Are you wasting money on rock salt?

Don't bear the danger of ice any more

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.


Dry coffee grounds provide stable footing

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.


  1. Sherry

    I HATE when people use cat litter for traction. It’s messier then the slush snow eventually becomes since it can’t evaporate. I may feel the same way about coffee grounds but have never encountered them.

  2. Conal Darcy

    We tried kitty litter once when I was growing up. You wind up with little traction and tons of ingrained clay mash on your front porch. That my neighbour used “pre-owned” kitty litter turned me off it permanently.

  3. amanda

    i wouldn’t want my shoes to smell like coffee. and since when is caffeine safe for animals. I don’t think coffee grounds is a very good solution, although I can appreciate the creativity here.

  4. Meredith

    Kristofer- you can definitely shovel show, and it is great exercise! I may be one of the only people that thinks it’s fun. though sheets of ice prove to be much harder to get rid of, with or without shovel, and here we were looking for ways to melt and traverse!
    Amanda- of course it wouldn’t be great for pets but it’s relatively safe compared to most of the ice melts you see in stores. Plus I would hope owners wouldn’t stand there and allow their pets to gobble enough grounds to make them sick!

    Thanks for your comments and good luck out there this week ( and next Tuesday, apparently the next storm is due then)!

    • Leah Davis

      Thank u for pointing that out I wanted to say something to die to fact I beleive he just misunderstood what was said and took it the wrong way! Here they are talking about sheets of ice on steps and sidewalks that form after shoveling and I think he thought we meant snow and ice period not realizing we meant the sheets of ice that form and unless u have ice sculpting tools and skills w strength it is impossible to shovel! Lol

  5. Jennifer

    My husband is very frail, due to illness, and tomorrow is his birthday party. We are going to family’s to celebrate, but want to make sure he’s safe. Yes, of course we already shoveled, but it’s continuing to slowly come down, and going between snow and sleet. It is freezing into thin sheets of ice that almost had ME fall! Since we’ve already been through the commercial stuff, I just tried decaf grounds, and it worked! I only put it in certain spots.
    I’m surprised that it’s lethal. I didn’t know that, and all summer long I kept sprinkling it in my flower gardens as extra fertilizer. We are having an overpopulation of feral cats/kittens in our neighborhood, and they’re enjoying pottying in everyone’s flower gardens, mine included. No sign of sick or dead animals, just continuing to multiply.
    (We want to do the trap / spay thing, but they’re charging $60 each! Even if I get neighbors to donate with me, there are just too many!)

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