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.

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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.

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?