Ice Melt vs. Rock Salt: Pros, Cons, Safety Tips, and More

Lawrence Bonk
Written by Lawrence Bonk
Updated November 22, 2022
Person walking on pavement with melting snow
Photo: V_sot / Adobe Stock


  • Rock salt generally costs $10–$20 per 50-pound bag. 

  • Ice melt typically costs $15–$35 per 50-pound bag

  • Rock salt melts ice in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Ice melt works in temperatures down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

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During winter, walking from the car to the house can be treacherous. Homeowners use ice melt and rock salt to keep walking areas clear of slippery ice and prevent any nasty tumbles down the steps or walkways. 

But what's the difference between them, and is one better than the other? Here’s everything you need to know about magnesium chloride ice melt and rock salt to make the best decision for your home.

Ice Melt Form Types

The roads get icy and the walkways freeze, turning every step into a potential fall. It's time to melt the ice, but what product do you choose? You have your pick from several product types when melting exterior ice. Each of these product types is great for treating slick areas like icy sidewalks and steps. 

Additionally, they work in conjunction with a snow blower to dissolve snow and ice located in hard-to-reach areas. Rather hire someone to help? Contact a local snow removal company

Magnesium chloride ice melt products come in three common forms for standard applications: 


Snow and ice-melting pellets are extremely popular, as they are easy to use and extremely efficient at dissolving ice. These pea-sized, pea-shaped pellets work to penetrate beneath the ice surface, dissolving everything in their path. Pellets are a great choice for sidewalks, stairs, walkways, driveways, and just about any other flat surface.

Ice-melting pellets, however, are round, and round things roll. In other words, this is not the best option for sloped roofs and the like. Stick to flat surfaces. 

Granules (Salt)

Salt melts ice, and rock salt is no exception. This popular ice- and snow-melting product arrives as irregularly shaped particles that allow them to hold up to sloped roofs, though some granules still fall off. 

One of the reasons many people turn to salt as an ice-melting agent is that it provides a secondary benefit of providing traction for driving and walking, even over hardened and slippery ice.

Salt also melts down to dust after doing its job, making for easy cleanup and minimal risk of the salt flowing into your flower beds, gardens, or other delicate outdoor ecosystems. 


Ice-melting liquid begins doing its job upon immediate contact, so you won’t wait long before ice and snow start to disappear before your very eyes. These liquids also help prevent ice and snow from sticking in the first place, making them a popular pre-storm option. 

This type of ice-melter ships in a large bucket with a sprayer application and is easy to apply, though you should wear gloves. 

In most cases, liquid ice-melter is safe for both concrete and pets, which is not true of all competing products. Additionally, these liquids stick to ice and snow before getting to work, making them a fine choice for sloped roofs.

Ice Melt Pros and Cons

Rock salt melting ice on concrete
Photo: Lost_in_the_midwest / Adobe Stock

Using an ice melt product is on your winter home maintenance list every year, but do you know the pros and cons? Ice melt is a mixture of different types of salt, usually sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. It works faster than rock salt and is effective down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. The salts in ice melt come in pellet form, but it doesn’t provide the traction rock salt offers. Ice melt has its pros and cons.

Ice Melt Pros

  • Works in temperatures down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Works faster than rock salt

Ice Melt Cons

  • More expensive than rock salt

  • Can cause corrosive damage to concrete and metal

  • Can irritate pets’ paws

  • Can damage landscaping if used in large quantities

  • Doesn’t provide traction

Ice Melt Active Ingredients

The active ingredients in standard ice melt products include sodium chloride, rock salt, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and/or urea, which is also known as carbonyl diamide.

These are powerful chemical agents that get the job done, but also present some risks to kids and pets. 

Tips for Working With Ice Melts

Ice melts are powerful but finicky products. Here are some tips to ensure you apply these products correctly, so they work quickly and efficiently. 

  • Apply just before the storm: Like rock salt, you give yourself an edge by applying the product before the snowstorm or ice begins to melt. The active chemicals in these products make it difficult for snow and ice to stick, which means you will have less to do once the storm passes. 

  • Check the ingredients: Ice melts are available in a wide range of chemical compounds, and each reacts differently to common yard materials, like concrete and vegetation. For instance, calcium chloride is perfect for concrete, while sodium chloride and ammonium sulfate damage concrete with repeated use. Read the ingredients list and do some research before settling on a purchase. 

  • Protect your eyes and skin: The chemicals used to make the ice melt are unsafe for humans to consume or even touch. Protect yourself by wearing long, thick gloves and covering up any exposed skin during the application process.  

