Dealing with a steep, slippery, gravel driveway in winter (update)

The weather has turned mild here in Michigan, but winter is far from over.  On that note – probably the single most viewed post I’ve written on this quiet little blog of mine is last year’s How to fix a slippery driveway hill without damaging the environment.  Multiple people per day ask Google how to deal with a steep, slippery driveway and end up on my humble outpost of a blog. Since I feel their pain, having had to get my minivan winched out of the drop-off beside our driveway not once but TWICE (with the second time involving some rather unkind verbal exchanges between myself and my incredulous husband while standing on the edge of the embankment up to our knees is snow, but let’s not talk about that now), I am reposting the link above to the original post along with a few added notes below.

We use industrial absorbent diatomaceous earth to keep our driveway passable in winter. Diatomaceous earth is made entirely of fossilized algae, so it is not harmful to the environment or your landscaping.

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Our steep, curving gravel driveway, sprinkled with industrial absorbent diatomaceous earth and pictured here with a ferocious Shiba Inu.

Almost every major auto parts store carries diatomaceous earth as an oil absorbent.  Note that this is NOT food-grade diatomaceous earth powder that is sometimes added to grains to keep pests from destroying them while stored, like this stuff:

This will NOT work on your driveway

Rather, it has a course texture, almost like cat litter, but it is NOT clay-like when it gets wet:

It does not become slippery or caked-up.  It stays granular so that your tires can grip it.  Here is some on my driveway a couple of weeks ago:

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At $5-10 per bag, it’s a very cheap way of dealing with a steep, icy, gravel driveway.  It sticks around pretty well, so if you spread some on your driveway, you shouldn’t need to add more unless you get a bunch of additional snow that covers it up.

I hope this advice is helpful to someone out there and saves you both the tow-truck fee for a winching-out and the marital strife that may occur when your husband makes a flippant remark about your driving skills while your minivan dangles over the edge of a drop off. 🙂

 

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:

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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.

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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.