Should you use salt or sand to de-ice this winter?

December 9, 2014

Not only is de-icing streets, sidewalks and stairs necessary for safety, it's also a legal concern. Should someone slip and fall on property you own, you could potentially be held responsible for any injuries that occur. That said, what's better to de-ice: salt or sand?

Should you use salt or sand to de-ice this winter?

The arrival of winter ice is problematic for anyone who has the misfortune of setting foot on it, unless that person happens to be wearing skates.

  • According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, falls on the ice are the most common cause of wintertime injuries. That’s a very sad record indeed, especially when you consider that 70 per cent of fall victims are the elderly.

Clearly, it’s necessary to prevent falls, but what’s best for de-icing: sand or salt?


The most common de-icing agent is salt. You may even have a few bags in your garage. However, the use of salt can cause much greater damage than the inevitable white salt rings on your winter boots.

Salt causes avoidable property damage

Because it's corrosive, salt is likely to damage the surfaces on which you spread it.

  • Metal and painted concrete, for example, should never come into contact with salt, since it will eat away at the finish and provide you with a nasty surprise come spring.

Some experts warn against its use on concrete that’s less than two years old, since the free lime in concrete reacts poorly with salt.

Salt can endanger ecosystems

The fact that Environment Canada declared de-icing salt to be toxic in 2004 speaks volumes about the implications that may arise from its use.

  • Among other things, salt can be very harmful to vegetation and can possibly infiltrate the water table that supplies your drinking water.

Salt in drinking water? It’s a sobering thought when you’re hesitating between using salt or sand to de-ice.

Good old sand

Although it may not melt the ice, sand is undeniably effective in preventing falls by providing good traction.

  • In addition to being much safer for surfaces and for the environment, this eco-friendly option has the advantage of being inexpensive. That means you can trade your bags of salt for bags of sand without your wallet suffering for it.

There is a downside to using sand, however: you'll wind up tracking it into the house and your car.

  • Because sand doesn't dissolve, you'll find that it sticks to your boots and can wreak havoc on carpets and floors.
  • In the spring as the snow melts, you'll find all the successive layers of sand that you applied have now piled up and must be swept away.

Too much sand can not only create more dust, but it can potentially clog sewers.

De-icing chemicals

A third, more recent option is to use chemical de-icers which are available in liquid or granule form. They end to be more expensive than salt and sand, but some claim to be "safer" for the environment.

  • As with any chemical, you should assess the impact a chemical de-icer will have on your garden, concrete, driveway, shoes, pets and carpet.

With winter not far away, you should start considering how you'll tackle the problem of slippery surfaces. Will you choose salt or sand? Pound for pound, sand is the most inexpensive solution that's least harmful for the environment.

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