The Science of Road Salt

Magnesium Chloride, Sodium Chloride and Calcium Chloride - more commonly known as “Road Salt” or “Brine mixture” are used by at least 38 states in the winter months as a pretreatment on roadways before snow and ice events. These chemicals have been described by engineers familiar with them and the damage they do to vehicle as “liquid Rust” because of how corrosive they are. Magnesium Chloride is the most commonly used because it is effective a very low temperatures compared to the other two. However, it’s not uncommon to find a combination of the three used by different municipalities.

Its well know that these chemicals cause rust all over the vehicle. Places like the suspension, undercarriage any of the cracks and crevices it gets into can be damaged by them in the form of rust. One place that is often overlooked though - is the carpets and upholstery in the vehicle. Fabrics can also suffer the negative effects of Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Chloride and Sodium C

hloride. When your shoes or boots have snow on them that is contaminated with these corrosive chemicals you are effectively grinding them into your carpets and floor mats. Most think that its not a big deal because once the carpets dry the chemical isn’t hurting anything. That’s not at all true. Magnesium Chloride can pull moisture from the humidity in the air and stay active even when “dry”. This spells big trouble for your vehicle – both inside and out.

What are some of the problems caused by these chemicals on carpets? After all, carpet doesn’t rust. The first issue is what is known as re-soiling of the carpets. As I mentioned above, these salts stay active even when the fabric is dry to the touch. That means dirt will “stick” to them easier and be more difficult to remove. The strong chemicals are also breaking down the carpet fibers themselves which leads to premature wear and tear. Eventually it will eat holes into the carpets. And… it just looks terrible.

How to fix and prevent the problem. The best method is to clean the carpets. But with Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Chloride and Sodium Chloride, you must neutralize them during the cleaning process. To do so, you should use a product know as a fiber rinse. A fiber rinse is made of acidic surfactants. The Magnesium, Sodium and Calcium Chlorides are Alkaline. This means the fiber rinse will be effective in both neutralizing and cleaning at the same time. The use of a carpet extractor in this process is very important as well. This will be final step to rinse the chemicals from the fibers.

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Written By: Paulo Assuncao, CD, MC Back in the day, when I started professional detailing in 2002, sponge and soap were king. A good old chamois and a cotton towel were the cherry on the cake. Many ti