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While the weather in December has been less than frightful, it won’t be long before the snow and ice will coat your driveway and walkways, making them potentially treacherous to walk on. Shoveling frequently helps, but eventually you will need to throw down some ice-melting products to keep them clear and walkable. But which ones do you use?

In the past, good old-fashioned rock salt was the melter of choice, in part because it was cheap. Two big problems with using rock salt is that it doesn’t melt ice and snow when the temperature is 22 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and it is also corrosive to your cement and pavers. Thankfully, manufacturers have used other materials to make better and less harmful ice melters that will work faster even when the temperature is below zero.

When looking at the science of ice-melting products, they generally fall into two basic categories: endothermic products that must draw heat from the surroundings to dissolve; and exothermic products that release a significant amount of heat as they dissolve.

At the top of the spectrum of ice melters are those made with calcium chloride, which is effective down to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit and is an exothermic product that will melt ice and snow faster than any other type of product. Of course, this high-tech product does come at a premium price, but its effectiveness in melting means a little can go a long way. Next in line would be magnesium chloride, which is also an exothermic but does not release as much heat as calcium chloride. As a result, it is only effective down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

When selecting ice melting products, you need to also consider their impact on your driveway, walkways, vegetation and even your pets. For example, products with calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride can really harm your grass and plants if they overlap onto your vegetation, while rock salt (sodium chloride) and a blend like calcium magnesium could damage concrete. Many of these also can be harmful to pets.

Fortunately other options do exist in the ice melting category, including products made with potassium-chloride that can melt ice down to 12 degrees and are less harmful to your vegetation, concrete and pets. Products made from sodium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate are also less harmful to vegetation, and are effective down to 5 degrees.

While these ingredients are often prevalent in some well-known ice melting products, remember that many products on the market today keep their cost down by providing a “blend” of ingredients, which may include rock salt. So make sure you read the ingredients before you buy.

Some of the better ice melters to consider include SafeStep from North American Salt/Compass Minerals, nasalt.com; Ice Melt from Scotwood Industries, scotwoodindustries.com; and Qik Joe from Milazzo Industries, milazzoindustries.com. If you have pets, North American Salt’s Sure Paws and Safe Pet Ice Melter from Milazzo Industries are popular pet-friendly brands.

One new product innovation on the market is Ice ‘B Gone Magic from Melters LLC, meltersofmichigan.com. The product starts out as ordinary rock salt, and is then treated with a liquid agricultural by-product of the distilling process for rum and vodka blended with magnesium chloride to make it more effective at melting down to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The byproduct from the distilling process buffers out the harmful effects of the rock salt and makes it more effective, and it is pet friendly. too,” said Dave Popke of Melters LLC.

While most of us think about ice melters for the driveway or walkways, you can also use them to melt the snow and ice on your roof to help prevent ice dams. One product that is specifically designed for this is Roof Melt from KMI, roofmelt.com, which is a hockey-puck sized calcium chloride tablet you can throw onto a roof to melt ice and snow.

Depending on the weather, simply shoveling your snow can be enough to keep your driveway and walkways passable. But throwing down an ice melter after shoveling can keep them safer for you and your guests. Just make sure to do your homework so you know the type of product that makes sense for your situation.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.

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