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Homemade ice melt for steps, walkways and driveways

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Mary Hunt

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

I do, and at least one of these homemade recipes is sure to come to Jennifer’s rescue, and quite possibly yours, too

All of these recipes and methods use ordinary household items most of us keep on hand.

No. 1: Basic de-icer. Into a large container or bucket, pour 2 quarts water, 6 drops Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid and 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (70% or 91%). Dispense using a spray bottle or other type of garden sprayer. Spray the mixture on icy area or steps, and watch the snow and/or the ice melt, which is going to make your job of making those areas safe so much easier.

Why this works: Rubbing alcohol won’t freeze until it reaches at least minus 97 F. Because this recipe contains water, the mixture would freeze at a warmer temperature of perhaps minus 50 F. As for the Blue Dawn, just a few drops help break the surface tension of the ice and snow to get the melting process started.

Neither the alcohol nor the Blue Dawn content is harmful to landscape, pets or the environment, due to this being a very weak dilution.

No. 2: Liquid ice melt. Pour warm water into a bucket. Add rock salt crystals to it. (A good ratio is 1 gallon water to 1 cup rock salt, but this is not an exact science; you want to create salty water.) Stir occasionally until all of the salt crystals are completely dissolved.

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

Why this works: Salt (sodium chloride) melts ice because adding salt lowers the freezing point of the water.

No. 3: Vinegar. Mix equal amounts of vinegar and water to produce an effective de-icer. Pour the mixture on iced surfaces, and the ice will slowly turn to liquid.

Why this works: The freezing point of plain white vinegar is 28 F, which is lower than water.

No. 4: Grit. A light application of sand, gravel, non-clay-based kitty litter or birdseed gives walkways more traction.

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 there, whether you’re walking or driving a vehicle.

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

No. 5: Salt. Salt — rock salt or ordinary table salt — is the most basic ice melt found in just about any house. Simply sprinkle the plain salt across the snow-covered area, steps or porch. Salt will then spread through the ice layer, turning it into slush. Interestingly, salt is only effective to keep ice sloshy to 15 F. So, if it’s 14 F 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 protecting your landscape and hardscape.

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.

No. 6: 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 as we know, that lowers the freezing temperature of ice.

No. 7: Rubbing alcohol. Mix equal amounts of rubbing alcohol and water in a sprayer. Spray solution on snow and/or ice to melt it. You can use this ice melt for windshields as well, without worry of damaging the vehicle’s paint job.

Why this works: The freezing point for rubbing alcohol is way below zero. Compared to ice and snow, it’s very warm.

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living.” Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.


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