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Soil & Water Conservation News

Everything You Need to Know About Road Salt


A mountain road covered in snow.

Now that the snow is finally behind us (hopefully), car owners can finally get back on the road and go about their routine. However, one important thing we should all do soon, is wash our cars. But what’s the big deal if our cars are dirty from the snow? Well, it’s not the snow and the dirt that you have to worry about, but the salt.

Salt is incredibly corrosive to metal, it will cause rust to unprotected parts of your car and even speed up damage on existing rust. Even if your car doesn’t look very dirty, salt is most devastating to the bottom of your car – where it’s kicked up by your tires. Salt is always very damaging to the paint on your car.

The corrosion can harm the exhaust and muffler system, coil springs, and the frame of the car. While all damages are not necessarily visible, the best way to ensure that a vehicle is and will continue to function properly is to have it checked before the winter season or whenever it’s due for an oil change. Also, salt is further activated by heat, so the warmer the temperatures become after a snowstorm; the more damage the salt will do to your car.

Why is salt used on the roads? Road salt lowers the freezing point of water; it turns black ice into water, so that tires can touch the pavement for traction instead of sliding on top of the ice. The rock salt that is used is essentially the same sale that is used on your dinner table. The larger pieces just get grated down to finer minerals for our saltshakers.

If you want to use salt on your own property during a storm, there are some tips on how to use it properly, and sparingly, to introduce as little as possible to our environment.

  1. You should shovel the area and remove as much snow as possible. When you apply the salt, use it on ice only, and not snow. This will require less salt to be used.
  2. You can also use 30% less salt if you add it to some water before applying it to ice areas (use about 1tsp of salt per 5 gallons of water).
  3. Make sure you keep the salt or salt water away from plants to avoid damaging them. The sodium chloride that makes up most salt is toxic to many forms of vegetation.
  4. Rock salt only works in certain temperatures. If your temperatures get below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride will work better.
  5. Salt can also be dangerous on our pets. You can purchase pet-friendly de-icing products, or just make sure you wash their paws after they get in from the snow. Also, make sure they don’t eat the snow near where you used your non-pet-friendly deicer.

So if you wash your car at home, make sure to wash the undercarriage, and if you drive through one of the many drive-thru car washes in our area, you may want to invest in the extra dollar or two for an undercarriage wash. In some cases, vehicles can be taken to a collision shop prior to the winter season to have their vehicles pre-treated with an oil solution under-spray to help fight winter road salt damage.

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