Road salt shortage? Alternatives for fighting icy surfaces

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Vancouver residents battle icy conditions
WATCH ABOVE: Vancouver residents battle icy conditions – Jan 4, 2017

Vancouver residents have been scrambling to find road salt as the city grapples with icy sidewalks and surfaces thanks to a blast of winter weather.

Icy surfaces can lead to serious injury by way of falls or traffic collisions, and in many places, it’s required by law for property owners to clear their property of ice and snow within a reasonable timeframe. In Vancouver, residents must clear their property by 10 a.m. after a snowfall (or face a penalty of $250 or more).

READ MORE: Icy sidewalks, bus stops in Vancouver spark outrage

The City of Vancouver has already used more than 7,000 tonnes of salt this winter — seven times its usual winter amount.

Residents have been lining up at fire stations to collect free road salt, but that’s led to further shortage frustrations and even some heated exchanges. At one station, crews reportedly had to physically prevent a man from filling up trash bins in the back of his pickup truck with salt.

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Whether you’re dealing with a local shortage or just ran out and company is coming, here’s a look at some alternatives to make your property safer when the salt runs out.

Household items

There are likely some options in your home right now to help with icy walkways, but many come with a catch.

  • Table salt will help melt ice, but if it is fine grind it’s unlikely to provide the similar traction as that of larger chunks of rock salt commonly used for icy surfaces.
  • Sugar doesn’t work as quickly as salt, but it will lower water’s freezing point. It’s also better to use than salt as far as pets’ paws and plants are concerned.
  • Coffee grinds can be used to provide traction (yes, even after they’ve been used for your morning coffee) but be aware that caffeine can be toxic to pets.
  • Pickle brine helps with ice melt with temperatures as low as -21 C. It’s also better for the environment than traditional rock salt, releasing less chloride, National Geographic reports.
  • Bird seed won’t help with melting, but it will provide traction.
  • Cat litter will provide traction, but only when you use the kind that doesn’t clump. Fresh Step warns its scoopable version will cause a “slippery mess.”
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Heated mats

If you’re willing to pay big bucks, rubber waterproof heated mats will provide a snow and ice-free surface.

The mats are plugged in so along with an initial hefty price tag, your home energy bills could take a hit. The good news is the mats should last for at least a few seasons.


Sand is commonly used on roads and sidewalks to help with traction and to break down the buildup of ice and snow so it can be more easily cleared.

However, it’s not your regular old beach sand — it’s mixed with salt to prevent clumping and to make it stick to ice or snow. This can often be bought in home hardware and other stores. But be warned — it can create a mess and might need to be washed from surfaces when the weather sufficiently warms.

The sand mixture is commonly used by the City of Winnipeg when temperatures fall below an ambient temperature of -7 C, “at which salt is no longer effective.”

The City of Calgary offers a salt and sand mixture, which it refers to as “pickle”, for free to residents.

Elbow grease

Get out the shovel: one of the best ways to prevent icy surfaces is through diligent snow clearing. The good news? Shovelling is a great way to burn a few calories and get some fresh air.

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Some blogs even suggest adding cooking oil or other lubricants to your shovel to prevent sticking and help snow and ice slide off more easily.

Follow these guidelines to help prevent injury.

WATCH: Maritime Bhangra Group goes viral again, this time with snow shovels

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Maritime Bhangra Group Winter

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