Rock salt works great...but there are other easier and safer ways to melt ice and snow
While many people would agree that the best way to remove ice from walkways is to toss some rock salt on them, it isn't always safest or most convenient solution. First off, rock salt can damage concrete sidewalks and corrode wooden decks. It can also kill grassy areas that may be lying underneath where plant life may be hibernating. Even if you aren't an environmentalist or worried about the harm done to surrounding areas of your home, you might just want to try alternatives to rock salt based on the fact that you merely forgot to purchase any or are limited on money.
So, how do you de-ice stairs when you have no rock salt on hand? You use regular household items already available! De-icing walkways and steps can be done simply by using items you already keep stocked at home. I've actually used these tricks myself when I've run out of rock salt. They all work pretty good and are effective at clearing icy areas around the outside of your home when you're in a pinch.
When you don't have rock salt on hand, you can also use regular table salt to remove ice on walkways and steps. Table salt is similar to rock salt as it melts ice on contact almost immediately. If you have a container of Morton’s table salt or any generic table salt sitting around the kitchen, you can sprinkle it on each step and spread it out to create traction. Sea salt also works great since it’s grains are big and you can get really good traction on the ice. Table salt and sea salt are also generally cheaper than rock salt which makes them even better for use during the winter months. Note: Table salt that has been sitting around for longer than a year might not work as well as fresher salt for de-icing steps and walkways.
If you find you're out of rock salt and are in need of a quick fix for icy outdoor areas, sand works great for creating traction. You can use leftover sand from your child’s sandbox, or even bags you may have in the garage that you put in your trunk to weigh down your car in the winter. Sprinkle a few handfuls of sand over icy areas outside and spread it out with a shovel to create traction on steps for safe walking. Note: sand works wonders for helping to get your car unstuck from an icy driveway or pile of snow as well. Sprinkle some sand under your car tires and you’ll prevent spinning wheels and get out of the ice or snow easier.
Believe it or not, cat litter can be a great tool for de-icing stairs and walkways. It works by creating traction for your feet on ice that form in areas around your home. The abrasive rock-like minerals in cat litter give your shoes something to catch and step onto. Simply sprinkle a bit of cat litter on each step and spread out with a snow shovel or your hands. Once it's in place, you can easily walk out onto areas that were otherwise an icy danger zone. Kitty litter can also be used to create traction for your tires if you get stuck in an icy patch of snow. It'll help to stop tires from spinning out on ice. Note: Just be sure to use clean, unused cat litter. Any type is fine.
Comet or Ajax Cleaner
Comet and/or Ajax products also work great to remove ice from walkways and stairs. Like rock salt, both of these products have an abrasive texture that creates traction when sprinkled over icy patches. Because they are both powerful cleaners, Comet and Ajax work to disintegrate ice much like they’d cut through soap scum and grease. Use a moderate amount for the most effective way to de-ice areas around the home and be sure to spread out evenly over icy areas. Note: You can also use a generic version of both cleaners and it will work just as well as rock salt to clean ice from outdoor areas.
Dirt or Soil
Garden soil or dirt also work well to create traction on icy steps in the winter. Simply sprinkle a few handfuls left over from your summer garden on icy steps and spread out with a shovel or your hands. The dirt or soil creates a traction for feet when stepping down the stairs and will keep everyone safe from slipping. While dirt probably won’t melt the ice on steps, it will help to prevent falls by giving you something more solid to step onto rather than just the ice itself. Note: It's best to use soil that is free from clumps or debris. Plain soil will give you better traction and prevent more slipping on a mess.
Check for these ingredients in products other than rock salt for ice removal
Stuck Without Rock Salt?
Did You Know You Could Use Beet Juice to De-ice Walkways?
Prefer to Just Use Rock Salt?
How do you melt ice on steps and walkways?
Loralie Lyndon (author) from USA on November 10, 2014:
I've used cat litter a lot myself. Mostly because it's what I have on hand and also because the traction it creates is wonderful! However, it can sometimes leave a bit of a mess once the ice and snow melts. That's the only downfall. Thanks for your comment!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 07, 2014:
We actually use sand here, and we have some ready. I don't like rock salt for a variety of reasons....anyway, good suggestions.