By Amy Milshtein

Science of Salt: How Road Salt Melts Ice and Ruins Floors

In much of the country, winter weather brings snow, sleet and ice. Instead of shutting operations down for three months, municipal road crews spread salt to open roads and keep traffic safely moving. Smithsonian Magazine estimates that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on U.S. roads annually—that’s about 137 pounds of salt for every American. Facility owners add to the pile by scattering de-icing salts in parking lots and on walkways.


The science of salt has two sides. It does a great job of clearing roads and sidewalks but it also wreaks havoc on the surrounding environment. A study reported in Smithsonian estimates that, because of salt runoff, 40% of the country’s urban streams have chloride levels that exceed safety guidelines for aquatic life. The material corrodes cars and trucks, kills plant life and burns the paw pads of dogs and cats. Just imagine what tracked-in road salts are doing to your floors.  


Warming Trend

Most commercial deicers are made from one or a blend of five materials: calcium chloride, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and urea. Each chemical melts ice differently. Calcium chloride is an exothermic deicer meaning it releases its own heat to create an ice-melting brine. It works fast and is effective at temperatures as low as -25 degrees F.  The others are endothermic deicers. They absorb heat from the sun to create the brine. These products work slower and are not effective in extremely low temperatures.


Dangerous Residue

Some deicing salts will end up tracked inside your facility and can cause serious damage. Most road salts have a high pH, just like a floor stripper, that breaks down the finish and leaves the floor underneath vulnerable. CleanLink reports that sodium chloride—aka rock salt—leaves a white powdery residue behind while calcium chloride and magnesium chloride leave an oily one. If left in place too long wood floors can dry out and splinter, tile and other hard surface flooring may discolor and carpet will just plain ugly out. 


Do It Right

The right techniques and tools will protect floors from road salt damage. Start by applying the product correctly, often this means spreading salt before bad weather hits, and using the recommended amounts. Walk-off mats at entrances will help trap deicers at the door. Be sure they are at least 12 to 15 feet long for high traffic areas. When cleaning, neutralize the alkaline salt residue with an acidic pH neutralizer and remove the liquid completely with an autovac.


Click here for more tools to remove road salts.


Image source: freeimages.com

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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