Should I salt or sand my driveway and walks in the winter?

Written by Ryan Such, President

One of the most commonly asked questions we get in our winter months is “Cold ‘nuff fer ya???“ Oh, yah.

But probably the second most commonly asked question is whether or not a customer should salt or sand their driveway and walks. The answer, like senior undergarments, is: depends. Like a good Hollywood caper, there are pros and cons.

Salt lowers the freezing point of water, so it (salt, not water) has traditionally been spread on roads to keep them from either getting icy in the first place, or to help melt away ice that has already formed. Salt works in temperatures above 12 degrees F and is an inexpensive option for the task.

Pros of using salt:

  • Salt will melt ice and reduce slipperiness on your driveway and sidewalks
  • Salt will also be an aid in helping you completely remove ice from those areas

Cons of using salt:

  • Salt is corrosive to concrete and even more corrosive on new concrete
  • Salt will likely kill grass that borders areas where it is applied
  • Salt can track inside and damage the flooring in your home

On the other hand, there are pros and cons to using sand. Since sand is an abrasive material, it will help to provide traction. It can improve traction at any temperature (well, below about 3000 degrees F at least. Then it melts. We rarely need to worry about that in Fargo.). However, sand is only effective on bare ice – it will need to be reapplied if it gets buried under snow.

Pros of using sand:

  • Sand is not corrosive to concrete
  • Sand will stay around longer and improve traction to reduce falls

Cons of using sand:

  • Sand will not melt ice
  • Sand may track inside and is very messy
  • Sand can collect into drains and drainage areas, requiring cleaning in the spring

The City of Fargo often uses a mix of 80% sand and 20% salt on the streets. This mixture helps to get some melting power and also some traction, while not being as damaging to vehicles or grass. The city also uses other preventative de-icing products on the streets when temperatures are high enough to help reduce ice and compacted snow buildup on the streets. The preventative de-icing solution also helps prevent snow and ice from bonding to the streets, which makes it easier for the plows to clear.

The downside of the city using a salt and sand mix is that it ends up on your car and tires. You will end up tracking the salt/sand onto your driveway and in your garage whether you like it or not.

Sand and salt products can be very helpful but most people choose to stay away from them unless they have had someone fall or fear for it happening. The decision really depends on which pros and cos are more important to you. If you do choose to use any of these products, we recommend not using any more than you have to.