Cat litter not an alternative to ‘Ice Melt’

Icy streets in NW D.C. (WTOP/Lacey Mason)

WASHINGTON —   Retail shortages of the popular ice melting compound “Ice Melt” have homeowners turning to a variety of alternatives. Not all are effective and some are caustic to lawns, plants and even concrete surfaces. But there are useful materials to spread on ice to keep both feet on the ground while winter grinds on.

“Not kitty litter,” warns WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath.   Although kitty litter has been used for years on icy walkways and driveways, McGrath says it’s ineffective.

“It makes a huge mess,” he says, sometimes lingering in the yard for months and he argues that it provides poor traction.

“I was absolutely astounded at how poor choice it was. All it did was kind of absorb and kind of blow up,” McGrath says.

So what works?

“Clay sand, the kind of sand you would buy to fill a child’s sandbox. It provides excellent traction on top of the ice,” McGrath says.

“Nothing is safer or better or cheaper than sand. You can’t even complain that it’s expensive,” he says.

Unable to buy Ice Melt, some consumers have resorted to water softening salt, dehumidifier salt, even pickling salt, according to Jeff Smith, co-owner of Twins Ace Hardware in Fairfax.

“These things are very destructive to plantings and surfaces,” McGrath says. So is rock salt.

“Rock salt is devastatingly injurious to lawn grasses, many species of trees and shrubs,” McGrath says.

Effective against ice and safe for lawns and plantings are calcium, magnesium and potassium chlorides.

And just like highway crews pre-treat roadways. It’s a good idea to pre-treat walkways and drives with ice melting compounds before a wintry mix, including sleet and freezing rain.

“Go out before the event begins and all you have to do is a very light sprinkling, about one fourth of what you would use if ice already formed,” McGrath says.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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