How Does A Salt Spreader Work? — All Your Questions Answered

How Does A Salt Spreader Work? — All Your Questions Answered

Salt spreaders — or push spreaders, as they’re more aptly known —  are powerful tools that could literally save your life. Even though their importance and utility are well known, they’re still underrated, overlooked, and sorely misunderstood tools.

The truth is that if you understand how to use one efficiently, you could save yourself a ton of money, time, and energy. Don’t be fooled by the misnomer. Salt spreaders can be used for so much more than clearing icy roads in winter.

This raises a few questions. What are salt spreaders exactly? How does a salt spreader work? And, more importantly, how does using one to its full potential benefit your daily life, no matter the season? If you’d like the answers to these (and more), read on…

Cresco 20SW front

What Are Salt Spreaders and Why Are They Important?

Salt spreaders are devices used to dispense salt, rock salt, sand, and other fine (or crystalized) substances over large areas, like roads or fields. Their most common purpose is to break up and clear ice from roads, decreasing the likelihood of slippery accidents — or inconvenient, icy roadblocks.

There is science behind why salt spreaders work as well as they do. According to Scientific American, salt is so effective at melting ice because it decreases water’s freezing point. Once salt melts the top layer of ice, it slowly warms the ice below it. This layer then turns to salt water, which heats the ice that it touches, and so on.

Now, salt may be effective at clearing ice from our paths in winter, but doing so manually just isn’t practical. It’s not a matter of sprinkling some table salt on your sidewalk and expecting the ice to magically dissolve. You’ll need a lot of salt to cover a large area. That’s where salt spreaders come in.

Thanks to their mechanics (which we’ll cover in a moment), these bad boys enable the dispersion of vast amounts of salt over large perimeters in minimal time. They’re meant to spread salt evenly, without the added bonus of elbow grease. So, not only are they the most efficient way to clear roads, sidewalks, or driveways of icy hazards, they’re the fastest way too.

Are Salt Spreaders Really That Big a Deal?

Absolutely. It’s not an exaggeration that salt spreaders save lives. In 2014, Forbes reported that using salt to de-ice roads decreased the occurrence of winter motor accidents by 85% overall, and decreased incidents of car crashes in four-lane roads by a whopping 93%.

Keep in mind that this data only speaks of road accidents. It doesn’t include injuries or mishaps for pedestrians. As you’d imagine, though, if salt spreaders can reduce car crashes by almost 100%, the safety of those on foot will absolutely increase too.

You may be thinking, “But those are industrial salt spreaders. What does it have to do with me?”. To that, I say that it’s only the beginning. Yes, there is a difference between a heavy-duty salt spreader and a domestic one, but their premise, mechanics, and purpose are all the same. Not to mention that they can be used for so much more than combating ice, in winter and beyond.

How Does A Salt Spreader Work?

There’s no need to go deep into the science of salt spreaders, as a layman’s understanding is all that’s needed to make use of one at home. That said, salt (or whichever material you’re using) is added to a hopper. From there, the salt is dispensed into a chute and onto a rotating disk (or spinner disk), which then scatters and evenly distributes it across the spreader’s designated range.

Though the mechanics are the same, there are different types of salt spreaders. For interest’s sake, here’s a crash course:

Types of Salt Spreaders

  • Vehicle-Mounted Salt Spreaders: here, the spreader is fixed to a truck, and as it rides, salt is dispensed behind it. Mounted spreaders are considered the big guns, and are typically reserved for heavy-duty large jobs. They have the highest capacity and are usually the ones that clear highways and roads.
  • Tailgate Salt Spreaders: Similar to mounted spreaders, these are affixed to the hood of cars or trucks and spread salt in front of the vehicle — to clear the way for it rather than behind it.
  • Tow-Behind Salt Spreaders: These salt spreaders are attached to riding lawn mowers, quad bikes, or even small tractors and — as the name implies — trail behind, dispersing salt as you go. They’re somewhat harder to control than mounted spreaders but work just as well.
  • Push Broadcast Salt Spreaders: Also known as walk-behind salt spreaders, push salt spreaders, and pedestrian salt spreaders, these are the most common in households as they’re the easiest to use. To operate them, all you have to do is fill one up and walk, pushing it in front of you as you would a stroller or shopping cart.

More Than Meets The Eye — More Ways to Use Salt Spreaders

They may not look like it, but salt spreaders are extremely versatile tools. Think about it — yes, they’re made to disperse salt or ice melt, but nothing is stopping you from using one to spread… well, anything, really. If you’re creative, a walk-behind spreader can save you time and effort in an assortment of things, like…

Gardening and Agriculture

Push spreaders are brilliant for sowing seeds, and more importantly, for spreading fertilizer across your garden or field. You can do this with just about any push spreader, though appropriately adjusting your control lever (or the pressure you use) may take some practice.

