With the threat of blizzard-like conditions predicted for the weekend, homeowners are thinking about ways to remove the ice and snow from concrete steps and sidewalks.

If ice melts are your product of choice, these products should be used in moderation and with care to avoid injury to plants, lawns and pets. They can also cause damage to concrete surfaces.

There are five main ingredients used in chemical de-icers that homeowner’s can find on the market today- calcium chloride, sodium chloride (also known as table salt), potassium chloride, urea and calcium magnesium acetate.

Calcium chloride is the most commonly used ice-melting product. It will melt ice to about -25 degrees F. It also causes slippery, slimy surfaces on hard surfaces such as concrete. Plants are not likely to be harmed with the use of calcium chloride unless excessive amounts are used.

Rock salt, sodium chloride, is the least expensive de-icer available. It is effective to approximately 12 degrees F but can cause damage to soils, plants and metals.

It should be used with caution and in moderation. Potassium chloride can cause serious plant injury when washed or splashed on the foliage. Both calcium chloride and potassium chloride can also damage the roots of plants.

Urea (carbonyl diamide) is an agricultural fertilizer that is sometimes used to melt ice. It is only about 10 percent as corrosive as sodium chloride, but it can contaminate the ground and surface water with nitrates. Urea is effective to about 21 degrees F.

A relatively new product on the market, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the principal compound of household vinegar).

CMA works different than other traditional de-icers in that it does form a brine like salt, but rather helps keep the snow particles from sticking to each other or the surface. It does not cause significant damage to plant growth or concrete surfaces.

Limited use of any of the above products should cause little injury. Problems arise when they are used excessively and there is not adequate rainfall to wash or leach the material from the area. The best practice is to remove as much of the snow and ice by hand if possible and only use de-icers on tough spots or chronic problem areas. Many of the problems with the concrete and plants do not rear their ugly heads until spring or summer.

So, plan ahead for Old Man Winter and use caution when cleaning up after him. For more information on ice melt products, contact the Ford County Extension Office. Stay safe and keep warm!