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.

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.

No. R.S.V.P. required. Your exclusive tour of groundwater’s home.

It might not be Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous but for me it’s home. Entering my home might not be obvious. For you, a knock on a door or a turn of a key, and you’re in. For me it’s a bit trickier. It starts with me as a raindrop. After parachuting in from the clouds I soak into the ground to recharge my home, the aquifer.

Groundwater’s word of the day: Recharge, also called infiltration, is when water is added back into the aquifer. This can happen through precipitation such as rain fall or when snow melts or from water seeping into the aquifer from surface water such as a pond or stream.

So what is an aquifer? First, to find an aquifer you have to look down. Believe it or not, where you are standing right now, there could be an aquifer underneath you. It might take some work digging down to get to it, but it’s there.

Believe it or not, where you are standing right now, there could be an aquifer beneath you.

When you dig into the ground, what do you find? Dirt, sand, rocks. Theses are all materials that can be found in an aquifer. What materials are in the aquifer depend on the geology of the land and how it was formed a long, long time ago. Glaciers played an important role carving out the land. The materials left behind when the glaciers retreated or melted helped form the aquifers, including the Waterloo Moraine where recharge for some of the aquifers begins in Waterloo Region.

The Waterloo Moraine consists of thick deposits of sand and gravel, separated by clay layers, where large quantities of recharge help supply the water to the Region’s water supply wells. The map shows the Regional recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine where sand is exposed at the surface allowing the recharge into the aquifers.

But make not mistake, recharge happens everywhere beneath your feet, not just the green areas.

Map of Waterloo Region showing recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine in green

Aquifers in much of Waterloo Region consist of sand and gravel with layers of clay. The exception is most of Cambridge where the aquifers are in bedrock.

Getting back to me parachuting from the clouds and soaking into the ground…once I have soaked into the ground, I look for spaces between the different materials – sand, gravel or bedrock. Those spaces might look tiny to you but for me, they’re plenty big.

Hands-on activity: Place some pebbles or marbles in a glass. They represent the sand or gravel in an aquifer. Look closely at the pebbles/marbles. Do you see spaces? Now pour water into the glass. This represents the recharging or adding water back into the aquifer. Where does the water go? Does it sit on top of the pebbles/marbles or does it fill up the spaces?

Groundwater Foundation instructional video on how to make an aquifer in a cup

That’s what an aquifer is, an area underground filled with groundwater – me – in the spaces between the sand grains, rock or gravel.

Illustration of an aquifer

And once I’m there I don’t sit still. Water doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. So while I’m underground, I’m slowly moving a few metres per year through the spaces between the sand, rock or gravel. Eventually I’ll make my way into a stream and evaporate as part of the water cycle before parachuting down from the clouds to recharge an aquifer once again.

So there you have it. Hopefully you now have a better idea of where I live. And if you are looking for something to do that involves ice cream, check out this edible aquifers recipe. It’s a fun and tasty way to learn more about my home.

Cheers, Groundwater

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.

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.

The hidden costs of winter salt and ice melter you might not know about

With winter here, salt is top of mind for me. Let’s talk about the cost of using salt (and ice melter and de-icing products).

Hidden costs of salt

The obvious one is the cost of purchasing it. For that reason alone, it makes sense to spread only what you need and only when you need it. And did you know you can sweep up leftover salt to save for another time?

Not that money is a big deal for me, but if we’re talking money, it’s hard to put an exact dollar amount on the environmental cost of using salt.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s 2018 report (Volume 2 – Clean Water – Chapter 2 : page 87) the hidden cost of salt on infrastructure and the environment range from $200 to $470 per ton of salt applied.

A National Post article “The awesome price we pay” outlines some of the costs of using salt. The author writes “Dalhousie University estimated that it costs it an extra $15,000 in cleaning and maintenance each year just to repair all the damage salt does to floors and baseboards”.

What are the hidden costs of salt?

  • Your drinking water. Since this is my blog I’ll start with me. The salt and other de-icing products spread on the ground can eventually mix with me. Over time this will make me – groundwater – taste salty.
  • Sore paws. Have you ever watched a dog trying to walk through salt? Salt trapped in their paws can irritate and crack their skin.
  • Damage to buildings and concrete surfaces. Salt is toxic and will eat away at outside structures (brick/concrete/sidewalks), doorways and flooring may become damaged, increasing repair costs.
  • Health of soil, plants and landscaping. If sprayed with salt, vegetation can lose its hardiness to the cold and be killed by freezing temperatures and high salt levels.
  • Footwear and clothing. Salt stains and can ruin footwear and clothing.
  • Vehicles, bicycles and wheelchairs. Salt accelerates rusting, causing damage and increasing repair costs.
  • Health of waterways for aquatic life. Salt changes water density, which can negatively affect the seasonal mixing of lake waters. This mixing is important to increase oxygen levels required by aquatic life for survival.

