The De-icing Showdown: Granular vs. Liquid Ice Melt

With all of the available de-icing materials on the market today, it can be challenging to know which one to choose. While the basics of ice melt are known, it is important to evaluate the difference between the two main categories of de-icing materials: solids and liquids.

The ultimate goal of solid and liquid ice melts is the same, but each has its own set of features and performance factors. In comparing solid versus liquid chemicals and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each, you can determine how these materials can be used most effectively to get the job done.

Solid ice melt materials, such a rock salt, are widely used to treat icy roadways. When severe weather conditions hit, many snow and ice professionals reach for rock salt first because of its trusted ability to break down and melt away thick layers of snow and ice from roads and other paved surfaces. This makes completely removing snow and ice from the road using snowplows more effective.

According to studies conducted by the American Highway Users Alliance, the use of road salt has been shown to reduce collisions by up to 88% and injuries by 85%. But for each of rock salt’s advantages, solid de-icing materials also present distinct drawbacks.

  • Solid materials are generally more cost effective since they are mostly comprised of chemical compounds (no free water).
  • They are easy to handle and store.
  • Because solid de-icing material is close to 100 percent chemical state, it dilutes much more slowly for better retention.
  • The larger particles of rock salt when first applied, contribute to greater skid resistance.

  • Solids require moisture to go into the solution to be effective.
  • The solution process takes time, which may result in slower melting action, particularly in colder weather.
  • Solids may bounce, scatter or be displaced by traffic, therefore it may not be best for anti-icing or early de-icing.
  • Solids bind together and may become clumpy, which makes proper application difficult.

Unlike solid ice melt materials, liquid materials have not historically been the go-to but continue to grow in popularity for winter road maintenance. Liquid ice melt can either be applied to a surface prior to snow or ice accumulation (anti-icing), or it can be applied reactively to a roadways that’s already packed with frozen precipitation (de-icing). It seems like the perfect solution for every application, but it also has its disadvantages.
  • Liquid chemicals begin working almost instantaneously, minimizing the wait time to see results. 
  • The liquid sticks better to the a road surface than rock salt, which means it better embeds into the icy surface and results in less bounce and scatter.
  • Liquid residue can remain effective for longer periods of time – hours or even days depending on conditions – for better, long-lasting effects.
  • Liquid material are more versatile than solids because it can be used directly on paved surface with minimal displacement or used to treat solid chemicals for pre-wetting applications.

  • Liquid materials have higher transportation costs per unit of chemical.
  • While it may be fast acting, liquid materials are not suitable for treating thick ice or snowpack.
  • Precipitation, specifically rainfall, will wash the liquid chemical from roadways.
  • Liquids may cause even more slippery condition if they happen to run off the sloping ice surface.
  • Liquid materials are typically limited to higher pavement temperature ranges.
Both solid and liquid ice melt materials have benefits and drawbacks to maintaining safe roadways and provide great options for snow and ice removal experts. To learn more about the compounds that make up liquid and solid materials, the pros and cons using them and the environmental impact of each, download our Strategic Guide to De-Icing for Contractors and Municipalities
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