Winter Abrasive Use


Sand and other abrasives improve vehicle traction on snow and ice-covered roads. They can be used at all temperatures and are especially valuable when it is too cold for chemical de-icers to work. Another tool in your toolbox!

Environmental impacts

Abrasives used for winter road maintenance have some negative environmental impact. They can clog storm water inlets and sewers. They also create problems for fish in lakes and streams.

Cleanup may be necessary in urban areas, on bridge decks, under guardrail and in ditches. The materials may wash downstream and end up in streams and lakes.

Abrasives must be treated with salt to keep them unfrozen and usable. This salt has potential impacts. In particular, salt-treated abrasives can accelerate vehicle/equipment corrosion.

Abrasive quality

Some sand and abrasives will be more effective than others. For better traction, use material with crushed or angular particles for better traction. Rounded particles are less effective. Very small particles and dirt are actually harmful to traction. Material larger than the #50 sieve is most effective. To minimize windshield damage, use materials in which all particles are smaller than three-eighths inch.

Combining with chemicals

Treating sand with 50-100 pounds of salt per cubic yard is necessary to keep it from becoming frozen and unworkable. It also helps to anchor the sand into the ice surface, makes the sand easier to load from the stockpile, and makes it spread more evenly from mechanical spreaders.

Pre-wetting sand with a liquid de-icing chemical, like BOOST, just before spreading has proven most effective in embedding the abrasive on icy pavements.

Sometimes liquid de-icers are mixed more heavily with sand, a guideline would be 10 to 15 gallons per ton. T.A.P.E.R. log use will help determine best application rates for your operation. The sand gives immediate traction and the chemicals may melt the snow later when the temperature rises. To be effective the chemical must remain on the pavement, which is difficult to achieve in most cases.

Mixing a 50/50 salt – sand mixture reduces the salt’s melting effectiveness. Rule of thumb, if you mix salt and sand 50/50, your either half right or half wrong. But, you’ll use more of both.

Abrasive application

Abrasives are usually applied only at hazardous locations such as curves, intersections, railroad crossings, and hills. Rates of 500 pounds to two cubic yards per mile are common. It is important to calibrate spreaders to control application rates.

Since abrasives must stay on the surface to be effective, they should not be used when they will be covered with more snow or when they will be blown off quickly by traffic. Heavy traffic reduces the effectiveness, requiring repeated application.

If you do need to use abrasives (sand), BOOST will help make it work faster, colder, better.


About Dave Budd

Vice President of Product Development and Marketing, Great Lakes Chloride, Inc. Serving Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. Retired Michigan DOT, October 2010 after 32 years experience in Maintenance/Operations. Specializing in winter operations and liquid de-icers and anti-icers.
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