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Does Water Softener Salt Melt Ice? (Explained)

A water softener is a filtration system used to ‘soften’ hard drinking water by extracting certain minerals. Hard water refers to water consisting of magnesium, calcium, and other metal cations.

A water softener salt, on the other hand, is used to restore the resin beads in a water softener responsible for actually removing the metal cations. Apart from this application, water softener salt is also often used to melt ice on driveways.

Does water softener salt melt ice?

Water softener salt is made of sodium chloride (NaCl) and sometimes potassium chloride (KCl), which help remove ‘hard’ minerals from drinking water. Due to this property, water softening salt can indeed be used to effectively melt ice and snow on driveways.

Let’s walk through this section to know in detail if water softener salt is effective in melting snow and ice on the driveway –

Ice on driveway:

Despite rock salt being considered the most preferable ice melting salt in the market, water softener salt pellets are a great alternative in terms of efficiency and costs. Not only does water softener salt melt ice at the same rate as rock salt, but it is also much cheaper.

The average hardware store sells a 40-pound bag of rock salt for melting frozen driveways at around $17. However, for the same bag, water softener salt will cost you just under $6. Hence, you will be saving 65% of your expenses on ice melters every winter.

For de-icing your driveway, experts recommend buying the smaller water softener pellets as opposed to the ones labeled ‘extra coarse’. This is because smaller pellets will not only do a better job at melting the ice but will also last longer.

Snow:

Excessive snow can present a safety hazard for cars driving down a street during winter. This is where salts, particularly rock salts, help speed up the melting process of the snow and hence clear the roads.

Water softener salt pellets are often used as a cheaper alternative to rock salts to aid in melting snow faster. When sprinkled across the surface, the salt pellets lower the freezing point of the snow.

The salt is advised to be added before the roads completely freeze over or even before snowfall begins. This is so that the salt mixes with the snow as it falls and results in a brine solution. This solution spreads to other nearby roads and thus melts more ice.

Does water softener salt remove ice?

Water softener salt is added to a water softener filtration system to regenerate resin beads that extract metal ions from the water. This process is known as ‘ion exchange’ and removes ions such as those of magnesium and calcium.

This ion removing property of water softener salt helps melt ice and snow on frozen driveways and roads. In fact, it is a common alternative to rock salt which is the most popular ice melter in the market.

Water softener salt pellets are not only cheaper but they also meltdown ice just as fast as rock salt or sidewalk salt. The pellets reduce the freezing point of the ice which in turn speeds up its melting and clearing of walkways and roads.

Is water softener salt safe for driveways?

Water softener salt pellets, along with other ice melts often deteriorate road surfaces over time. Hence, whether or not sprinkling the product on driveways is safe depends on the material it is made of.

Water softener salt is not considered safe for concrete driveways. Over time, it can form potholes and bumps, not only in concrete driveways but patios and sidewalks as well. 

The salt pellets do this by corroding under the surface which leads to cracking and eventually crumbling of the concrete.

Asphalt driveways, on the other hand, are not damaged by any salt used to melt ice. This is because asphalt pavements are specifically engineered to resist the freeze-thaw cycle. Hence, water softener salt is safe for asphalt driveways.

To avoid the stress and time over choosing a de-icing agent during the winter, it is recommended to use calcium magnesium acetate to melt ice and snow. Calcium magnesium acetate is considered the safest driveway salt, despite its high price.

Softener Salt vs Sidewalk salt – the difference between water softener salt and ice melt salt:

The difference between water softener salt and ice melt salt are given below –

Composition:

Sidewalk salt is commonly known and sold as ‘rock salt’. It is primarily unprocessed sodium chloride that has been extracted directly from the ground. As it is not processed before being sold, its impurities are always intact. 

Sidewalk salt generally has around 95% purity, the rest being composed of shale, clay, and dirt.

On the other hand, water softener salt is a high-grade salt with 99% purity. It is manufactured specifically for water softening equipment. These salt pellets are most commonly made of sodium chloride or potassium chloride.

Primary usage:

Sidewalk salt, commonly referred to as ice melt and rock salt, is the most popular de-icer around the U.S according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is sprinkled during winter to melt the ice and snow accumulating on roads and walkways.

On the contrary, water softener salt pellets are added to water softening filtration systems to restore resin beads. The resin beads are responsible for extracting and removing the minerals in water that make it ‘hard’ such as magnesium, calcium, and other metal ions/

Costs:

Despite being composed of almost identical chemicals, water softener salt is much cheaper than sidewalk salt or rock salt. A local hardware store selling both salt pellets will price a 40-pound bag of sidewalk salt at around $17.

However, for water softener salt pellets, the same sized bag would cost you no less than $6. Although the difference in prices is drastic, both are equally effective at melting ice and snow on driveways and sidewalks.

How long does it take for water softener salt to melt ice on the driveway?

Aside from extracting and removing unnecessary minerals and ions from our drinking water in cities and rural areas, water softener salt also does a remarkable job of melting accumulated ice on driveways and streets.

However, the main function serves is to lower the freezing point of the ice which in turn makes it easier for snow to melt faster. Therefore, the time required for the salt to melt ice depends on the freezing point of the water, quality, quantity, and nature of the salt.

On average, ice piling up on a driveway will take around 10 minutes to begin melting after being sprinkled with water softener salt pellets. Experts also recommend using smaller pellets to speed up melting as opposed to coarser pellets.

How to use water softener salt to ice melt?

Although sidewalk salt or rock salt is the most common de-icer used in the U.S, water softener salt is a great alternative for this overpriced product. Here are the steps you should follow to use softener salt during winter. 

Choose the right type:

Although most brands and types of water softener salt do not differ greatly in performance and quality, the many variations and colors of bags at the hardware salt can often be confusing.

Since our primary goal is to use softener salt for melting icy sidewalks and not adding to filtration systems, it is important to buy the type that will lower the freezing point of ice most efficiently.

Therefore, it is recommended to avoid buying the Extra Coarse Solar Salt that comes in blue bags. These larger grains of salt will take longer to melt the ice, as compared to tinier salt pellets that will lower the freezing point much faster.

Sprinkle the right amount:

The amount of softener salt that you should use to melt down ice roads depends on the temperature of the area. The lower the temperature, the more salt is required to keep the pathways clear.

However, the standard amount is around 10-15 grams per square meter of ice. For melting snow, on the other hand, it is recommended to increase that up to 20- 30 grams per square meter.

It is also crucial to keep reapplying the salt over time to prevent the salt on the street from becoming too diluted and ineffective.

Which salt is best for melting ice?

Although rock salt is the most preferred ice melt in the market during icy winters, according to research, calcium chloride is considered the best salt overall. Not only is calcium chloride still effective down to very low temperatures, but it is also far less damaging to plants compared to rock salt.

Unlike sidewalk salt, calcium chloride also does not possess any sharp edges and poses less risk to pets. However, it can be almost twice as expensive as the conventional ice melt and drains moisture from concrete and wood.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, water softener salt is a great alternative to rock salt in terms of melting ice and snow on driveways. It does this by lowering the freezing point of the ice, allowing it to melt faster. In addition, softener salt is much more cheap compared to other popular ice melts.