Go easy on the salt

Spreading lightly protects water quality and our fish!

A winter wonderland can be a welcome sight, but with all that snow and ice comes a responsibility to keep our roads and sidewalks passable and safe. Road salts help us thaw out of those icy conditions but unfortunately, salt can also harm our waterways.  

Excessive road salts run off our sidewalks and streets and enter sewers or water bodies where they can negatively impact aquatic life. Road salt can contaminate groundwater and drinking water; and harm wildlife, insects, animal paws, soil, trees, and plants along roadways and sidewalks. It can even stain your leather boots.

The more urban development there is, the more miles of roads and walkways there are required for winter deicing. All that salt eventually makes its way to area waterways, and the MWRD water reclamation plants cannot always filter it out before releasing it as clean water into the Chicago Area Waterway System.

But you can help the MWRD protect the water environment at home. Using the right amount of salt makes a big difference for our waterway. The MWRD has partnered with the Lower Des Plaines River Watershed Group and partners with the Salt Smart Collaborative to provide the following tips that can help save resources while also protecting the waterways.


Preparing for snow at home

  1. Shovel first. Salt should only be used after the snow is removed and only in areas needed for safety.
  2. Size matters. More salt does not mean more melting. A 12-ounce coffee mug of salt should be enough for a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (250 square feet).
  3. Spread. Distribute salt evenly, not in clumps. Clumped salt is wasted salt!
  4. Sweep. If salt is leftover on the ground after the ice melts, then too much salt was used. Sweep up leftover salt to keep it out of local rivers and streams.
  5. Switch. Untreated salt stops working if the temperature is below 15 degrees. When temperatures drop that low, switch to sand for traction or choose a different deicer formulated for colder temperatures.

Proper road deicing can save lives and protect our water

If you must drive during a storm, commuters are encouraged to allow for extra time and not to crowd the snowplows. Roadway managers, municipalities and private contractors can adopt best management practices available at saltsmart.org to reduce the amount of salt used, while maintaining levels of safety.

The right amount of salt on sidewalks will protect our fish

Salt is intended to break the bond between snow or ice and the pavement. Its purpose is not to melt the snow or ice. If salt is necessary, residential property owners and managers can purchase deicing products that are less harmful for the soil, plants, water, and pets. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are considered “greener” options, because these have lower freezing points than rock salt and require less application. Calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate can also be used, as these do not corrode cars and partially break down in soil. These options can be purchased at home improvement stores. Another option is to make a brine by mixing salt with water and cover sidewalks before snowfall. However, because there is no salt product on the market that is completely harm-free, the best option for residents is to save our fish and go easy on the salt!

You don’t always need to salt

Watch our demonstration video.


Visit saltsmart.org for more Salt Smart information and resources for residents, public agencies and private snow removal companies.



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