After using your patio or deck all summer and early fall, you might start to wonder if it’ll look as good in the spring. Do snow, salt, and winter maintenance tasks take a toll on the beautiful wood or stone that is the foundation of your outdoor living space?
Unfortunately, yes. Few homeowners realize that applying salt and other deicing products and trying to shovel away snow can damage your patio or deck. We’ll explain why your current winter maintenance routine does more harm than good and what you should do instead to keep your hardscaping in perfect condition come spring. Plus, we’ll explore some eco-friendly salt alternatives that are gentler on your patio and deck, so you can get the ice protection you need without causing damage to your hardscaping.
How Do Salt and Shoveling Effect Patio Pavers?
Your interlocking stone seems so strong and stable that it’s hard to think salt or light shoveling could damage it, but both do. Salt can erode the stone and leave chips and scratch marks when dragged along the stone by your shoe.
Plus, when salt mixes with water it creates a solution that can sink deeply into the stone. While your asphalt driveway is impermeable to this mixture, it causes problems for patio pavers. Once the water is inside the stone is can freeze and expand, which can erode the stone, cause flaking, and discolor the stone.
Shoveling the pavers, especially with a metal-tipped shovel, can also create scrapes and scratches in the stone. Over time, these marks can become more prominent and ruin the look of your stone. If you have a paver sealant, which you should, these scrapes can remove the sealant and leave the stone exposed to snow and ice.
How to Protect and Maintain Your Patio in Winter
Follow these steps to safely maintain your patio in the winter:
- Clean: Before any snow falls, remove any dirt or debris on the stones with a stiff broom.
- Seal: Also long before the snow, choose a sealant product and apply it to the stones. Sealer will help protect the stones from water intrusion and make them easier to clean next fall. You can choose a non-slip sealer to make the stones easier to walk on in winter.
- Shovel: When it comes time to remove snow, only shovel where you need to in order to create a pathway. Also, use either a soft plastic shovel (gently) or a snowblower. A snowblower is great because it doesn’t scratch the stone.
How Does Salt and Shoveling Affect Your Deck?
If your front or back yard is graced with a wooden or plastic deck, one of the absolute worst things you can do is shovel it. Metal tipped shovels, and sometimes even plastic ones when used roughly, can create chips and gouges in your deck.
Further, unless you need a pathway through the deck, there’s no need to shovel it. Plastic decks aren’t harmed by snow or water. A wood deck should be made of treated wood that will resist snow and water very well, for a long time.
How to Protect and Maintain Your Deck
If you shouldn’t be shoveling your deck, what should you be doing? Follow these steps to care for your deck:
- Clean: In late fall, sweep debris off your deck and remove any patio furniture etc. You want the deck to be completely clean when the snow arrives.
- Wash: In the spring, when the snow melts, the deck will be exposed to a lot of water. If there is any mold or mildew hiding under the snow, it will get a lot worse. So, in fall, take some soap and gently scrub the deck. Then rinse. Do not use a pressure washer, it damages the wood.
Using salt on your hardscaping is a bad idea both for the patio or deck and the plants around it because of the damage it causes. Here are some gentler, eco-friendly options:
Kitty litter: It won’t melt the ice but will give you traction.
Alfalfa meal: This actually melts ice and is an all-natural fertilizer option.
Sugar beet juice: Beet juice is a very effective ice melt option. It works when temperatures are below 20 degrees when salt doesn’t. Be careful that your hardscaping is sealed, so the beet juice can’t discolor it.