Slogging through round II of the Snowpocalypse — and the unplowed remnants of round I — will probably make you sick of dancing over icy patches in an awkward attempt to not break your face. I’m certainly frustrated, but I refuse to buy an entire 20 lb bag of rock salt just for my building’s three front stairs. Is rock salt really the only option for safely traversing the frozen tundra? I started looking around the apartment for alternatives (that don’t require spending money). To find out what works, we compared some household remedies that may help thaw your budget:
1) Table salt, coarse grain ($2.99, 25 oz container, C-Town Supermarkets): I used one cup, and it took about 15-20 minutes (the same as rock salt) to melt the ice completely. It works well, but the leftovers mostly melt so they don’t provide traction once melted. The main downside to this is that you would use nearly all of your table salt. Pick your poison: bland food or ice-free steps.
2) Coffee grounds ($2.79 Café Bustelo Coffee (weekly special) C-TownSupermarkets): I tried both one cup of dry/unused ground coffee and one cup of wet/used grounds. Though these obviously won’t melt your ice, they created great traction on a thick sheet. Wet grounds do not work as well—waiting for them to dry is worth it. I spread them on the ice fairly thickly so when I walked over the ice I felt like I was on soft, almost sandy dirt. I was unable to feel any slip at all when walking on them. Bottom line: I would walk my ice-fearing Grandma on a sidewalk treated with coffee grounds. Grounds will make the bottoms of your shoes temporarily dirty (though easy enough to brush off), they won’t leave your kicks with those shoe-killing white salt rings.
3) Traditional Halite Ice Melt Salt ($5.29, 10 lb bag from my bodega at the corner of Franklin and Java streets in Greenpoint. You can find a 25-pound bag on Amazon for $30, if you like to plan ahead): I threw down about four cups in a 3-foot area, and it worked swiftly, taking about 15-20 minutes to melt some seriously thick ice. But traction was only decent and the salt grains got slippery when I tried to walk quickly. Small 5 lb or 10 lb bags of halite shouldn’t be too hard to find before the storm. But don’t tred through the salt in your nice shoes.
4) Cat litter (Fresh Scoop, $3.89 for a 7 lb bag at Petco). I had high hopes for my roommate’s cat litter — lots of DIY sites recommend the poop sand as a good rock salt alternative. But it served as a pretty poor traction agent. The pebbles scuttled around when I stepped on them, which was the opposite of my intended effect.
The traditional halite salt is the best for straight melting needs, but look for a smaller bag or else you’ll be working through that 25-pounder for years to come.
But if you’re totally cash-strapped or just trapped at home and need to get to the store just to buy the rock salt, the best traction-creating value for your dollar is the dry coffee grounds. You’d throw your grounds away anyway, plus they are biodegradable as well as relatively safe for animals, unlike many ice melts or traction mixes. I for one have already started saving (and drying) coffee grounds for Snowpocalypse Round III.