Person holding salt in hands

Winter salt management - answers to your questions

Below are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions. 

About salt:

About salt management:

About salt:

How does salt and de-icers impact water?

In Waterloo Region, some of our water comes from the Grand River but most comes from groundwater aquifers. When snow melts or when it rains, the salt placed on roads, parking lots and sidewalks to keep us safe, washes into our waterways or travels underground. Over time, if we don't manage our salt use, salt levels will increase in the drinking water causing it to taste salty. 

Illustration of aquifer

 What other ways does salt impact our environment?

Salt may seem harmless but its damaging effects to our urban and natural environments cost us all.

Salt impacts:

  • Drinking water: sodium and chloride from salt and de-icers will make their way to our sources of drinking water. Over time, if we don't manage our salt use, chloride levels will increase in the drinking water causing it to taste salty.
  • Buildings: salt can damage bricks, concrete and sidewalks as well as doorways and floors.
  • Vehicles: salt speeds up rusting; causing damage and more expensive repair costs.
  • Clothing: salt stains and can ruin shoes, boots and clothes.
  • Plants and landscaping: salt can affect the plant's hardiness to the cold, killing the plant from freezing temperatures.
  • Aquatic life: salt changes water density and can negatively affect the seasonal mixing of lake waters important for keeping oxygen levels high enough for aquatic life to live.
  • Pets: salt can harm your pet's skin and if eaten, can potentially lead to health concerns.
  • Wildlife: salt on or by the road is eaten by wildlife, increasing the threat of being hit by cars.

What alternatives to salt are available?

Salt and many de-icers, including environmentally-friendly products, contain chloride. Chloride is what impacts water.

Currently products are not available that do not contain chloride and are comparable to salt in regards to being readily available, economical and effective at reducing the formation of ice. 

Instead, shovel or plow the snow first and properly use salt on icy areas only. Read these sidewalk clearing tips.

Is using an environmentally-friendly de-icer a better option?

Salt and many de-icers, including environmentally-friendly products, contain chloride. Chloride is what impacts water. Instead, shovel or plow the snow and save the salt for the ice. Read these sidewalk clearing tips.

How does salt work?

When the temperature dips to 0 Celsius, water turns to ice. Salt works by dissolving in the water creating brine that has a lower freezing temperature than pure water. In cold temperatures, snow can bind to the pavement, making it very hard to remove. Salt prevents or breaks the bond between ice and the pavement, allowing snow and ice to be more easily plowed or shovelled.

Salt works best between 0 and -10 Celsius. On warm days, let the sun do the melting for you. When colder than -10 Celsius, use sand or non-clumping kitty litter for traction instead.

Do all de-icing products work the same way?

Different de-icers work at different temperatures. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for working temperature as well as application rate.

Answers to questions on salt management:

What is the Region doing to manage salt use?

The Region of Waterloo is committed to protecting our water.  Read about what the Region is doing to manage salt on roads, on properties and through Source Water Protection. 

It's winter. Why are you spraying water on the roads?

The liquid is a salt or brine mixture called anti-icing. Anti-icing pro-actively prevents a bond from forming between the pavement and the snow and ice.  Anti-icing only works when sprayed on dry pavement and typically before a weather event. Anti-icing uses less salt and increases the effectiveness of plowing early in the storm. Learn more about salt management on roads.

I use a water softener.  What can I do to use less salt?

If you have a water softener, you can help reduce the amount of salt going into the Grand River by using an efficient water softener set for the correct water hardness in your area. Learn more about water softeners and to find the water hardness for your area.

Most of the drinking water in Waterloo Region comes from groundwater aquifers.  Groundwater is typically, what is referred to as hard water. This is due to the minerals the water picks up while it travels underground.  Although it is safe for drinking, the minerals contribute to scale build up in pipes and appliances. Many residences use water softeners that replace the minerals with salt resulting in softened water. When this softened water leaves our homes and businesses it returns to our wastewater treatment plants and eventually to the Grand River.

I don't use salt. What role can I play to curb the salt?

Even if you don't use salt, you can still influence those who do use the salt. Find out how you can help.

Why can't we desalinate the water instead?

Desalinating water is an energy and water intensive process requiring new equipment that will result in higher water costs for homes and businesses.  Water is also a shared resource. As a community, we have a social responsibility to protect water required by other communities and wildlife.  Protecting water from the overuse of salt benefits everyone. The Region of Waterloo is committed to protecting water but needs your help to keep water clean now and for future generations.

Where can I buy sand to use for traction?

Sand can provide traction for times you would rather not use salt or when the temperature dips below -10C and salt becomes ineffective.

Look for sand that provides traction. For example, play sand does not serve the same purpose as traction sand.  Some products are labelled as pickled sand or a sand and salt mixture.  Salt may be added to keep the sand from freezing and clumping.  If purchasing sand with salt, look for a product that contains only a very small percentage of salt. 

Look for traction sand at local retailers such as building centres and salt suppliers.


Curb the salt. Salt impacts our water. We all have a role to play.