Wood ash from your fireplace or wood stove can be spread on driveways as an environmentally friendly alternative to salt. Credit: Courtesy of Crystal Sands

There is nothing fun about an ice-covered driveway or walkway. Unfortunately, the go-to method of spreading rock salt to de-ice those surfaces is also bad for the environment.

That does not mean you need to slip and slide your way through a Maine winter. There are several alternatives to rock salt that do the job just as well.

“Rock salt is toxic to the environment in high concentrations,” according to Bill Sheehan of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Presque Isle office. “Generally, what we use in our driveways or on our front steps is not an issue [but] it’s a good idea to minimize its use as much as possible.”

Rock salt can also create problems for pets, who pick it up through their paws when walking on it. Paw pads can become sore, cracked and even burned from repeatedly stepping on the rough salt crystals.  

It can also make pets very sick if ingested, causing vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, tremors, seizures, shortness of breath and disorientation.

So, for the sake of the environment, wildlife and pets, it’s not a bad idea to consider alternatives to rock salt.

Sand absorbs the sunlight, which helps melt the ice. It also adds traction so you can walk on it without slipping and falling.

If you don’t have sand, you may have the solution right in your cupboard or pantry.

Vinegar contains enough citric acid to melt snow and ice, though it may take several applications for it to completely do the job.

Coffee grounds can also be spread on the ice instead of being tossed out. Like sand, the grounds absorb sunlight to make the ice melt faster and add a bit of traction.

Wood ash, likewise, can be spread on the ice instead of disposed of. It absorbs sunlight to help ice melt and provides traction.

Alfalfa meal is a natural fertilizer that melts ice, is grainy so it gives some traction and it will help boost the quality of your soil.

Sugar beet juice, if you can find it in enough quantities, lowers the melting point of ice and snow. It’s safe for pets, plants and wildlife.

“Alternatives are a good idea,” Sheehan said. “[Rock salt is] not good for the environment or for the critters who are not used to it.”


Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.