How much salt do you really need for de-icing?

After an unusually mild start to winter, colder temperatures and some (light) snow are finally arriving in Minnesota.

With winter weather comes the use of de-icing materials, like salt, but too much can be harmful for the environment and our infrastructure. So, how much do you really need?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says Minnesotans scatter around 445,000 tons of chloride-containing salt each year. That ends up running into water and is harmful to aquatic life and waterways, can increase soil erosion and may damage property because of its corrosive effects.

State officials say many people use more salt than needed. Just 12 ounces — about a coffee mug full — of ice melt will treat about 1,000 square feet, which would equal a 20-foot driveway or about 10 squares of a typical sidewalk if spread properly and consistently, the MPCA says.

When temps drop below 15 degrees, most salts stop working so it’s not helpful to spread more of it. Instead, use sand for traction, the MPCA says.

For people with pets, it’s also important to make sure they don’t ingest any ice melt, as it can have adverse health effects, and animal experts recommend having pets wear booties to avoid walking on de-icing salt or wiping their paws as soon as possible to avoid irritation.

Once salted areas are dry, any remaining salt can be swept up and saved for later to prevent it from running off into waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency has more information on winter salt online. They also offer smart salting training for a variety of people including property managers and business owners.