What to do with your leftover salt at the end of the season

You’ve done your best to clear the snow and ice while limiting the use of salt. But with winter over, what should you do with any salt that’s leftover?

In this week’s blog’s post, we’ll talk about:

  • What is the expiration date for salt?
  • How should salt be stored after winter?
  • How do you dispose of salt?
  • Can you use salt for anything else?

Does salt expire?

Rock salt, like other types of salt such as table and kosher, does not have a set expiration date. Because salt – sodium chloride – is an essential mineral, it can never spoil. This is the reason salt has been used as a food preservative and seasoning for thousands of years. If stored properly, salt can last indefinitely. So there is no need to use it all up before the end of the winter season.

How to store salt until the next season?

Salt should be stored in a cool and dry place with few temperature changes. Keep your winter salt in an airtight container, as changes in moisture can cause your salt to clump together and harden. If the salt does end up clumping together, you can still use it by breaking it apart.

Wherever you store it, make sure to keep it out of the reach of children and pets. Winter salt and ice melter can be harmful if ingested, can irritate mouths and stomachs and, depending on the amount consumed, winter salt can be poisonous.

Sweep up your salt at the end of winter

Instead of buying more salt, save your money by sweeping up any leftover salt to use again next winter! Don’t forget about any excess salt that has collected in driveway corners, steps, or walkways. Leaving it there for the rain to wash away adds to salt’s negative effects on your own gardens, buildings, other plant life nearby, and your drinking water (that’s me!).

How to handle and dispose of salt

Since salt doesn’t expire, consider keeping it for next year or donating it to a not-for-profit organization or place of worship.

When handling winter salt, use a scoop and wear a pair of protective gloves if your skin will make contact with the salt. Handling salt can lead to “salt burns”, mild rashes or skin irritations. This also helps demonstrate just how corrosive salt is.

What not to do with winter salt

What you shouldn’t do is throw it out or pour it down a storm drain where it can impact the local environment. Even after the rain has washed salt away and you can’t see it any more, it never really goes away. The salt can wash into a creek or stream or soak into the ground to mix with me – groundwater, your drinking water; changing fresh water to salty water.

Salt poured down a storm drain that connects with the local water system.
Never pour salt down a storm drain

Never use salt as a week killer. Salt is bad for the environment. Salt robs soil of its moisture, creating a toxic environment for plant life. It is so effective at killing plant life that sometimes people will suggest it as a weed killer. This may kill your weeds, but the salt will also harm any other plants nearby and when it rains the excess salt can end up mixing with me or my cousins in streams or creeks. Caution should be used when spreading salt around plants in the winter as it can have lasting effects on plant life in the spring and summer months that follow.

What about water softener salt?

Never replace your water softener salt with salt meant for melting ice. Water softener salt, as opposed to winter salt, is specifically processed to be used in water softening equipment. Winter salt is unprocessed and sold with all of the impurities it brought with it from the ground. This may make it cheaper than softener salt, but winter salt has 95% purity, whereas softener salt has 99% purity. This difference in purity may not seem significant, but using winter salt as a softener for your water will only hurt your wallet in the end. Winter salt’s drop in purity means that it contains several insoluble minerals, like clay and shale. These minerals can clog your pipes, resulting in more frequent maintenance and repairs.

Save your salt for what it was meant to do – breaking down ice during winter months.

Winter salt can last indefinitely and can be kept until next season when stored properly throughout the year. Saving your winter salt for the following year reduces excessive waste and helps your wallet once winter rolls around again.

Winter’s over. You’ve put away the snow blower, shovel and ice chopper. But what should you do with any salt that’s leftover? #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

5 questions you should ask yourself before salting

I know I like to go on and on about this but this time of year it’s really top of mind for me. And when I say top I literally mean top. I’m talking about salt and ice melter. The salt or ice melter put on the ground is on top of me. Once the salt is done its job of melting the ice it doesn’t go away. It can end up mixing with me and over time this will make me taste salty.

