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 will come to Jennifer’s rescue and yours, too.*
These recipes and methods use ordinary household items most of us carry. So grab a bucket and a spray bottle, and let’s get mixing!
Homemade Ice and Snow Melts
✅ large container or bucket
✅ spray bottle
✅ 2 quarts (1/2 gallon) water
✅ 6 drops of 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!) Since this recipe contains water, this mixture would freeze at a warmer temperature of -50 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 (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.
✅ large container or bucket
✅ plain white vinegar
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.
✅ 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, making the ground even more slippery!
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
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 that lowers ice’s freezing temperature.
Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol
✅ rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, 71% or 90%
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.
How To Prevent Ice From Forming on Your Car Windshield
- Park Facing East . The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If your windshield is facing the Sun as it rises, there’s a chance that any ice formed in the night will melt before you wake up in the morning.
- Spray Vinegar on Your Windows. The idea behind spraying vinegar on your windshield and windows the night before is that it freezes at a lower temperature than water, so they aren’t as likely to frost over while you’re sleeping. .
- Cover Your Windshield. You can either purchase a cover designed for your windshield or use items from around your home to blanket the glass from the cold. Carpet remnants, blankets, tablecloths, and shower curtains will work nicely. Simply place a cover under your windshield wipers in the evening before you go to bed and remove it in the morning when you warm up your car.
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.
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…?
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.
Can you any of these ingredients on your gutters?
My first reaction is yes, but then I’m wondering how you’d get it into your gutters?
Do any of these solutions harm driveways? Thanks!
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!
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. . . .
Ha! Did I mention to use this sparingly? Sounds like she laid down a crusher-base amount!
I could have used these tips when I lived in the north. Stay warm and safe, Mary!
Come back, Gina! The north misses you 😉
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.
There is no need to de-ice “growth areas.” Use these deicers on wood, concrete, and other outdoor hardscape.