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Salt, sand, cat litter? Use this to stop slipping on ice

We built an ice rink and tested our options

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Forget Disney on Ice, I’d be perfect for Disaster on Ice. I think that last time I set foot on a patch of ice I caused a 15-human pileup. Luckily, there were no injuries save for my wounded pride.

Joking aside, falling on ice is serious business. It can lead to broken bones, concussions, and more. I was intrigued when I was asked to find out what’s the best way to treat ice to prevent slip-and-falls. Through a little research and common practice, it turns out the most popular methods to make ice safer to tread upon are ice melt, sand, and kitty litter.

I’ve already done an article about the efficacy of using table salt to melt ice. In that experiment, I simply observed blocks of ice treated with Blue Heat or common table salt. This time around I needed to go bigger. I needed to build an ice rink.

Salt, sand, and cat litter: Here are the contenders

  • Blue Heat: Not only did I have some left over from the previous ice melting experiment, but Blue Heat is a well-regarded road salt that contains calcium chloride, which can melt ice at temperatures as low as -25°F.
  • Fresh Step Non-Clumping Clay Cat Litter: This seems to be a selection with a cult following. People like it because it’s a pet-safe solution to regular road salts.
  • Sand: It's coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. However, it’s also a time-tested classic for road treatment.

We used a lab-built ice rink to test our substances

A small ice rink made of wood and plastic sheeting
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

Our lab-made ice rink is just plastic sheeting spread over a wooden frame.

Building a backyard ice rink is actually pretty simple, if the weather cooperates. All you require is a wooden frame, plastic sheeting, and some water.

The six-by-six frame used in our experiments only took about 15 minutes to assemble. However, I should point out that I’m very lazy so full disclosure: Reviewed’s chief scientist, David Ellerby, did most of the work for me.

To test each substance, I divided the ice into lanes and covered each section with 300 ml of either sand, ice melt, or kitty litter. I slid a hockey puck down a length of vinyl siding at a 45-degree angle, and onto the ice. I then marked and measured how far the puck slid across the treated ice.

Our results and recommendations

Sand, ice melt, and kitty litter spread out on ice
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

Here are the end results of the slid test.

For context, the hockey puck slid 52 inches on untreated ice. Compare this to 19 inches on ice treated with Blue Heat, 26 inches on kitty litter, and 10 inches on sand.

In terms of providing traction, being pet safe, and affordable, sand seems to be the clear winner. However, Blue Heat does have the advantage of being able to melt ice and provide a decent amount of traction by cracking the surface. Instead of using cat litter, there are better, pet-safe ice melts on the market.

The winner: Sand

The runner up: Blue Heat ice melt

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