Answer Man: Is there ice melt that doesn't hurt concrete?

News-DemocratDecember 27, 2013 

Some time ago I read about some ice melt that doesn't harm concrete, but I lost the article. Could you please tell me what it is and where it can be purchased? Also, do they still sell rat traps? -- D.E. & F.H.

I don't know what article you may have seen, so I can only offer some general tips on products you might try. However, you are absolutely right in thinking that some of the common standbys to keep your driveway ice-free may wind up rubbing salt into your concrete's wounds quite literally.

As construction guru and KMOX radio host Scott Mosby notes, common rock salt is highly corrosive to concrete in itself. But because its effectiveness peters out at a relatively balmy 20 degrees, it can become even more destructive by allowing water to seep into unsealed concrete.

That's something many people don't think about. They look at concrete and imagine it to be a solid surface impervious to something as innocuous as water. But, experts say, concrete actually acts something like a blotter.

As a result, when you spread rock salt (sodium chloride) or potassium chloride, it will keep your driveway ice-free down to about 20 degrees. But some of this salt-water mix will seep into the concrete. Then, if the temperature drops below 20, this slush will freeze. As it freezes, the liquid will expand, pushing or popping small surface craters off the top of the concrete. You're left with a pock-marked driveway.

What you can do, Mosby says, is a couple of things. First, consider cleaning and sealing your driveway. (For information, see www.mosbybuildingarts.com/blog/tag/concrete-sealing.) Even though you may not use cheap de-icers, you might drag some of the stuff home on your car, Mosby suggests, so sealing offers another layer of protection.

Then, when you do use an ice-melt product, use one that offers greater protection. Instead of rock salt and potassium chloride, look for calcium chloride or magnesium chloride, both of which will deter freezing down to 15 to 20 degrees below zero. This will stop the freeze-thaw cycle that damages concrete unless we get another Christmas Eve 1983.

"Another good de-icer is CMA -- or calcium magnesium acetate, which doesn't wash away as easily as the others and has a lower environmental impact," Mosby said. "Normal bacteria will eat CMA so Mother Nature will clean up and control CMA contamination."

You can probably find these items at any hardware store. Just a quick check of the Ace Hardware website turned up 40- to 50-pound packages of Safe Step and Qik Joe products for about $35. People with asphalt driveways apparently can go with the cheaper salt, because it does not corrode the oil-based material, Mosby said; however, you should remember that it can damage or kill nearby vegetation.

And, while you're in the hardware store, ask for traps to kill those dirty rats. Again, the Ace website offers a half-dozen rat-trap varieties from $6-$96. Search for "rat traps" at www.acehardware.com for an overview of what's available.

A few notes to clean out the files from 2013:

* For the family trying to neutralize the overpowering scent of cigars in a closet, Germayn Rehg, of St. Jacob, reported success by placing charcoal briquettes and then adding cherry or pine wood chips that you would use in smokers.

* In addition to SmileTrain, one caller also suggested Operation Smile if you're looking to help children born with cleft lip and cleft palate. With the husband-wife team of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett as spokespeople, the charity has provided more than 200,000 free surgeries for children born with facial deformities in the past 30 years. For information, see www.operationsmile.org.

* Prairie Farms Dairy in Carlinville tells me they no longer sell frozen tubs of dry curd cottage cheese.

* And, to "cap" the year, St. Mary-St. Augustine School in Belleville is trying to collect 400 pounds of plastic caps and lids of any kind to earn a recycled bench. Call the school or 618-277-1581 for information. Finally, I'd appreciate it if the woman who wanted a picture of the Roosevelt School bench would contact me again. I now have pictures but lost your email address.

Today's trivia

Two for the price of one: Which U.S. city started celebrating New Year's Eve by throwing a lighted beach ball off a tall building? Which U.S. city uses a pine cone?

Answer to Thursday's trivia:

The next time you hear someone suffering from a bout with E. coli, remember that the "E." stands for "Escherichia," which is named for Theodor Escherich. In 1885, this German pediatrician found the organism in the feces of perfectly healthy individuals and called it Bacteria coli commune because it was found in the colon. In 1895, it was reclassified as Bacillus coli and, later still, was renamed after its discoverer. Most strains are harmless and are actually a helpful addition to the mix of bugs in our gut, but as anyone who has developed food poisoning knows, some varieties can cause serious illness and even death.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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