Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt: We Break Down the Differences

Kristi Pahr
Written by Kristi Pahr
Updated January 20, 2022
Person walking on pavement with melting snow
Photo: V_sot / Adobe Stock

Highlights

Highlights: 

  • 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 the winter, walking from the car to the house can be a treacherous proposition. 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? 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? Let's decide once and for all.

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

Ice Melt Pros and Cons ​

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

Ice melt is a mixture of different types of salt, usually sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. It works more quickly 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 more quickly 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

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

Rock Salt vs. Ice Melt

Application

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

Effectiveness

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 more quickly to melt ice than rock salt. 

Works Faster: Ice Melt

Price​

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

Safety

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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