During the winter, sand is commonly recommended as a product to spread over icy footpaths and driveways. But why exactly is sand used on footpaths, driveways and roads and does it actually melt ice?
Sand does not melt ice. It helps to add grip to icy roads and pavements. Due to the sand’s coarse texture, it sits on top of the ice and improves grip which makes ice safer to walk on, decreasing the likelihood of slipping. While it can help to speed up the melting process due to heat retention from the sun, it will not deice pavements and icy roads.
Here, we discuss in detail whether sand melts ice and why it’s commonly used on icy roads and pavements.
Does Sand Melt Ice?
No, sand does not melt ice. Sand is used on icy roads and pavements is because it’s an abrasive material that helps with increasing traction between ice and vehicle tires as well as shoes.
With sand, you won’t have to worry as much about your car skidding or accidentally slipping on ice.
Sand melting ice is secondary – if it happens at all. Sand by itself will not change the freezing temperature of ice and cause melting (like salt does). But when working together with the sun, it has the potential to help ice melt slightly faster.
How Can Sand Help Ice Melt Slightly Faster?
There is only one way that sand can help ice melt slightly faster and that is through the sun’s heat.
When you lay sand on top of ice, it can absorb the sun’s heat on a sunny day and help melt the ice quicker than with no treatment of the ice at all.
Ice, being white, reflects more light and heat when compared to sand which is darker in color. The darker color sand absorbs more of the sun’s heat during the day and this heat can help ice to melt slightly faster than it otherwise would.
It’s important to note here, however, that when there’s no sun, the sand would not melt the ice at all.
Sometimes even when it’s sunny, the temperatures are still too cold so the sand wouldn’t affect the ice at all since it’s not a deicer.
What Melts Ice Faster – Sand or Salt?
Salt melts ice faster than sand. Salt is a deicer and is able to lower the freezing point of ice, whereas sand simply acts as an abrasive substance to add traction on top of the ice.
Salt can melt solid ice and change it into a liquid at a lower temperature than normal. It does this through a process called “freezing point depression” where the freezing point of water lowers from 32ºF/0ºC (where it normally sits) to as low as 15ºF/-9ºC.
Salt ice melt usually takes 15-25 minutes to begin working to melt ice. Sand on the other hand won't melt ice but it will add traction to the ice immediately.
Salt also not only prevents ice from forming when applied, but it also melts ice that has already formed and prevents a buildup of snow and ice.
As sand is not a deicer and is used for traction, it is not commonly used for melting ice. If you use sand to melt ice, chances are you’ll end up with a layer of ice forming on top of the sand.
If you need to melt ice but aren’t keen on using ice melts, there are other ways to go about doing so. Check out our list of the best alternatives to salt for melting ice.
Why Do You Put Sand On Your Driveway?
Given that sand doesn’t melt ice you might be wondering why so many people put sand on their driveways during winter. What is the purpose of this?
There are a few reasons as to why you would put sand on your driveway:
- Sand adds traction to slippery ice and it works instantly. You can pour sand over ice and it is instantly safer to walk or drive on.
- Sand doesn’t damage driveways but the chemicals within the salt can react with the road or pavement and cause damage.
- If you have pets, sand is pet-friendly while salt isn’t. Ingesting too much salt could cause your pet to have an elevation in sodium levels which could lead to tremors and seizures.
- Sand is also plant friendly. Salt water runoff (as the ice melts) into gardens can kill plants completely. But as the ice melts the sand simply adds to the soil and has little to no negative effect. Vinegar is another alternative to salt for melting ice.
- Sand is generally inexpensive and easy to apply as it’s not a chemical. Salt on the other hand is pricier and you’d want to make sure you’re donning the right protective equipment when applying salt.
- If temperatures are exceptionally cold and you can’t use salt, sand is a great alternative. While it isn’t a deicer and can’t melt ice, it’s excellent for traction.
- Sand can stick around for longer so it can help with improving traction even when ice has already formed.
- It’s excellent for preventing vehicle tires from slipping on icy roads, making travel easier for drivers.
- During summer months ice melt can clump together making it difficult to use when winter rolls around. Ice melt can also leak a gooey liquid from the bag making a mess that is hard to clean. Sand is much easier to store long term without issues.
How Do You Apply Sand To Ice?
Here’s how you’d go about applying sand to ice:
- Make sure that you’ve got the right equipment (winter shovel, sand and a sand spreader).
- You’ll also want to make sure that you’re dressed for the weather and are wearing sturdy non-slip boots and a pair of gloves.
- Start by clearing away all of the snow in the area that you’d like to sand with a snow shovel.
- Once that’s complete and the area is clear, measure out the sand as per the instructions on the bag.
- Then, go ahead and use a sand spreader to apply the sand evenly over the ice in a sweeping motion.
Is Sand Good For Icy Sidewalks?
Sand is great for icy sidewalks. Not only does it provide traction for vehicles, but also for pedestrians. Unlike salt, you also won’t have to worry about sand ruining concrete sidewalks.
In addition, while it takes time for salt to work, sand can work instantly. This is especially vital for when snow turns to ice and sidewalks become nearly impossible to walk on.
The traction will not only help with preventing slipping, but sand can also stay around for a good period of time for traction, thus reducing falls.
Is Sand Safe To Melt Ice On Concrete?
Here’s the thing, sand will not melt ice on concrete. What it does is instantly provide traction for vehicles and pedestrians.
It’s a great natural way to turn a slick icy surface into a safe one – even if it’s concrete.
Since you don’t need to take temperature drops into consideration, you can also apply sand whenever necessary.
If you’re worried about corroding concrete, sand is also a fantastic option as it won’t affect the integrity of concrete like ice melt does.
When it comes to whether sand melts ice:
- Sand does not melt ice, its main function is to add grip to icy roads and pavements.
- While it can help to speed up the melting process due to heat retention from the sun, it will not deice pavements and icy roads.
As to why sand is used on icy roads and pavements:
- It provides traction for both vehicles as well as pedestrians.
- Unlike ice melts, sand works instantly, thus making it an excellent alternative.
- Sand can stay around for a good period of time.
- It won’t ruin concrete sidewalks.
- It’s pet-friendly.
- It can be used even when the temperatures are exceptionally cold.