I bet your first answer was Salt.. right?! While salt is a very common and effective way to melt ice, it is not necessarily the best for your lawn, pets, or the environment. Excess salt builds up in soil, it’s residue prevents plants from absorbing moisture and nutrients, and it has the ability to leach heavy metals, which eventually can make their way into water supplies. If you have pets, salt on grass or sidewalks which are close to roads can attract animals, causing them to be unnecessarily hit by vehicles. Salt can also burn your pets feet if it gets lodged in their paws.
So what are the alternatives to using salt?
Get the shovel out and get a little exercise! The sooner you shovel after a snowfall, the better. If shoveling is not your cup of tea, or an option, there are often neighboring kids who are eager to shovel in exchange for a few dollars.
Use a snow blower. Effective and quicker than shoveling, but remember that you will cause a lot of extra noise for your neighbours, and may possibly have one or two of them asking to borrow it. ;)
A “snow melt mat”. If you are installing a new driveway or replacing an old one, you can lay down electric wires to heat the driveway from below. Of course, keep in mind the extra installation and electricity costs if you go this route.
If none of the above options are an option (or appealing) you can simply try to get a better grip on the ice, rather than melt it! Scattering sand or birdseed on your walkway or driveway can help to gain traction.
If using salt is still the best option for you, just be sure to choose your salt wisely. Sodium Chloride (NaCL) may contain cyanide, while Calcium chloride (CaCl) (which is a slightly better option since less goes farther) is not ideal since its run-off still increases algae growth, which clogs waterways. Whichever you choose, be sure to keep it away from plants that are particularly salt-sensitive, like tulip poplars, maples, balsam firs, white pines, hemlock, Norway spruce, dogwood, redbud, rose bushes and spirea bushes.