Are pet safe deicers a sham?
December 6, 2010 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Are "pet safe" ice melting products a scam? Are they effective? Worth the price?

We recently rescued a dog, and now that winter has hit Chicago we have some ice on our back steps. I've recently heard about so called "pet safe" ice melters such as Safe Paw. Their website is full of claims that seem a bit overblown to my skeptical eye.

Claims such as "Rock salt and other salt-based ice melters contain sodium chloride or potassium chloride which can heat up to 175 degrees when exposed to water, ice, and low temperatures." seem either blatantly false, or true within such a narrow set of conditions to be practically false.

I'm sure ingesting large quantities of salt isn't a good idea (it isn't good for humans), and I'm sure it's possible that certain deicers have chemicals that could be harmful. But plain old NaCl can't be that harmful right?

Obligatory photo of puppy in snow
posted by borkencode to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One concern is that the large salt crystals can cut your dog's paws. I don't know about chemical hazards, but there are certainly physical hazards.
posted by number9dream at 8:59 PM on December 6, 2010

No, they're not a scam. Salt really hurts dogs' feet (that 175 degrees thing is bogus; what it does is lower the freezing point of water). With the dog-friendly stuff, they can walk on it and their feet don't hurt. Mind you, it doesn't work as well as salt does in really cold weather, and it doesn't dissolve the same way and spread to surrounding ice.

The other thing you could try is Ecotraction, which doesn't melt ice, but embeds an environmentally-friendly grit (a unique volcanic rock that's ground into sand, I think) to give you traction on ice. I think that it's a fair bit more expensive to use than salt, and maybe even than other ice-melters.

And, to answer your other question, a hell of a lot of salt gets washed into rivers and lakes each winter, and it's bad for the ecosystems as it upsets the pH of the water.
posted by Dasein at 9:04 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

The simplest, safest, and cheapest thing to use is plain old cat litter (it won't melt ice, but it provides traction -- which, in my opinion is even better because using something to melt ice is counterproductive areas that are just going to ice up again). Buy the plainest, cheapest cat litter available (i.e. non-clumping, no additives, no perfumes, just plain clay) and you won't have to worry about your pets coming into contact with it.
posted by amyms at 9:09 PM on December 6, 2010

Nom nom nom puppy! I don't have experience with the no hurt kind, but yes salt really does hurt their paws. It is usually described as burning.

You may want to look into pawzo or Protectapad. Good idea to start young as they seem to take a while to get used to it.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:30 PM on December 6, 2010

I use a plain 46-0-0 fertilizer(urea) to melt ice. It works slower than some of the other options but it won't kill the plants and is essentially safe for pets if they ingest it. A vet speculates here that urea is the active ingredient in Safe Paws deicer. Safe Paws MSDS(PDF) is pretty useless though which combined with some pretty heavy SEO doesn't fill me with confidence that they have a miracle product.
posted by Mitheral at 9:30 PM on December 6, 2010

Like other have said, the salt can hurt their paws. Of course with most things its a matter of how much exposure and how sensitive the dog is. Our Viszla has no problem with the salt on our back patio, but our GSP puppy does. So, it might not matter too much for you - but you're right to be concerned.

We found that mixing the salt in sand works pretty well. If sand isn't an easy option, kitty litter works great, too.

Booties work really well - especially on crunchy snow that will cut a dogs paws after a while, but in my experience you have a start a dog on them early or they never get used to them.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:55 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Rock salt and other salt-based ice melters contain sodium chloride or potassium chloride which can heat up to 175 degrees when exposed to water, ice, and low temperatures." seem either blatantly false, or true within such a narrow set of conditions to be practically false.

Captain Obvious has something to say in case it was missed: sodium chloride is regular table salt, and potassium chloride is sold on the next shelf over at the supermarket as "salt substitute", ie. low-sodium salt.

So the implied suggestion that salt is a chemical impurity you might get in your... salt, or that salt is an exothermically reacting chemical, is as you point out, blatently false.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:15 AM on December 7, 2010

Salt can hurt your precious puppy's paws (bawwwww,) but in my experience the Safe Paw stuff is much more expensive and doesn't work nearly as well. I would just use cat litter.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:00 AM on December 7, 2010

@number9dream: one neighbor uses paw-safe deicers, the other one doesn't, and the difference in paw comfort/limping is noticeable.

@Pogo_Fuzzybutt: I started my dog on fleece dog booties when she was 12 because she could no longer tolerate the cold and/or salty sidewalks. Yeah, she didn't like them at first -- this is a dog that never burrows under blankets and hates to be covered by anything -- but she learned to put up with them.
posted by bentley at 5:04 AM on December 7, 2010

We use urea too, buy it in huge bags at the farm supply store. Be aware that any purchase of over like 20lbs of Urea means you have to sign a paper and give an ID, as it + diesel fuel = teh bombs.

If you're going for walks on other peoples sidewalks whose products you can't control, and if your dog doesn't have furry feet, and/or if you don't plan to trim the hair from betwixt his toes, go with booties.

He won't like 'em, BUT if you do it right, he'll learn to associate Booties = Walk!! and he will come to love them immensely.
posted by TomMelee at 7:00 AM on December 7, 2010

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