That’s my list. Do you have an experience to share about the cost of salt? Also, check out the Region of Waterloo’s website for tips on clearing snow and ice.

Cheers, Groundwater

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.

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.

9 actions you can take as a water protector

Imagine a day without me – groundwater. Not a day goes by you don’t use me. You drink me, clean and wash with me, and so much more.

Keeping me clean and making sure there is always enough of me to go around is an important job. One that everyone can help with.

Want to be a water protector? Here are my top nine ways to get started.

  1. Take shorter showers. Cutting back on your shower by even a few minutes can mean less water down the drain and more money you can save on your next water utility bill.
  2. Check your toilet for leaks. Paying for water you aren’t using isn’t fun. Did you know a leaky toilet can silently lose 300 litres or more a day? That’s like filling up three bath tubs! An easy way to detect a leak is to place a few drops of food colouring in the tank, wait 20 to 30 minutes and then check the water in the bowl. If the water has changed colour you have a leak. For where else to check for leaks visit the Region of Waterloo water conservation web page.
  3. Limit the use of salt and ice melter. Chloride in salt and ice melter soaks into the ground and mixes with groundwater once it has melted the ice. Over time this will make drinking water taste salty. The Region of Waterloo has snow and ice clearing tips that can help keep salt out of water.
  4. Support water education. The Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival provides fun, hands-on activities to 5,000 grade 2 to 5 students each May. You can help the Festival continue educating future water protectors by making a financial donation and/or volunteering during the event.
  5. Use a rain barrel. Save on your water utility bill by watering your plants with rain courtesy of Mother Nature. Using native plants in your garden can also help reduce how much you need to water and create a pollinator-friendly space.
  6. Set your water softener to the correct water hardness. Save on salt costs and help reduce the amount of salt going into the Grand River. Water hardness differs throughout Waterloo Region. Use the Water Softener Facts website water hardness maps to find the water hardness for your area.
  7. Return unused medication to your local pharmacy. Help keep medication out of waterways. Never flush it down the toilet or pour down the sink.
  8. Only rain down the storm drain. Storm drains connect directly with the local waterway. It is important only rain and melted snow enter the storm drains to keep streams and creeks clean.
  9. Report a spill immediately if you witness or suspect a spill has occurred or is about to occur. A spill is the release of a substance that is harmful to the environment, such as oil, fuel, chemicals or pesticides into a sewer or the environment. Quick actions can reduce the clean-up time and protect the local environment.

I’d love to hear from you. Why is protecting water important to you? Do you have tips to help others be water protectors?

Water: it’s what connects us


Our planet earth has always had the same amount of water. The water we use today was also there for the dinosaurs to drink. And through the water cycle, water can be found everywhere. It is always moving and changing states as a liquid, solid or gas.

Illustration of the water cycle

Water can be found in streams, rivers and lakes. It’s in the air and underground. It is the glaciers, rain and snow. And it’s in our food, plants and bodies.

Earth, also known as the blue planet, has a lot of water – about 71 per cent of our planet is covered in water. But how much of it is drinkable fresh water? First look at the oceans – that’s a lot of water. In fact 97 per cent of all water is salt water – water we can’t drink without desalinating or removing the salt. That leaves three per cent remaining as fresh water. About two per cent of all fresh water on our planet can be found underground as groundwater. Water is always travelling, even if it has to take the slow route, underground through rocks and dirt.

Video: NASA | Earth Science Week: Water, Water Everywhere!

Locally Waterloo Region is part of the Grand River watershed managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority. But what is a watershed? Is it a shed made out of water? Nope. A watershed is an area of land that drains into the same body of water. Think of it like a tree branch. In Waterloo Region groundwater seeps into small waterways such as Schneider’s Creek, Laurel Creek and Mill Creek that drain into the larger Grand River. The Grand River and many other watersheds drain into Lake Erie and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

Video: What is a watershed

Have you ever watched the National Film Board movie “Paddle to the Sea”? The movie reminds me of a watershed. It is about a child who carves out a man in a canoe and sets it on a frozen stream waiting for the spring thaw. The movie follows the canoe as it travels from the stream to larger waterways and finally to the ocean.

The water cycle and the fact we all live in a watershed are reminders we all share the same water and we all live downstream from someone else. And why we all have a role to play when it comes to protecting water.

What do you think are the biggest issues for water? What steps should our community take to protect water? Do you have tips to share that can help others be water protectors?