It is that time of year again. It is winter in the Mid-West, and the snow has fallen. The plows are out taking care of our streets, but what is the best remedy for your home? What do you use on your driveway and walkways in the winter: salt or sand?

Growing up as a kid in Michigan in a close-knit neighborhood come bad weather my brother and I would gear up and head out to play in the snow. Dad was always out there, clearing the driveway first thing to make sure everything was clear. Afterall the best defense is a good offense. Clear that snow before it gets packed down and turns into ice, causing more of a hazard.

After some playtime, we would head down the street to shovel neighbors’ driveways. One neighbor, in particular, holds a special place in my heart, her name was Maude, and we shoveled her driveway each time it snowed. Afterward, my brother and I would get treats that always made the job that much sweeter, literally sweeter. Then dad would salt her walkways, keeping it safe for her, as well as any guests coming to visit with her throughout the winter.

After shoveling, what to use sand or salt?

That was a little trip down memory lane, but the topic at hand here is salt vs. sand. I think traditionally, we are accustomed to grabbing salt when the weather gets bad, but have you weighed the options?

Factors to consider:
  • Melt it vs. cover it up
  • How cold is it?
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Time before needing to use the surface being treated

Sand

Sand is a less toxic, cheaper, and faster way to resolve a slippery surface. You may need to reapply because sand provides traction, but you also tract it wherever you end up after walking on it. Also, once it gets packed into the snow from multiple people walking on it or a new layer of snow on top, then it is less effective and needs reapplying.

There are several types of sand available for use too. Sand from little Johnny’s sandbox may not be the best option when it comes to providing traction on your slick wintery surfaces, but if it’s the only available option, you can use it. You want to find sand that has a little more grit to it that would provide that traction. As much as most people would love to see the beautiful white sand of a tropical getaway that isn’t most effective for winter safety, that’s for vacation a totally different type of “winter safety,” if you get what I mean.

There are products out there that are combinations of sand and salt, which in the end, maybe the best resource. When temperatures are too low, sand alone could prove to be ineffective because it also can freeze into clumps. The combination has benefits.

The downside to sand, it’s messy. It would leave a mess in your house, in your car, and even in your yard after snow melts. It could clog up nearby drains as well. Back out and look at the even bigger picture, drains lead to local treatment plants and streams an excess of sand over time could have effects on these as well. It is still a viable option, but it is valuable to think about the immediate effects as well as long term effects.

Salt

Salt is best when you are trying to melt away snow or ice after you get the majority of the snow shoveled off a surface. Now unlike sand, salt needs time to work. When the weatherman calls for snow to hit our area, the plows hit the streets, spreading salt mixtures to get ahead of the game. The same principle goes for our residence.  

Using salt as your defense is a good option, yes, but it too can freeze. Tossing salt on your icy areas creates a “salt/water” mixture as it melts. This mixture has a lower freezing point than just regular water. If temperatures are going to be falling below 0F then that mixture can still freeze, leaving you with a problem yet. This melting process, as mentioned before, takes time and is not an immediate solution.

Growing up, we had a blacktop driveway. After shoveling, dad would toss down salt because the combination of the heat still in the blacktop and the sun would work together with the salt to help the process move along faster. It would also help evaporate the moisture and leave us with a clean driveway until the next snow. It was a safe and clean surface for everyone to walk on.  

Another factor to consider when using salt is the environmental effects. Salt isn’t good for curious pets that you may let out to go potty, or neighbors dogs passing by on the sidewalks. It can also break down surfaces faster and damage blacktop, cement, as well as rust metal. If it gets into flower beds, it can damage your plants too.

In the end,

No matter which you use, or possibly a combination of the two, clearing your driveway and walkways first is your best defense. Get the majority of snow off before it turns into ice. Removing it will also take away from the mess getting dragged into your house too.

Stay safe out there this winter. The word out there is that it’s supposed to be a nasty winter, and this is just the beginning.