Help keep salt out of me. Ask yourself these five questions before salting.

  1. What’s the temperature? Alright, it’s cold. But how cold is it exactly? The current local temperature matters quite a bit when using your salt or de-icer. Salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. It’s important to read the directions on the product packaging so you know what temperature the product you are using works best. For example, sodium chloride salt loses its effectiveness on ice when the surface temperature dips below minus 10 degrees Celsius. Sprinkling salt on an extremely cold day won’t get rid of your ice, and it will increase the risk of salt damage. Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper and use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction instead.
outdoor thermometer
  1. What will the temperature be in the coming hours? Check your upcoming weather conditions before adding unnecessary salt. Is the forecast predicting warmer weather in the very near future, potentially rising above freezing? In that case, there’s little reason to use salt at all. If temperatures are on the rise, let the sun do the work for you by melting the ice without the environmental damages from salt. While waiting for the sun to do its job, spread a traction aid like sand to reduce the risk of slips and falls. Once the sun has started to soften the ice, a steel ice chopper can also help break up the ice, followed by clearing it with a shovel.
illustration of weather patterns
  1. Are there plants nearby? How close is the salt to your grass, or plants? This is an important thing to take note of, as salt can dehydrate soil and block a plant’s ability to feed itself. Be sure to use salt sparingly around plants, keeping both as far away from each other as possible. When you need to use salt, do your best to aim with accuracy so that none of it ends up on grassy areas or in plant beds – besides the environmental impacts, it’s also a waste of salt.
Salt can damage landscapes.
  1. Where are your pets? If you have pets that go outside, remember that salt can hurt their paws, and should never be consumed. Although your loyal friend may want to help you clear your driveway, make sure they are not nearby if you need to apply salt. Following the label directions, and not over salting, will help you reduce the chances of salt irritating your pets in the future.
Salt can hurt a pet's paws.
  1. How much salt should I use? This is an important question that should be asked more often. First, make sure you read the packaging label to see what’s recommended. Fact is, the majority of people over-apply salt by a large margin. Although you might think the more salt the better, too much salt creates other problems including affecting me – your drinking water. Spread a thin layer of salt evenly across any icy areas. In many cases, a few tablespoons of salt for a one-metre square area of ice – about the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need to get the job done. Using a salt with a finer grain will also help you to spread it more evenly so it can work faster. Also, if after the ice is gone and you still have salt, sweep it up to save for another time.
In many cases, only a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area is all you need.

It’s sometimes just old habit to reach for a bag of salt before considering other environmental factors. Not only will over salting cost you more in salt, but poor practices also negatively impact many aspects of your lives, from your environment to your infrastructure.

How do you make the call on when to salt or when not to?

Once salt is done its job of melting the ice it doesn’t go away. It can end up mixing with groundwater – your drinking water. 5 questions you should ask yourself before salting. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

How to green your snow and ice clearing

Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Snow. – Snow who? – Snow body’s home!

One more…

Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Ice. – Ice who? – Ice to see you!

Bet you didn’t know I was a comedian. But seriously, let’s talk snow and ice. If I were to ask you what is the one thing you can do to help protect me, would you say shovel snow?

But if you are responsible for snow removal whether it be for a walkway, parking lot or driveway; shoveling or plowing the snow is exactly what you can do to help protect me – groundwater – your drinking water.

Help protect water by shoveling your snow as soon as possible.

The fact is, the longer you wait to clear the snow the more likely it is to be stepped on or driven on. And when that happens, the snow gets packed down, turns to ice, sticking to the surface and making it harder to remove.

That’s when in many cases salt or ice melter is needed. And if you have been reading my blogs, you know how salt really gets to me.

Try these snow and ice clearing hacks to help you limit your use of salt while keeping areas clear of snow and ice.

