The Inside Outside Guys: De-icing – protect your concrete

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
Special to The Detroit News

The Outside Guy is known in the industry as a “Cement-head”; that is he made his living placing masonry and concrete.

Annual winter abuse of concrete and masonry brings tears to his eyes as Americans spread billions of pounds of salt on our roadways.

Salt. Not just a seasoning for your meal, it is a primary cause of infrastructure damage in this country as Americans use more than 24 million tons of it a year on roadways, parking lots and sidewalks.

The damage to hard infrastructure alone from salt is said to be in the billions of dollars per year as highways, bridges and even our waste disposal systems are damaged by its heavy use. You can witness the issue as you dodge potholes or approach a storefront with flaking masonry from over salting.

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To bring the issue “home” we damage our own driveways, plants, carpets and clothes every year when we routinely “salt” our concrete.

Clean your driveway before any snow is compacted.

So what is the alternative? Certainly getting rid of that slippery ice outside is critical to maintaining our health during the winter months.

The Guys offer some choices. To begin, you generally will not have ice on your walk or drive until you have either driven over it and compacted it, or you have let a few snowfalls collect on the concrete creating a situation where the top layer of fresh snow insulates the bottom layers as they turn to ice.

So step one is to always get rid of that fresh snow before it is compacted. Oftentimes a leaf blower is enough to clear the drive. Make this a priority. Clear fresh snow ASAP! If we get that occasional 8-inch flurry, shovel or blow the snow a couple times while it is still accumulating.

If your concrete is a smooth trowel finish and you feel safer providing some traction, use sand. Keep a 5-gallon pail of sand-box sand handy with a scoop and use it liberally for traction.

It will not harm grasses or plants and is easily washed off by spring rains into the surrounding soils.

Sand can, however, harm hard surface floors, so make sure you have good cleaning mats either side of your entry doors and a policy to wipe or even remove your shoes. Keep in mind that if salts get into carpets, they can damage the fabric and actually contribute to more dirt attaching to the carpet fibers.

Once you have ice, you need an ice melter. Do not take a pick or pointed shovel and chop the ice. This will damage the surface of your concrete.

First, try the Guys Magic Melt Solution using equal parts sand and calcium chloride or magnesium chloride. Try to avoid ever using “rock salt” or sodium chloride. While it can be effective as a melter, rock salt increases water absorbtion in the slab which can create problems when that water freezes, expands and breaks the concrete. 

This water absorption issue is the primary reason the Guys lecture every fall on the need to seal your exterior concrete before winter. The more water that gets below and into the concrete, the more likely you will experience lifting, breaking, pitting and spalling.

Also keep in mind that, while some fertilizer products are touted as effective de-icers, they can stain and damage concrete and potentially “burn” greenery.

A great resource for the materials we suggest is Eastern Michigan Distributors in Detroit and Southfield.

Take stock in your winter de-icing strategy to protect your health and preserve your concrete.

For more home improvement advice, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760 WJR-AM from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at with your questions.