man in a bucket truck deicing a plane using inorganic chemicals

The Chemistry that Gets Us Through Cold Winters

With winter comes fun activities like skiing and snowshoeing, but it also means not-so-fun activities like shoveling snow, dodging slippery sidewalks, and driving in undesirable conditions. As we go on with our day-to-day life, many of us probably don’t give a second thought to the chemistry behind things that make winter easier to get through, like road and sidewalk salt and warm winter clothes. Here, we discuss the five most common chemicals that help us get through the bitter, cold winters.

Road & Sidewalk Salt

Traditional road salt is halite. This is chemically almost the same thing as your table salt, except it is not as pure and doesn’t have added iodine. Also referred to as rock salt, halite is naturally mined and contains other mineral impurities, which is why it has a brown color. Halite starts to lose its effectiveness after the temperature drops below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In these kinds of temperatures, it must be switched out with an alternative deicing agent such as magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, or potassium acetate. These alternatives are usually in a liquid form and are sprayed onto roads as a pre-treatment ahead of winter weather events.

Regular sidewalk salt is basically the same as road salt. There are also products out there labeled as ice melt. These products contain halite but also have calcium chloride or magnesium chloride to make them more effective. Ice melt is designed to be used in areas that experience temperatures below -10 degrees Fahrenheit.


Antifreeze is a substance used in cars and sometimes boiler systems to keep water from freezing. Antifreeze can be either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol.

Ethylene glycol is created by reacting ethylene oxide with water. It is also used to make beverage containers and polyester for the manufacturing of clothing, carpet, and other textiles.

Traditional propylene glycol is a petroleum-derived product. Plant-based propylene glycol is created through a process called hydrogenolysis, where glycerin and hydrogen are combined at high temperatures and pressures. Both versions are safer around humans and animals than ethylene glycol. The plant-based version is sustainable, renewable, and overall better for the environment. However, propylene glycol solutions are not as effective at lower temperatures and have a higher viscosity (thickness) than ethylene glycol solutions and can be used at temperatures roughly 20 degrees colder. Propylene glycol is also more expensive.

Plane Deicing

Did you know that a layer of ice as thin as a sheet of sandpaper on a plane can affect its lift and ability to take off? This is why you will often see huge trucks on the runway blasting a liquid substance all over the planes during wintery weather and icing conditions. The base of plane deicer is ethylene glycol. Other chemicals are added to the solution to thicken it, reduce corrosion, and make it stick better to the surface of the plane to prevent new ice from forming. The solution is heated before being applied to the surface of the planes under high pressure.

Innovations have been made in the last decade to create a more effective and environmentally friendly deicing agent that is made from biodegradable propylene glycol.

PFAS-Free Water Repellent Spray

Also known as forever chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are commonly found products labeled as water- or stain-resistant. Water resistance is a major selling point of many winter clothing items. Several research studies have come out in the last several years about the dangers of these chemicals to both human health and the environment.

While new strides are being made to make water- and stain-resistant products without these forever chemicals, PFAS-free waterproofing has been around since the 1930s. There are several different formulations that can be found for PFAS-free water-repellent spray, with the most common including hydrocarbons, silicone, and melamine.

Noah Chemicals Manufactures Chemicals

If you are in need of safe alternative chemical solutions for your winter products, we can create custom formulations based on your specific needs. Our chemical experts have over 100 years of combined experience creating custom formulations in multiple industries. To get started, please call us here at Noah Chemicals at 210-691-2000 or you can request a quote online here.

Our Recent Blogs



The information including but not limited to text,graphics, images, videos and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The material on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a qualified doctor or health care professional for medical advice, information about diagnoses, and treatment. Noah Chemicals does not recommend or endorse any specific test, physicians, products, procedures, opinions that may be mentioned on the website.