Gardening Tips and Highlights

Safe Ice Melt?

by Christine Yesko


Winter is quickly approaching, and it won’t be long before the roads, sidewalks, and driveways are covered with chemicals used to melt ice. There are many brands of ice melts on the market, but the major ingredients are sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium salts, and urea-based products.

Here is some information about the ice melts ingredients.

Sodium Chloride: Large ingestions can lead to sodium toxicosis and a dose can be lethal to dogs. Mild ingestions lead only to gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, but dogs eating large amounts of this ice melt can develop central nervous systems problems and even death.


Potassium Chloride & Magnesium Chloride: Both of these, if ingested, are irritants and result in gastrointestinal upsets, and cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Calcium Salts: These are the most hazardous as they are the most severe irritants of all the ingredients in ice melts. It can cause severe gastrointestinal signs as well as local irritation on the skin (paws) with contact.

Urea: This is the ice melt labeled as safe for use around pets. Ingestion of urea usually leads to salivation and mild gastrointestinal irritation, but large ingestions may result in weakness and tremors. In general, most ice melt exposures are limited to gastrointestinal upset and local skin irritation but there is potential for more serious side effects. It’s important to read instructions on packages and be aware of warnings.

Salt can injure plants in several ways. When salt sprays from puddles onto plants as cars drive by, it may scorch leaves or kill buds and twig tips, especially during spring.

Pines are noted for their sensitivity to roadside deicing salts. When affected, pine needles become pale green, yellow, or brown in late winter. When dying vegetation shows up on the roadside, the damage has been caused by salt spray.

Accumulation of salt in the soil also makes it difficult for plant roots to absorb water. It makes for poor infiltration and increased erosion. It can inhibit seed germination of grasses and wildflowers. The level of damage varies, depending on the concentration of salts in the water running onto your plants, the amount of snowfall, the timing of rains that may help wash off the foliage, the type of soil, and the condition of the plants.


Healthy, mature plants that are not drought-stressed will withstand salts better than newly established, young plants. This information was obtained from Klein’s Newsletter.