  • Protect your pets: While some ice melt products are safer for pets than others, take precautions. If your dog walks on an ice-melt-treated area, wash their paws immediately, as it can cause irritation and chemical burns to skin and paws. Ingestion can lead to gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, diarrhea, and more, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

  • Store it correctly: Create an airtight seal when closing the containers and keep them away from moisture and sunlight. Most of these chemicals are hygroscopic, meaning they pull moisture from the air. If they are left out, the product degrades, clumps, and otherwise becomes unusable. When all else fails, cover the containers with a dark blanket. 

  • Don’t overuse: These are powerful chemical agents, so don’t overapply. Follow the instructions to the letter regarding application amounts. Using more ice melt than recommended does not speed up or improve the process in any way.

Rock Salt Pros and Cons ​

Rock salt isn't that much different from the salt you find in your spice cabinet. Its chemical name is halite, and it's the unprocessed mineral form of sodium chloride. When you add salt to water, it creates a solution known as brine. Salt melts ice because brine has a lower freezing temperature than plain water, so when it's applied to a frozen surface, the ice begins to melt.

Though they’re both staples and definite necessities when winter weather strikes, rock salt has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Rock Salt Pros

  • Adds traction

  • Less expensive

  • Melts ice in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit

Rock Salt Cons

  • Doesn’t work in negative temperatures

  • Can cause corrosive damage to concrete and metal

  • Can irritate pets’ paws

  • Can damage landscaping if used in large quantities

Tips for Working With Rock Salts

There are some tips worth considering before applying rock salt to your property to melt snow and ice. 

  • Start early: The best time to treat your ground is before snow falls. This helps ice and snow from collecting in the first place, saving you precious time later. Salt has a lower freezing point than water, which is why this tip is so effective. 

  • Outside temperature is important: The vast majority of rock salt products stop working when temperatures fall below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops immediately after a snowfall event, use sand or cat litter to help with traction and save the rock salt for when the temperature rises a bit. 

  • Shovel hard and often: Rock salt performs miracles, but not without some help. If there are large amounts of snow, the salt struggles to make headway on its own. This is where shoveling comes in. If possible, shovel during the storm to limit accumulation. If the snow is hard already, apply rock salt on the top layer and try shoveling after letting it work for an hour or so. 

  • Less is more: Rock salt threatens wetlands, creeks, and rivers. High chloride levels can kill fish, bugs, and amphibians, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If you see crystals on ice or snow after the salt is dry, you used too much. A  pound of rock salt is enough to treat 250 sq. ft. Sweep remaining granules to reuse, or dispose of them properly. 

  • Protect yourself: As with most ice-melting products, protect yourself by wearing gloves during the application process and by exercising extreme caution as you navigate the frozen tundra of your yard. If you’re uncertain how to do this safely, hire a snow removal company instead.

  • Protect family pets: Keep your pets away from treated areas, wipe paws with a damp cloth if they walk on treated areas, and if you suspect ingestion, contact poison control and your vet immediately.

Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt

Rock salt versus ice melt comparison, with rock salt being less expensive but works slower


Both rock salt and ice melt are simple to apply to icy surfaces. Wear hand and eye protection when using either of these products, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe application. 

To get the most effective results, don’t wait until your walkway or steps are already iced over. Apply whichever product you choose when you know winter weather is on its way and again once the snow and ice fall have stopped. Application before snowfall means you’ll have less accumulation and less ice buildup after the storm, ensuring you have a safe walking surface before, during, and after winter weather hits.

Easier to Use: Tie


Rock salt will melt ice down to around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, helping provide traction on slippery surfaces. But it doesn’t work in negative temperatures. Ice melt is effective down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit and works faster to melt ice than rock salt. 

Works Faster: Ice Melt


The costs of ice melt and rock salt aren’t wildly different. Both can be purchased for less than $50 for a 50-pound bag at most home improvement stores. Rock salt generally costs $10 to $20 per 50-pound bag, while ice melt typically costs $15 to $35 per 50-pound bag.

While rock salt might be less expensive, it might require a heavier application to be effective, thus making ice melt a more economical option if you need to de-ice frequently over the winter.

Affordability: Rock Salt


Both products can irritate your skin and your pets’ paws. If you must use your hands to spread either the ice melt or rock salt, wear gloves and wash your hands immediately when you’re done. If your pets come into contact with either product while outside, rinse their paws off immediately as well.

In addition, both products can kill vegetation, so remove as much product as possible once the ice melts. Rock salt and ice melt can also cause corrosive damage to concrete and metal, so be sure to use as little product as possible to achieve the best results. 

Least Harmful: Tie

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