  1. Don’t delay. Get at your snow before it freezes there! If snow is left too long or becomes packed down, it could turn to ice and become much more difficult to remove. Or, if it is a heavy snowfall, waiting until it stops snowing could mean a much heavier task. Do yourself a favour and get shoveling as soon as possible. When removing snow, remember to lift with your legs, and to take several breaks. Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, and strain combined with cold air can take a toll on your heart. If you have cardiovascular problems or a history of heart disease, speak with your doctor before attempting to shovel. Lifting snow improperly can also strain muscles, so remember to bend your knees, lift with your legs and take breaks. But there really is no replacement for good, old fashioned shoveling. Salt does not do what a little muscle power can.
Video: How to shovel snow and protect your back
  1. Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper. Once you have cleared the snow you might have some areas where ice has formed. Try using an ice chopper to break up any remaining ice. Ice choppers also do a great job of loosening hard packed snow making it easier to clear away with a shovel.
Video: How to Deice Your Driveway and Sidewalk : Using Ice Pick for Deicing Driveway
  1. Add traction when needed. If the sun is out and the temperatures are warming up, you might only need to provide some traction until the sun melts the ice away. Once the snow is cleared and you’re left with icy patches, you can use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction. This won’t melt the ice, but it will reduce the potential for slips and falls.
  1. Check the temperatures. Before reaching for the salt check your local weather forecast. What is the current temperature? Is it getting colder or warming up? Now check the working temperature of the salt or de-icer you are using. Different types of salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. For example, sodium chloride salt works best between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius. If it’s too cold for the salt or de-icer to work, use a traction aid like sand instead. And if it’s warming up to above 0 degrees Celsius, instead of salt, let the sun do the melting for you. You might need to add some traction with sand while you let Mother Nature do its job of melting the ice. A steel ice chopper can also help with the ice and then clearing it with a shovel.
  1. Use salt and ice melter wisely. If salt or ice melter is absolutely necessary, make sure to sprinkle on icy areas only. Salt isn’t for melting the snow. Leave the job of clearing the snow to your plow or shovel. It’s also important to give salt time to work. Even when you can’t see it anymore it is hard at work melting the ice. And a little goes a long way. In many cases a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area – the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need. Check out an earlier blog I wrote on what you need to know before purchasing winter salt or ice melter.
In many cases, only a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area is all you need.
A little salt goes a long way.

Want to learn more? Check out the Region of Waterloo’s video with tips for clearing snow and ice. You might even see me making a guest appearance.

Video: snow and ice clearing tips for homeowners

Do you have a favourite tool or tip that makes snow clearing easier? Share in the comments section to help others keep salt away from me. And if you know any jokes I could use help in that department as well. But just like me, please keep the jokes clean.

Cheers! Groundwater

DYK shoveling snow is one way you can help protect groundwater – your drinking water? How to green your snow and ice clearing. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

What you need to know before purchasing winter salt or ice melter

It’s winter. And with it comes snow and ice. Which I happen to like because it helps recharge my home, the aquifer.

But I understand for you, snow and ice can bring its own challenges. Along with the shovel, ice chopper and sand, salt is a tool you might reach for.

If you’ve ever purchased salt or another de-icing product, I’m sure you have discovered there isn’t just one cure-all, but several products that promise different things. And if you want to help protect the environment, product labels can be confusing.

three buckets with different types of salt
Many different ice melting products available to purchase.

Did you know currently there are no labelling laws when it comes to de-icers? The product might say environmentally friendly, 100 per cent natural, or salt free. But is it?

Salt and most ice melting products contain chloride but how much? And it is the chloride that is damaging to me, groundwater – your drinking water.

So what to do? Before reaching for any product, read the Region of Waterloo’s snow and ice clearing tips.

Reading the labels of the different brands is important. Some products are more corrosive, whereas others are specifically designed to be safe around pets. Some products have finer grains to allow for a more even spread so it works faster and is more effective. The working temperature for these products can also vary making it crucial to follow package directions carefully.

