What abrasives should you use to prevent falls?

December 9, 2014

Each year, winter makes its comeback and compels us to bring out the snow shovels and salt, and again, we fall, wrench our backs, and question ourselves on which abrasives to use to keep everyone safe on the icy stairs.

Give it a good shake

The salt that’s used outside (calcium chloride) is very different from table salt (sodium chloride). Used on sidewalks in winter, calcium chloride melts the ice and serves as an abrasive that offers grip.

Did you know that sidewalk salt has the ability to lower the freezing point of water molecules to -12°C? In other words, instead of freezing at 0°C, when water is mixed with salt it remains liquid to -12°C. So you can bid farewell to ice when the thermometer fluctuates between 0 and -12°C.

Not environmentally friendly

Unfortunately, there's a small problem with the salt that’s used to de-ice our roads: it isn’t environmentally friendly. Salt that’s frozen with water at a low temperature can leach into the waterways when the snow melts.

It can also seep into the water table and into the artesian wells of homes, in addition to making life difficult for flower beds and lawns. In short, calcium chloride may be convenient, but it’s better to use it sparingly.

Sandy beaches

What other abrasives can you use? Without turning your entrance into a sandy beach, you can still use sand to prevent it from turning into an ice rink. In fact, sprinkling sand is a good solution to make your entryways safe.

Without melting the ice, sand gives people traction on sidewalks and other slippery surfaces. The grains of sand slow your feet down as well, which allows you to avoid nasty falls. This option does require some cleaning once spring arrives, but at least it doesn’t harm the environment.


Gravel doesn’t melt ice either. Nevertheless, it provides temporary traction on slippery surfaces the same way sand does. A fine grade of gravel will do the job, although you may need a sturdy broom and dustpan when spring comes so the gravel won’t end up on your lawn.

Other factors to consider

The abrasive that you should use depends on the results that you expect, in addition to the thermometer reading. As well, ensure that the abrasive you choose isn’t harmful to the type of surface you wish to cover. For example, water can infiltrate concrete, and the contact of de-icing salt with water-infiltrated concrete can cause the surface to crack.

Here’s a last tip for preventing falls: be sure to select winter boots with good traction and quality car tires that comply with current winter safety regulations.

What abrasives should you use to prevent falls?
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