How to fix a slippery driveway hill without damaging the environment.

It snowed again last night and now the temperatures are dropping and the wind is whipping. By tonight, the air temperature is supposed to fall to -13 F (-25 C) with wind chills of -30 to -40.

Despite having our driveway professionally plowed now, the constant light snow, cold temperatures, and high winds have turned our long driveway with its steep hill up to the house into a sheet of glass-like ice.  We’d been wondering what to do about this – should we salt the heck out of it? We didn’t know if that would even work on a gravel driveway, but not only that we also don’t like to use road salt because of its environmental impact.

There is a gravely mistaken belief among some conservatives that because environmentalists are largely extreme left-wingers who come up with incredibly foolish and destructive ideas, we therefore should embrace wastefulness and not care about polluting the environment. I suspect this foolish belief comes from wealthy fiscal conservatives who want us to be wasteful so that we will consume more and thus have to work more, thereby lining their already-stuffed pockets.  I don’t believe it is either morally-licit or wise to embrace this wasteful attitude; I lean toward the orthospherian side of reactionary politics, which makes me very conservative, but I care about taking care of the natural world as much as possible. While I don’t go for any silly Gaia-worship, neither do I want to needlessly destroy God’s beautiful creation if I can avoid it.

But we knew we couldn’t safely drive on this glare ice up a steep hill, so what to do? Well, it turns out our plow guy grew up on a big farm in this area, and he told us his family spreads diatomaceous earth that is specially processed as an industrial absorbent on the steep hills that their farm equipment and pick-up trucks need to get up and down.

What is diatomaceous earth?

“Diatomaceous earth…is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder…Depending on the granularity, this powder can have an abrasive feel, similar to pumice powder, and has a low density as a result of its high porosity. The typical chemical composition of oven-dried diatomaceous earth is 80 to 90% silica, with 2 to 4% alumina (attributed mostly to clay minerals) and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide.

Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid, mild abrasive in products including metal polishes and toothpaste, mechanical insecticide, absorbent for liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, and a thermal insulator.”

I had used diatomaceous earth that I bought at a garden store years ago to kill grubs in our lawn without using pesticide. I had also read at Rural Revolution about using food-grade diatomaceous earth as an additive to grains like rice when preparing them for long-term storage because it prevents pest infestation of the food.  But I had never heard of using it as an absorbent or for traction.

We were a bit skeptical and weren’t sure if it would work, but we were getting sick of sliding off our driveway, so Phil went to The Parts Peddler in Dexter (I love small-town, independently-owned businesses) and bought some. This is the kind he got, but there are other brands I’m sure:


The package says the contents are 100% diatomaceous earth.

This is what it looked like when he spread it on the driveway – like dirt, basically.



But oh my goodness, it works! I mean, it works perfectly. You can drive right up that hill like you’re driving on bare gravel, not a slip or a slide. Phil went back and bought several more bags to keep in the garage; several times a week now, he will go out and spread a fresh layer. I believe he uses one bag each time he does this and each bag costs about $8.

My advice to anyone who needs to get up and down a steep driveway hill in the winter is to try spreading diatomaceous earth that has been processed as an industrial absorbent. You won’t damage God’s beautiful green earth but you’ll be able to drive right up the hill no matter how icy it is.


9 thoughts on “How to fix a slippery driveway hill without damaging the environment.

  1. I am glad that you found something. I have heard of this stuff being used to clean up hazardous material spills but not this. While it’s not absorbant, sand is a godd alternative too.


  2. Here in Vermont they sell something called tube sand although everyone refers to it as “driveway sand.” It’s basically an extra gritty sand.

    It comes in a 50-lb tube and b/c our driveway is very steep we always make sure we have at least one tube in our garage. My husband also keeps a 5-gallon bucket of it to sprinkle along our walkway.

    It’s about $6 and works like a charm. Our driveway would be impassible without it when it’s icy out. I’ll have to look for the earth-based product you mentioned next time I go to the hardware store.

    I live in a very environmentally-conscious area and they use a brine solution on the interstate. On our road, which is steep and curvy, the highway crew only uses sand b/c it offers better traction. They do use salt on the main roads, but only if it’s above 20 degrees.


    • Huh, we’ll have to keep an eye out for the driveway sand, too. We tried regular play sand at first because we had a bag of it in the garage. We’ve also noticed that rather than salt, they spread something that looks like sand on the gravel roads around here. Maybe it’s extra gritty sand like you describe.

      We knew this first year out here would be a learning experience. Hopefully next winter will involve less tragicomedy.


  3. Man, this weather is crazy! It was near blizzard like conditions driving home from church this evening. It was only snowing lightly but the wind is unbelievable and it’s whipping snow everywhere. I feared we would be blown right off the road.

    Anyway, I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s Day, however you spent it. It was low-key here. We had little gifts (chocolates and the like) and homemade cards. We went to church. And I made the kids’ favorite dinner, which is tortellini with pesto.


  4. Just don’t breath the stuff. It WILL give you silicosis. If you look at it under a microscope the grains are very jagged and sharp. They get in your lungs and get trapped. A dust mask would be cheap insurance. The other problem is the stuff blowing around as it dries to dust in the spring.
    There’s also the good chance that most of the anti salt hysteria is some ocd environmentalist’s ravings. Mix some into your DE as you spread it.
    FWIW. Find your comments at Empath and other sites to be very insightful. Blessings on you.


  5. Thanks for your post! We have a steep driveway and after the last winter in Mass. I have so much anxiety about snow and ice and getting up and down our driveway. After reading this I bought Diatomaceous earth (food grade). I noticed what you got is a darker color. Does your have clay in it? Do you think the food grade stuff will work. I’m skeptical given that it’s a thin powder and not sure how it would do anything on the ice. Thank you so much!! Abby


  6. Pingback: Dealing with a steep, slippery, gravel driveway in winter (update) | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

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