Melting Ice and Snow: Is Kitty Litter an Alternative to Salt?

With winter storms blasting much of the country, we settle once and for all whether salt or kitty litter is better for melting snow.

Kitty litter vs. salt

With winter storms blasting parts of the country with as much as 9 inches of snow, many drivers are currently on winter storm watch. Even if you don’t have to brave the tempest, the recent storms are a good reminder to get that winter car kit in good working order (It may be almost March, but winter’s still packing some punch!)

Kitty litter for melting ice and snow

Did you know that of the 11 essential items to keep in your winter car kit, kitty litter is one of the top 3? If you find yourself stuck in snowy slush, non-clumping cat litter can be a lifesaver (or at least a timesaver). Pour it in the path of your wheels to help get traction.

And, as anyone who’s ever lifted a bag of cat litter knows, it’s really heavy, so if you keep it in the trunk, it’ll add weight to the rear of your vehicle, which can also improve traction.

Kitty litter for driveways

But how does kitty litter stack up against good old-fashioned salt when you want to de-ice your driveway? Well, as it turns out, kitty litter stinks when it comes to melting ice.

Salt, used since the 1930s to keep snow-covered roads from freezing and becoming dangerously slick, is still one of the best methods for melting snow and ice on your driveway. The reason is simple: salt not only melts ice by lowering the freezing point of water, it also provides added traction once said melting is done. In fact, one pound of salt can melt roughly 46.3 pounds of ice!

Kitty litter, on the other hand, is nothing but glorified clay. While it will help with traction, it won’t actually melt snow (chemically speaking). It’ll just absorb it, leaving you with gobs of wet clay.

So before the next storm hits, make sure you have some salt (any kind will work) on hand for fast de-icing action. And if you happen to be more of a sweet tooth than an ol’ salty dog, sugar will also work in a pinch.

Environmental impacts of salt

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 43 percent of all salt used in the U.S. is utilized for de-icing purposes (roughly 15 million tons a year!). And while salt is incredibly useful, excess salinity can damage vegetation and contaminate groundwater. So, with this in mind, salt your driveway only when you must, and try not to over salt. (Just like cooking, a little will often do.)

More winter driving resources

11 must-haves for your winter car kit
Find out what you need to have in your winter car kit.
6 simple tips for using snow chains
Even if you live in a place where it rarely snows, it helps to know the basics, just in case.
Greatest winter driving tips
Whether you’re facing down a blizzard in Babbitt, Minnesota, or waiting out a thunderstorm in South Ogeechee, Georgia, use these tips to stay safe (and hopefully warm and dry) this winter.

Related links

How road salt works
Explore the science behind de-icing roads using salt.
Highway de-icing chemicals and drinking water (PDF)
Discover the dangers de-icing salt poses for our drinking water (and us).
Eco-friendly alternatives to salt and kitty litter
Find out which household items could help you gain traction.

3 Responses to “Melting Ice and Snow: Is Kitty Litter an Alternative to Salt?”

  1. Peter
    November 12, 2013 #

    There are chemical compounds in kitty litter that are hygroscopic (magnesium oxide) and cause ice melt (chemical-ly speaking). It may be in error to claim that kitty litter, chemically speaking, does not contribute to ice melt

  2. jessica
    January 3, 2014 #

    I agree with Peter- kitty litter can melt ice just not as affectively as salt.

  3. roger kll
    February 8, 2014 #

    > And if you happen to be more of a sweet tooth than an ol’ salty dog, sugar will also work in a pinch.

    This made me crack up

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