This isn’t a problem with specialized spreaders, like the Cresco 20SW. It’s engineered specifically to switch from salt to fertilizer seamlessly. Thanks to unique Slide System Technology, you don’t have to waste time dismantling, resetting, or adjusting your push spreader between uses.

Spreading Feed

Like with fertilizer, you can use your salt spreader to distribute all sorts of grains, like chicken feed, oatmeal, or birdseed. Doing so will save you a ton of time in feeding your pets or livestock, and, since they disperse grains so evenly, will reduce waste (and save you money).

Spreading Confetti

It seems ridiculous, but salt spreaders can be used to spread anything grain-like, including glitter, confetti, or hundreds and thousands. So, if you’re ever throwing a colorful party and need a fast way to decorate a wide surface area, you can fire up your push spreader to save time. This isn’t something you’ll do often, of course, but it just goes to show how useful (and versatile) these machines can be. 

Salt Spreading in winter

How Push Salt Spreaders Can Help You

I can’t stress enough how versatile and handy pedestrian salt spreaders can be. Whatever you’re using one for — be it as intended in the winter, or for other purposes — there are many advantages to investing in one. When you invest in one, you will:

    • Save Time: Manually deicing driveways, paths, or roads is tedious. A salt spreader will dramatically reduce the time you have to spend on your chores or garden.
    • Work Smarter, Not Harder: No one ever said that manual labor is fun… because it’s not. A salt spreader saves you effort and energy, by doing all the hard work for you.
    • Do A Better Job: These devices are extremely precise and therefore, more efficient. If you’ve ever made a mistake — spilled salt everywhere, distributed it unevenly, or miscalculated its trajectory, you’ll understand how valuable a quality this is. Using a salt spreader means you have less to worry (or think) about.
  • Spend Less Money: In line with the above point, salt spreaders significantly reduce the amount of salt, meal, or grain you use because they’re precise. You won’t use more than what you need and will save quite a bit on unnecessary refills.
  • Stay Safe: Let’s not forget that salt spreaders reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries. Have you slipped and fallen on ice? It hurts more than you’d think. If you live in an icy climate, a push salt spreader is a non-negotiable tool.

How to Use a Salt Spreader

Different types of salt spreaders vary in complexity and operation. For example, mounted spreaders require installation first, and there will be a learning curve in utilizing them. Push salt spreaders, on the other hand, are not difficult to use at all. There may be a few differences according to make and model, but generally speaking, they’re operated in three easy steps:

  1. Make sure that your control lever is disengaged and so that your chute is closed.
  2. Fill your spreader with salt (or grain of your choosing).
  3. Start walking, engaging the control lever to open the chute and dispense the salt.

The trick is to start slow so you don’t lose control of your spreader. Also, try not to go overboard with your application. Remember that you could always retrace your steps to add more salt, but there’s no undoing your mistake if you make a mess or use too much. Less is more!

Useful Push Salt Spreader Tips

  • Read your manual. No two salt spreaders are the same, so be sure to follow manufacturer instructions. You wouldn’t want to damage your device by assembling it incorrectly, forcing it beyond its limits, or using it with inappropriate materials.
  • Maintain your salt spreader often: Make sure your spreader is well looked after. They may be simple tools, but they can (and will) break if you don’t give them some TLC. Be sure not to follow manufacturer advice for upkeep, prep and operation to avoid damage.
  • Use the right substances. Some people believe that ice melt is better in winter because it works faster and has a much higher freezing threshold. The truth is that both ice melt and rock salt are great options, you just have to use them correctly. Ice melt is an anti-ice agent that prevents ice from building up. Rock salt is a de-icer, which removes it.
  • Use protective gear. Whenever you use your spreader, make sure to wear protective clothing and shoes, especially if you’re working with harsh, abrasive materials. Generally, salt spreaders are incredibly safe and easy to use, but as they say: better safe than sorry.

Are Push Spreaders Worth Their Salt?

Salt spreaders are sorely underrated tools that don’t get enough credit in the DIY and home improvement spheres. They may seem like single-purpose tools, but as you can see, they are versatile devices that you can utilize all year round, for a number of projects.

Whether you’re using them to remove snow and ice, nurture your garden, or add dashes of color to a venue, salt spreaders are so much more than they’re made out to be. Not to mention that they will save you time, money, and labor, and who doesn’t want that?

So yes, a push salt spreader is worth every penny you’ll spend on one, and it’s recommended that you consider investing in one — even if you’ll only use it in winter. It will pay for itself. Trust me.

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