Getting rid of ice
Jeremy Brilliant/Eyewitness News
Indianapolis - Thick ice is causing headaches for Hoosiers. The big question everyone is facing: how can you clear it?
All over Indianapolis, people are going to extreme measures just to get through to pavement. They're chipping, scraping and even using axes.
"It's kind of weird. I never thought I'd be doing nothing like this. It actually broke the hammer off," said Roberta McCullough.
If you're looking for a short cut, you may be out of luck. Most stores are sold out of rock salt and ice melt. Central Ace Hardware in Irvington is out of stock.
"It's been panic. People are coming in and we ran out Monday and can't get any in until Friday," said Jack Nelson, Central Ace Hardware.
Soft water ice pellets will work in a pinch, but it's slow. Ice melt works well even below freezing, but it's nowhere to be found.
"Lowe's, Menard's, Home Depot and now here at Ace," said John Stanberry, Indianapolis. None of them had salt Thursday.
We put some tools to the test to figure out how long it would take to clear a small walkway.
We started by spreading salt, then giving it a go with a garden shovel. It took 25 minutes to clear an area of about three feet by three feet.
Steve Derickson was only concentrating on his friend's front steps using a scrapper and a hammer.
"Not exactly designed for getting rid of ice but, improvise, adapt, overcome," he said.
It's actually what we all have to do. Central Ace will have salt Friday but many hardware stores we checked with won't have it until next week.
We've compiled a list of resources to help. Please keep in mind some of these suggestions may be somewhat radical - and could be dangerous!
Rock salt should be applied sparingly, because it will damage concrete and it's also not particularly healthy for your lawn, either. Calcium chloride, builder's sand or kitty litter will give you some traction and may be the better way to go. Try local hardware stores or even supermarkets. Also, after trudging over sand or kitty litter, you will track it into your house, so have that welcome mat ready.
At eHow.com, they suggest using isopropyl alcohol. Its freezing point is -120°F and they recommend applying small amounts via a spray bottle for trouble spots. But for larger amounts, it will get very slippery as it melts. By Step 5, eHow is really pushing the boat out with their suggestion to dump lots of alcohol on the ice and ignite it to burn off the excess alcohol. Um, don't try this at home, kids.
An ounce of prevention
It may be too late for some of you, but one site recommends marking the borders of your driveway. This will help when it comes time to clear it.
Unfortunately, if you didn't prepare your driveway ahead of the storm, it's going to be that much harder to deal with it now. It's recommended that you apply a product like Bare Ground before it snows, and during the snowfall, to remove as much as you can so it doesn't have a chance to get compacted and freeze.
Another brilliant, if impractical idea: install a radiant heating system underneath your driveway.
Keeping the environment in mind during ice removal may seem like a luxury, but you will thank yourself for your sharp foresight later. This site recommends using an ergonomic shovel, sprinkling sand, calcium magnesium acetate-based de-icer, which is less harmful than rock salt, and of course, the radiant heating system.
Brute force is always an option, but if you use an ice chipper (or roto-tiller, as one Kokomo resident did), it could damage your driveway or walkway.
Other ideas (complete with pros and cons):
- Use hot or boiling water to melt ice, then break it up. This could be challenging as you venture outside with the pot and try not to slip. eHow recommends clearing a path to the ice and making sure pets and small children are out of the way, getting an assistant to open the door for you and wearing oven mitts.
The downside to this is getting rid of the water before it freezes again. It might be a good way to melt ice out of a frozen car door lock or off your windshield, but use caution for horizontal surfaces, especially if you intend to walk on them.
- Use bleach to melt ice. The only effect bleach would have would be the same as you would get from any salt; that is, freezing point depression. The salt solution melts at a lower temperature than pure water, and so if the ambient temperature is not too low, the ice melts.
This is not recommended for two reasons: Since bleach is sold in solution, you won't get as much of an exothermic reaction as you would from a solid. Calcium or magnesium salts (rather than sodium salts) are a better bet at low temperatures, as the freezing point depression depends on the total number of ions put into solution, and calcium and magnesium salts are better for this.
Other precautions: The chloride ion is regarded as a pollutant in large quantities. Also, all of the metal ions can have detrimental effects on some surfaces, including concrete. If the concrete is properly finished and sealed, the effects should be minimal, but on poorly finished surfaces spalling (flaking) can occur: in this case, magnesium chloride is the best choice, rock salt (sodium chloride) by far the worst choice, and calcium chloride somewhere in between. As rock salt and melted ice generates what is effectively a brine solution, it's also good to exercise caution in its use to melt ice in the vicinity of metal fittings.
- If your locks are frozen and you don't have lock de-icer, reach for the hand sanitizer. Place some on your key and slide it into the lock.
How it works: Hand sanitizer is effectively ethanol, which mixes freely and exothermically with water leading to a solution which has a lower freezing point. (Ethanol itself has a freezing point of -114°C.) This is another variety of freezing point depression effect, and is equivalent to the use of antifreeze (ethylene glycol, a molecule similar to ethanol).
- Thanks to Dr. R. M. Macrae, professor of chemistry, Marian University, for his help with this story.