Salt plays an important role in winter road and sidewalk safety. It helps to melt ice and add traction to a lot of important surfaces. Unfortunately, it also means that salt and other chemical treatments can easily adhere to the bottom of shoes and boots, which tracks salt straight into your building.

You might not even notice the salt on your floors when they are slightly wet from the gently melting snow. Though when the floors completely dry you are left with ugly salt spots and a floor that looks gritty and dirty.

Of course, salt on the floors isn’t just an esthetic nuisance. Left unaddressed salt on the floors can easily spread further and further into the building causing subtle yet profound damage to a wide range of surfaces.

How Does Salt Damage Floors & Concrete?

Most commercial properties experience heavy foot traffic in entryways and main hallways and commons areas. Salt is a rock and technically a crystal, which means it has microscopically sharp surfaces. When these crystalline edges are forced and ground under the soles of a boot or shoe it can start to scratch and scrape the finish. In some cases, the abrasive salt can be just as damaging to your floors as rubbing a medium grit sandpaper on them.

Can Salt Damage Carpet?

The impact of salt on carpeting might not be as immediately obvious as it is on concrete and other hard floors. Though its presence can be just as much if not more damaging. While salt on the upper fibers of a carpet can usually be vacuumed away, a carpet that goes too long without a good deep cleaning will start to develop salt problems deeper down in the lower layers of the pile where most consumer-grade vacuum cleaners can reach.

As time goes on the abrasive salt crystals can start to damage the deep fibers and the base layer of the carpet. This can cause bare spots and dull-looking carpet that never quite seems to come clean. Over time the carpet can even start to develop holes or suffer premature wear-and-tear from heavy foot traffic.

Different Types Of Winter Salt

Of course, halite or “Rock Salt” is just one of the different types of salt and other chemical additives that get used on roads, sidewalks, and parking lots in the winter. Some of these special salt mixtures can do damage to floors in different ways.

Sodium Chloride

It is more commonly known as “Rock Salt” and the most common deicing salt. Unfortunately, it releases the highest amount of chloride when it dissolves, which can damage concrete and metal. When used in excess it can also pollute streams, rivers, and local freshwater areas, and can potentially damage grass and plants in the spring.

Calcium Chloride

This is one of the most commonly used “Deicing Salts.” In the bag, it looks like little round white pellets. Unfortunately, it can cause skin irritation on bare skin and can chemically attack concrete.

Potassium Chloride

This deicing salt will only melt ice if the air temperature is above 15 F and is less corrosive than other salts. It also doesn’t cause skin irritation and has less of an environmental impact. Though it can nonetheless damage the sheen and polish on a building’s floors.

Magnesium Chloride

This is a relatively new deicing salt that continues to melt snow and ice at colder temperatures. It remains effective all the way down to -13 F and releases 40% less chloride into the environment than either rock salt or calcium chloride. Though it still can damage floors and affect concrete.

The Signs Of Salt Damage On Floors

Discoloration & Staining

This is one of the earliest signs that salt is present on your floors. It gives the building’s hard floors and carpeting an unkempt ugly look. If salt has managed to impregnate the carpet or has damaged the concrete over a long period of time, these stains can be difficult if not impossible to remove.

Scratches On Hard Flooring & Concrete

The abrasive nature of crystalline salt can easily start to damage the finish on your floors leaving them dull and dirty-looking. Even after the salt is mopped away the floor still might not have its previously glossy sheen.

Worn Out Carpet

Salt that is allowed to penetrate deep into the lower layers of the carpet’s pile can start to suffer premature wear and tear from foot traffic. It can also be overly prone to stains if wet feet or a spilled beverage soaks into the carpet.

Scrapes On Hard Floors

Some larger pieces of rock salt can get trapped in the treads of boots or the tires of hand carts and other cargo devices. The pressure of these undissolved crystals can scrape wood floors leaving permanent scratch marks.

How To Prevent Salt Damage On A Building’s Floors

There are a few different things you can do to help prevent or reduce floor damage caused by winter salt.

Salt Selection

The salt you use for deicing your parking lot and sidewalks can be a factor. If possible try to use potassium chloride on the surfaces near the building’s entryway. It causes less damage to hard floors, concrete, and carpet when it is accidentally tracked in on boots.

Entry Way Rugs

Long rugs with rubber backers in the building’s entryway will help give salt a place to deposit off the bottoms of boots before it tracks into the rest of the building. It also helps improve traction for people with wet shoes, which can be an important safety step as well. These mats can then be removed and cleaned frequently during the snowy winter months when salt is a big problem.

Have Your Floors Professionally Cleaned

The vacuums and mops found at the retail level aren’t very effective at truly removing salt. Instead, they tend to spread it around turning it into a recurring and pervasive problem for weeks if not months to come. Professional cleaners have access to truly commercial-grade cleaning equipment and supplies to remove salt and maintain flooring.

Reseal The Floors After Cleaning

Once the building’s floors have been thoroughly cleaned they should be resealed with a high-quality, heavy-duty, professional-grade sealer. This will restore the sheen of the hard flooring and concrete while also creating a protective barrier to reduce salt’s impact in the future.

Most commercial properties have their floors professionally cleaned and resealed on an annual basis. The fall tends to be the best time to do this as it gets the floors ready to handle the rigors of winter foot traffic.