Ideas for rock salt, ice melt alternatives

PHILADELPHIA - February 12, 2014

If you're looking for ice melt, much to the relief of customers, Holod's True Value in Lafayette Hill still has ample supply.

"I was at two other stores and I didn't see anything," customer Scott Paules of Roxbrough said.

Lou Holod, the owner, prides himself on never running out of anything, anytime.

He gets his supply from as far away as Canada.

"Pay a little more freight, but the customers are willing, just to be safe, to pay a little more," Holod said.

Holod has a tip if you're buying.

"Calcium chloride and potassium chloride probably go five times further than rock salt so it might seem more expensive, but you got to really use it sparingly and wisely," Holod said.

But if you can't find any of the above?

There are other choices that'll at least give you traction on your driveway and sidewalks.

Kitty litter, sand, sawdust, coffee grounds or vermiculite.

Vermiculite is a volcanic rock used for starting seeds. You can find it at garden centers and hardware stores.

"Doesn't melt but it does have good friction. The same is true with wood ashes or coal ashes if you happen to have any of that material," Dr. Ara DerMarderosian of the University of The Sciences said.

You can also use some things that are lying around your kitchen.

Chemist professor Fred Schaefer says regular table salt or kosher salt will work in a pinch.

"It's basically the same as the rock salt that they sell as regular ice melt. Hopefully, it's a small area because we are looking at things that are a bit more expensive," Schaefer said.

Here's what our chemists say you should not use: bleach, which is highly corrosive, and vinegar, sugar, baking soda or Epsom salt, which they say aren't that effective.

Another alternative is water softener salt. But the pellets are so large Holod says it's best for driveways where cars go over it, not so great for sidewalks since somebody could twist their ankle on it.

And one more option is fertilizer! Holod says urea, a compound in fertilizer, is also an ice melter.

If you have ideas, please share them on my Facebook page.

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