Here’s a list of common active ingredients and the lowest melting temperature they are most effective. Keep in mind the melting temperature is for the pavement temperature and not the air temperature.

  • Urea (NH2)2CO : 0 to -7 Celsius
  • Sodium Chloride (NaCl) : 0 to -10 Celsius
  • Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) : 0 to -23 Celsius
  • Potassium Acetate (KCH3COO) : 0 to -26 Celsius
  • Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) : 0 to -29 Celsius
  • Sand : provides traction but does not melt ice

What to consider when buying your ice melter:

  • Read the product packaging to understand what temperature your product works best
  • The finer the grain the better – it will work faster and spread more evenly
  • Whatever product you buy remember to use it sparingly to limit its damaging impact on me, groundwater
  • When using traction sand, look for a product with little – less than 5 per cent – or no salt

Make sure to read the product instructions for your salt or ice melter carefully. Using too much salt, or using it when the product doesn’t work at all, will not only waste your salt and money, it will also negatively impact me, plant life and infrastructure.

When it’s time to buy de-icing salt what do you need to know? And if you want to help protect the environment, product labels can be confusing. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

6 mistruths about winter salt

Groundwater here. Let’s talk salt. I’m not talking beaches or seasoning but the stuff spread on the roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, stairs – pretty much anywhere outside you walk, bike or drive in the winter.

Don’t get me wrong, salt has its benefits. It’s easy to find, relatively cheap and for the most part does a good job of melting ice so it’s safer for you to get around.

But if you are me – groundwater – salt isn’t so great. Unfortunately, what is put on the ground can end up where I am and overtime that same salt and ice melter will make me – your drinking water – taste salty.

map showing chlorine levels in wells in 2018
2018 Chloride levels at Region of Waterloo municipal well sites

Here are my top six mistruths about salt that I think contribute to it being a water quality concern for me and my cousins in lakes and streams.

  1. Salt doesn’t harm the environment. FACT: Salt is a toxic substance and is a pollutant to water quality. Salt is a chemical but because it is found naturally and it’s used in your food, salt isn’t treated as such. Like many things it is about moderation and only using the right amount when needed.
  2. You can use an environmentally-friendly ice melter. FACT: Most ice melter and de-icing products including ones labelled “100 per cent natural”, and “pet, plant and environmentally friendly” use salt as their main ingredient. Even when you think you are using something environmentally friendly, it probably isn’t water friendly. Take a close look at the product labelling. If it melts ice it most likely lists chloride (Cl) as one of its ingredients and is damaging to water.
  3. Salt works in all temperatures. FACT: Salt (sodium chloride) works best between 0 and -10 Celsius. When it’s colder, it is best to switch to sand for traction or use an ice melter that works at colder temperatures. That ice melter is still damaging to water so make sure to follow product instructions and only use on icy areas only after you have cleared the snow.
  4. Salt goes away. FACT: Salt doesn’t leave the environment. It’s actually the chloride in salt that’s the problem. Chloride is highly soluble, meaning it gets inside me and won’t get out. Have you ever had a house guest who overstays their welcome? For me, that’s chloride.
  5. Water and wastewater treatment removes salt. FACT: Current water and wastewater treatment does not remove chloride in salt and ice melter products from water. Removing salt requires desalination which is extremely expensive and energy intensive, and greatly increases greenhouse gases.
  6. Salt is regulated and you must take training to use it. FACT: Anyone can spread salt. If the person spreading the salt hasn’t been educated on proper techniques and how harmful salt is to water, they often spread way too much or assume salt is the best tool when conditions say otherwise.

So there you have it. My six mistruths about salt. I’m sure there are others so I’d love to hear from you.

Salt is an important tool for clearing snow and ice but where groundwater is looking it’s not showing the same amount of love. Groundwater’s 6 mistruths about salt. #iamgroundwaterblog