Why Do They Use Salt to Melt Ice on the Road in the Winter?

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  • Topic: Sodium chloride, Water, Sodium
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  • Published : May 1, 2011
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Why do they use salt to melt ice on the road in the winter?
If you live in a place that has lots of snow and ice in the winter, then you have probably seen the highway department spreading salt on the road to melt the ice. You may have also used salt on ice when making home-made ice cream. Salt lowers the freezing/melting point of water, so in both cases the idea is to take advantage of the lower melting point. Ice forms when the temperature of water reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). When you add salt, that temperature drops: A 10-percent salt solution freezes at 20 F (-6 C), and a 20-percent solution freezes at 2 F (-16 C). On a roadway, this means that if you sprinkle salt on the ice, you can melt it. The salt dissolves into the liquid water in the ice and lowers its freezing point. If you ever watch salt melting ice, you can see the dissolving process happen -- the ice immediately around the grain of salt melts, and the melting spreads out from that point. If the temperature of the roadway is lower than 15 F or so, then the salt really won't have any effect -- the solid salt cannot get into the structure of the solid water to start the dissolving process. In that case, spreading sand over the top of the ice to provide traction is a better option. When you are making ice cream, the temperature around the ice cream mixture needs to be lower than 32 F if you want the mixture to freeze. Salt mixed with ice creates a brine that has a temperature lower than 32 F. When you add salt to the ice water, you lower the melting temperature of the ice down to 0 F or so. The brine is so cold that it easily freezes the ice cream mixture.

Melting Snow & Ice with Salt

From Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.,
Your Guide to Chemistry.
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Colligative Properties and Freezing Point Depression

If you live in an area with a cold and icy winter, you have probably experienced salt on sidewalks and roads, used to melt the ice and snow and keep it from refreezing. Salt is also used to make homemade ice cream. In both cases, the salt works by lowering the melting or freezing point of water. The effect is termed 'freezing point depression'. How Freezing Point Depression Works

When you add salt to water, you introduce dissolved foreign particles into the water. The freezing point of water becomes lower as more particles are added until the point where the salt stops dissolving. For a solution of table salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) in water, this temperature is -21°C (-6°F) under controlled lab conditions. In the real world, on a real sidewalk, sodium chloride can melt ice only down to about -9°C (15°F). Colligative Properties

Freezing point depression is a colligative property of water. A colligative property is one which depends on the number of particles in a substance. All liquid solvents with dissolved particles (solutes) demonstrate colligative properties. Other colligative properties include boiling point elevation, vapor pressure lowering, and osmotic pressure. More Particles Mean More Melting Power

Sodium chloride isn't the only salt used for de-icing, nor is it necessarily the best choice. Sodium chloride dissolves into two types of particles: one sodium ion and one chloride ion per sodium chloride 'molecule'. A compound that yields more ions into a water solution would lower the freezing point of water more than salt. For example, calcium chloride (CaCl2) dissolves into three ions (one of calcium and two of chloride) and lowers the freezing point of water more than sodium chloride. Here are some other de-icing compounds: Chemicals Used to Melt Ice

|Name` |Formula |Lowest Practical |Pros |Cons | | | |Temp | | | |Ammonium sulfate |(NH4)2SO4 |-7°C...
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