Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Road Salt
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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Road Salt

What is road salt? Is there a reason that salt damage isn’t as bad as it used to be? Should I still look into rust protection? Where does all that salt go, anyway? Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this corrosive substance.

What is Road Salt?

There are three chemical salts used to salt roads:

— Sodium chloride, which is regular table salt
— Calcium chloride, used in pickling and cheese making
— Magnesium chloride, used to make soy milk and tofu

While we may eat these salts, that doesn’t mean they’re safe: they’re all corrosive to a certain degree, they can damage concrete, and the chlorine can wreak havoc with the environment. The choice of salt used depends on weather conditions with sodium chloride working best close to freezing, magnesium chloride working best at very low temperatures, and calcium chloride working best in between these extremes.

There are alternative methods to removing ice and snow, but these improve the effectiveness of salt instead of replacing it. The road department in Polk county, northeast of Minneapolis, uses cheese brine to salt roads, which must be the most Wisconsin way to deal with winter weather. That brine contains calcium chloride, so they’re simply using a waste product to save money on salt. Meanwhile, some areas of Minnesota and North Dakota have started using an extract from sugar beets, which lowers the effective temperature of the salt being used and helps it stick to the ground.

Road Salt and the Environment

All that salt has to go somewhere, and around here, it heads to Lake Michigan. Salt runoff is slowly increasing the amount of chloride in the water, and, if left unchecked, could harm local wildlife and open up the area to more invasive species.

One of the key steps in reducing pollution is the switch from solid to liquid salt mixes. Unlike rock salt, brines can be used for anti-icing, letting crews apply a protective layer before winter storms to keep the snow and ice from bonding with the pavement. This keeps it melted and makes it much easier to plow. If more salt is needed, any extra brine stays on the road, whereas as much as 80% of rock salt can be pushed or blown off the road by passing vehicles before it can take effect. The up-front cost of a spraying system is much higher than equipment that can lay down rock salt and sand, but the operating costs are much lower, making it an attractive option for municipal operations and landscapers alike.

To go with this switch, municipal operations have started to rely more on plowing and use of sand on slick surfaces. Milwaukee County was the first to area to focus on these techniques to reduce salt usage while maintaining road safety, and in turn these methods have been copied across the state.

Private operators who clear parking lots often use more than double the salt of road crews, but this is also starting to change. Milwaukee Riverkeeper, an organization that advocates to maintain the Milwaukee River Basin for swimming and fishing, offers a free Snow & Ice Control Workshop to teach private contractors best practices for reducing salt use and its impact on waterways. This includes training on choosing the most effective salt mixture, applying the right amount of salt and making the switch from solid to liquid salt application.

The end result of these efforts: slower increases in water chlorine levels, lower costs for clearing snow and less salt on your vehicle.

Why Don’t Cars Rust as Badly as They Used To?

While the use of salt is being reduced, there have also been major advancements in rustproofing by both OEM and aftermarket manufacturers. Galvanization and powder coating creates a hard, rust-proof coating on metal parts, stainless steel is being used in place of mild steel on components like brake lines, and harder wearing paint is being applied to body panels and suspension components. That said, if it’s a coating, it only prevents rust if it remains intact. Accident damage, chips from road debris and regular wear and tear can open up spaces in these layers, allowing direct contact between the underlying iron and moisture which can kick off rust formation. Once it starts, rust can spread beneath these layers. If you want to keep your car on the road for years to come, it’s still a good idea to get rust protection to fill these gaps.


Controlling Rust on Your Car

Merton Auto Body is more than just a collision repair center: we offer other vehicle restoration and protection services including rustproofing. Has rust already set in? We can repair the damage and restore the look and safety of your car. Our technicians are ASE and I-CAR Gold Class certified, and we have an insurance appraiser on staff so that everything from the initial estimate to job completion goes as quickly and smoothly as possible. For more information, visit our website at www.MertonAuto.com or visit our Sussex, WI location. We proudly service the Waukesha County and Lake Country area, including Oconomowoc, Delafield, Hartland, and Pewaukee.

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