Removing Road Salt from Your Car

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Even a mild Canadian winter can add to the wear and tear on your vehicle with the very substances that help you drive safely through all sorts of winter weather. While salt is a wonder chemical when it comes to melting snow and ice and – more importantly – breaking their bond with pavement, it is a harsh enemy of your car’s systems, both mechanical and cosmetic.

How Does Road Salt Work?

Interestingly, dry salt doesn’t do much. It’s not until it starts to dissolves into brine that it begins its full job. That job is essentially to lower the freezing point of water. Any substance that dissolves in water has an effect on the freezing point, so in theory you could use sugar to accomplish the same thing. However, the effect of salt is about six times greater than sugar, having a lower molecular rate.

When the temperature is -1 degree Celsius, it takes 15 metric tons of salt to melt 64 tons of ice, which would be equal to 2.54 centimeters of ice covering one lane of pavement for 1.6 kilometers. The job of road salt isn’t to completely melt all the ice, only to keep ice from bonding with the pavement. As the salt brine forms, its greater density takes it down, undermining the connection with the road. Traffic and plowing then break up and remove the ice from the road. In practice, road workers would only need about 225 kg of salt for that same theoretical ice coverage.

Get It Off My Car! A Plan for Removing Road Salt

The chemistry is fascinating, but the result is that your car is coated with a corrosive substance. Salt build up usually exhibits as white stains and crystals on the car’s surface and places inside that come in contact with road salt brine. Here’s a three-step plan to remove these reminders of winter.

Thorough Car Wash

Car Wash

The first step addresses the outside of your car. If you use drive-through car washes, spring is the time to splurge on the deluxe wash. Generally, these more expensive washes include more cycles around your car, giving wash water and soap more time to penetrate dried salts, making the rinse cycle more effective.

Using a coin-operated wash can be even more effective. Pack lots of change and approach your car in layers. Run a pre-rinse circuit around your car to wet all surfaces. Salts begin to dissolve. Next, perform a soap pass to cover your car. Pay particular attention to wheel wells and spots where road debris builds up, such as under bumpers. Use a soap brush to scrub all accessible surfaces and finally rinse all soap away. This strategy works for those who use a power washer with a driveway cleaning.

Rubber Mats

Remove these completely from your car and use lots of soap and water to clean thoroughly. Use a stiff scrub brush if you don’t have access to a pressure washer. Most coin-op washes have wall mounted clips made expressly for cleaning removable mats.

Car Interior

Start with a thorough vacuum of loose debris in all driver and passenger foot areas. A solution of 50 percent water and 50 percent vinegar in a spray bottle is an ideal solvent for removing road salt. Attack any salt stains with the spray, using a brush suitable for carpeting to work in the solution and break up crystals. Ideally, using a wet-dry vacuum will extract the solution from the built-in carpet. Otherwise, absorb the solution with rags or heavy-duty paper towels and leave your car doors open to permit airflow. Ensure the carpet is dry before re-installing removable mats.

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