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How does Salt "Melt" Ice? Mark as Favorite (50 Favorites)

LAB in Mixtures, Melting Point, Freezing Point, Phase Changes, Freezing Point Depression. Last updated January 29, 2024.


In this lab, students will consider why salt is used to aide in snow clearing and to help keep icy roads safe. They will investigate how salt ‘melts’ ice and determine the best type of salt to do so.Additionally, students will explore the advantages and disadvantages of the various different types of salt.

Grade Level

Middle or High School

NGSS Standards

  • MS-PS1-4: Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.
  • MS-PS3-4: Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of particles as measured by temperature of the sample.
  • MS-PS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.


By the end of this lab, students should be able to

  • Develop a testable question and set up a procedure to find an answer to that question.
  • Analyze data and express the results of that data.
  • Discuss the meaning of freezing point and freezing point depression.
  • Identify phase changes, and indicate that creating a mixture can change the melting/freezing point of a substance.

Chemistry Topics

This lab supports students’ understanding of

  • Solutions
  • Freezing Point Depression
  • Mixtures
  • States of Matter
  • Phase Changes
  • Freezing Point
  • Melting Point


Teacher Preparation: 15-20 minutes

Lesson: 90 minutes

Materials (per group)

  • 1-2 Tbsp per substance:
    • Sand
    • Table salt
    • Rock salt
    • Calcium chloride
  • Thermometers
  • Measuring spoons
  • Ice cubes, one large plastic container or ice chest
  • Small plastic containers, tubs or cups with wide openings, approx. 5
  • Plastic spoons for each substance


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.

Teacher Notes

  • Teacher may need to guide students in the process of designing a controlled experiment with testable questions (For example: What substance melts ice faster? What temperature is the ice as it starts to melt? Does the amount of substance effect how fast the ice melts?) Also, the teacher may need to review independent and dependent variables, such as: substance used, time to melt, temperature when melted, etc.
  • Engage: Ice and snow pose obstacles to drivers throughout the winter season. Show students portions of the following video clip. Discuss with students the problems caused by driving on roads covered with ice and elicit why transportation departments want and need to clear ice off of roadways.
  • Explore: Draw on students’ past experiences with snow and ice on the roads and make a list of how students have seen those roads made safe for travel. (Student responses should include snow plows, rock salt, sand, brine, ice melt, etc.)
  • Discuss how each of these methods remove the ice/snow. When discussing the rock salt, elicit from students’ responses why they think the rock salt is used. Most responses will include that the rock salt ‘melts’ the ice.
  • Working with partners or small groups, have students determine ways they could design a test either focused on a particular salt type or comparing salt types (use student handout). For example, students could set up an investigation to determine which substance ‘melts’ the ice faster, or they could set up an experiment to see if the amount of a particular type of salt effects how fast the ice melts. The teacher will look for students to set up experiments that have testable questions, identify independent and dependent variables, establish set up procedures and create data tables.
  • Once students have established the parameters of their testable question, the teacher will have students obtain necessary supplies and conduct their experiments. Students will report their data and conclusions to the class.
  • Explain: Record student group results on whiteboard. Discuss with class the different types of tests that were completed, and what questions were addressed by each group. Hopefully, some groups have made the connection that the temperature of the ice has actually dropped below the freezing point when it is combined with a salt (freezing point depression).
  • Show students the ACS video ‘How Does Salt Melt Ice?’ up to the 1:22 minute mark.
  • Students should understand that salt doesn’t melt ice but lowers the freezing temperature of the water so that the ice doesn’t stay in solid form.
  • Evaluate: Using class results or their individual results (see conclusion section on student handout), students should write a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning statement that addresses how salt ‘melts’ the ice and snow from the roadways and use data to support it .Their reasoning statements should explain the science behind the ‘melting’. Additionally you could require students to also draw a model that explains what happens to the molecules as the salt mixes with the ice.
  • Extension: If time permits, allow student groups time to research the impact that rock salt and sand have on both the environment and the ‘budget’. Have students research information on the internet and use what they have learned to develop a solution to ice and snow on the roadways that balances safety, environmental concerns and budgetary constraints.

For the Student



No doubt you have seen transportation crews spreading various materials over the roadways after a snowstorm, melting the snow and ice and making the roadways safe for driving. State and local governments spend thousands of dollars each year buying the materials used by our road crews to treat these roadways and for the overtime they need to pay these workers when a major snowstorm hits.


You will investigate how salt is used to clear the snow and ice from the roads.

Materials Available

  • 2 tbsp. of each of the following substances:
    • Sand
    • Table salt
    • Rock salt
    • Calcium chloride
  • Thermometers
  • Measuring spoons
  • Ice cubes
  • Small plastic containers/cups


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Follow the teacher’s instructions for cleanup of materials and disposal of chemicals.


  1. With your group, brainstorm and design an experimental set-up to test how a particular salt can be used or how different types of salts melt ice. Record your plans in the space provided below.
  • What is a question that would lead to an experiment that would give you measurable data?
  • How will you know if your experiment answers your question?
  1. Ask your teacher to review your group’s ideas. Make any adjustments necessary to set up your experiment.
  2. Make a list of materials necessary to conduct your experiment (see list of available options above) and create your step-by-step procedure to conduct your experiment in the space provided below.
  3. Have your teacher review your list and then obtain the necessary materials.


  • Make a data table to record your results based on the procedure you designed.
  • Record your observations of the ice and the other materials used while conducting your experiment. Be sure to note any and all things that you see and hear (and feel, if using gloves or touching the outside of the containers holding the ice) during the experiment.


  1. What does your data tell you about how salt ‘melts’ ice?
  2. How could you change your experiment to give you more useful data on salt’s effectiveness?
  3. What other resources can you think of to help you determine how salt melts ice and why so many transportation departments use it?
  4. When discussing your results, what things surprised you? Do you think these surprises would occur if you were to conduct the experiment again?
  5. What errors might have occurred while you were conducting your experiment? How could your group minimize those errors in the future?


Using your data, write a C(laim)-E(vidence)-R(easoning)-M(odel) statement that reflects what your group learned from its experiment. In your claim, state how you think salt ‘melts’ the ice and snow from the roadways and use your data to support it.