemade Ice Melt Recipes for Steps, Walkways, Windshields, Locks

Got ice and snow on top of super cold temperatures this winter? EC Reader Jennifer does and asks: Do you have a solution for melting ice and snow on walkways, driveways, steps, and windshields? 

At least one of these homemade recipes is sure to come to Jennifer’s rescue and quite possibly yours, too.*

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These recipes and methods use ordinary household items most of us keep on hand. So grab a bucket and a spray bottle, and let’s get mixing!

Homemade Ice and Snow Melts

Basic Deicer

You’ll need:

✅ large container or bucket

✅ spray bottle

✅ 2 quarts (1/2 gallon) water

✅ 6 drops dishwashing liquid, like Blue Dawn

✅ 2 tablespoons rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol,  70% or 91%

Add all ingredients to the bucket or similar container. Dispense using the spray bottle. Spray the mixture on icy areas or steps and watch the snow and ice melt. This will make your job of making those areas safe so much easier.

Why this works: Rubbing alcohol won’t freeze until it reaches at least -97 Fahrenheit  (yes minus; below zero!)  In that this recipe contains water, this mixture would freeze at a warmer temp of  -50 degrees Fahrenheit or so. As for the dishwashing liquid, just a few drops help break the surface tension of the ice and snow to get the melting process started and into high gear.

Neither the alcohol nor dishwashing liquid is harmful to the landscape, pets, or the environment due to a very weak dilution.

Salt Water

You’ll need:

✅ bucket

✅ salt (table salt or rock salt)

✅ warm water

Pour warm water into a bucket. Add salt, noting that table salt will dissolve more quickly than rock salt, but either will work. A good ratio is one gallon of water to 1/2 cup salt, however, this is not an exact science—you want to create very salty water. Stir occasionally until all of the salt crystals are dissolved.

Pour the saltwater solution into a sprayer. Spray the solution on frozen hard surfaces. The force of the sprayer will help penetrate through all the layers of the snow and melt it.

Why this works: Salt (sodium chloride) lowers the freezing point of water from 32 degrees F to 15 degrees F If you’re dealing with mostly ice and frost, this will work to melt it almost immediately. In the case of snow, the force of the sprayer will help penetrate through all the layers of the snow and melt it.

Vinegar

You’ll need:

✅ large container or bucket

✅ plain white vinegar

✅ water

Mix equal amounts of vinegar and water to produce an effective deicer. If the ice is very thick combine 40 percent water and 60 percent vinegar, e.g., 4 cups of water to 6 cups of vinegar; or 8 cups water to 12 cups vinegar. Pour the mixture on iced surfaces and ice will slowly turn to liquid.

Why this works: The freezing point of distilled white vinegar with 5% acidity (that is what you find in the supermarket) is 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grit

You’ll need:

✅ sand OR

✅ birdseed OR

✅ kitty litter (non-clay)

Try laying down some sand, gravel, or birdseed to give walkways more traction—but sparingly~

Why this works: In most situations, just adding a scant layer of grit to snowy surfaces provides the traction you need to safely get from here to point there whether walking or getting a vehicle unstuck.

Caution: Do not use clay-based kitty litters for this purpose, since it will turn into watery sludge once it comes in contact with moisture and that will make the ground even more slippery than it was before!

Salt

You’ll need:

✅ salt

Salt—rock salt or plain old table salt—is the most basic ice melt found in just about any house. Sprinkle or “cast” the plain salt across the ice-covered area, steps, or porch the way a sower sows seed. The salt will penetrate the ice layer, turning it into slush. Interestingly, salt is only effective to keep ice sloshy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, salt has lowered the temperature all that it can. So if it’s 14 degrees Fahrenheit and lower, you need to use an alternative method.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, salts are less effective when applied in excess. Lesson to be learned: Use salt sparingly to treat treacherous ice on your driveway, steps, and sidewalk. This will improve its effectiveness, while at the same time protecting your landscape and hardscape surfaces.

Why this works: Salt (sodium chloride) lowers the freezing point of water. It is a perfect ice melt for your icy areas at very little expense.

Caution: Salt kills vegetation. Once it soaks into the ground, depending on the amount of salt and how often the ground is saturated with saltwater, it will temporarily sterilize the soil, rendering it unable to grow any vegetation. That means keep this melting option on the driveway, walks, and other areas you do not have plantings or plan to soon.

Baking soda

You’ll need:

✅ baking soda

Generously sprinkle baking soda on the ice or snow-covered area and wait for the ice to start melting. This may take a bit longer to melt than other options, but it will work. Do not use the soda-sprinkled path until the baking soda has done its job.

Why this works: Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) contains salt and that lowers the freezing temperature of ice.

Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol

You’ll need:

✅ rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, 71% or 90%

✅ water

✅ sprayer

Mix equal amounts of rubbing alcohol and water. Pour into a sprayer. Spray solution on snow and or ice to melt it. You can use this ice melt for windshields and keylocks. Use sparingly

For a very tough frozen situation, you can apply straight isopropyl alcohol. Or if you don’t want to use a sprayer, pour it directly onto the problem area.

Why this works: Compared to ice and snow, alcohol is very warm! Alcohol freezes eventually but only in conditions that are way below zero F.

*Disclaimer

These solutions should be used with caution and common sense as some of the ingredients may harm paint, plants, water supply, or carpets if tracked indoors. Be mindful of the areas you are treating. Only treat the specific spots (i.e. the glass windshield not the entire car) the center of the walkway (not the flowerbeds bordering it) the steps, (not the entire deck) that if left untreated present a serious safety issue because you must walk on them. Use your common sense and wise discretion.


 

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12 replies
  1. Pam R. says:

    The salt & vinegar WILL damage travertine (our front sidewalk, steps, and porch are made of this). I’m in Minnesota, so ice is always an issue. Wondering if your Basic De-icer would damage travertine w/the dilute amount of alcohol…?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Alcohol does not damage natural stone, which I assume your pavers are (rather than cultured travertine.)? Two cups rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol to one gallon of water would be a good formula. You’ll be amazed how well that works.

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      I have researched and am satisfied that nothing here will harm concrete, wood. The only ingredient that might be suspect is salt and even then we are not recommending flooding any area. So don’t fret, use your common sense and enjoy the super cheap ice melt!

      Reply
  2. Donna says:

    As always, I love all of your practical and inexpensive suggestions. However, I had to write and let you know that the kitty litter idea can have an unwanted consequence. Many years ago our next door neighbor used it on her back steps and walkway to her garage. A plethora of neighborhood cats decided to visit her. Just saying. . . .

    Reply
  3. Miriam Kearney says:

    I think people should be aware that salt and vinegar will retard or kill growth in areas where they leach. The alcohol approach would seem safer.

    Reply

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