Magnesium chloride, also known as mag chloride or MgCl2, is a chemical compound that works as a deicer, dust suppressant, and soil stabilizer. (To go beyond that basic definition, check out our article on what mag chloride is and does.)

MgCl2 is very popular. However, it can do serious damage to your budget, vehicles, and the environment. If you're having dust or soil stabilization problems and you're environmentally conscious, mag chloride is not a good solution for you. Even if you’re not environmentally conscious, you can find an alternative that’s non-corrosive, cheaper, or more effective in your climate. 

Let’s consider some mag chloride substitutes, including:

  • Salt brines
  • Acetate deicers
  • Sand, wood ash, and aggregate
  • Plant-based deicers
  • Calcium chloride
  • Surfa-Zyme
  • Perma-Zyme

Magnesium Chloride Salt Substitutes

Magnesium chloride is one of the most popular deicers for a reason: it works. However, it’s not the only product on the market. Several alternatives are available. 

Keep in mind that no deicer is 100% perfect; it’s just about finding the one that works best for your roads, budget, and community.

Salt Brines

Salt brines mix about 75-80% water with 20-25% chloride. They typically use sodium chloride, or rock salt. Sodium chloride brines lower water’s freezing point to 18°F, which helps prevent ice and snow buildup on roads.

Like MgCl2, sodium chloride is corrosive and can harm the environment. However, salt brines dilute liquid chlorides with ample water, so some advocates suggest they’re less corrosive and environmentally harmful than pure chloride treatments. Salt brines also cost about half as much as mag chloride.1 

Generally, salt brines are a cost-effective alternative to magnesium chloride—but since they're still corrosive, they’re not a perfect solution.

Acetate Deicers

Calcium magnesium acetate, potassium acetate, and sodium acetate are effective deicers. They’re also up to four times less corrosive on steel and 90% less corrosive on aluminum than chlorides.2

Potassium acetate and sodium acetate both work in subzero temperatures, too. They work at temperatures of -15°F and -10°F, respectively.3 

Like magnesium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate and potassium sodium can make concrete become scaly or flaky. Sodium acetate is gentlest on concrete.

Sand, Wood Ash, and Aggregate 

Sand, ash, and aggregate aren’t technically deicers since they don’t melt ice; they just give vehicles more traction as they drive over it. However, they can be lifesavers in brutal winter weather.

While mag chloride doesn’t work in subzero temperatures, these three solutions do. (Just be sure no more precipitation is coming; they can freeze and become ineffective if sleet, snow, or ice come down on top of them.)

Another downside is that rain can wash these materials into drainage ditches or streams, clogging them. Plus, sand and ash turn into dust when they dry out. So counties have to sweep up sand, ash, and sometimes even aggregate after it’s done its job.

Plant-Based Deicers

This one’s pretty cool: people have started turning corn, beets, molasses, sugar, vinegar, and other plant-based, organic materials into deicing agents. (Think about that next time you walk down the produce aisle!) 

These organic deicers have no negative environmental impact on roads, metal, or plants—although they can still affect water quality. Another potential downside is that, according to some Montana residents, corn-based deicers smell bad.4 

Odor aside, plant-based deicers put communities one step closer to eco-friendly magnesium chloride alternatives. People sometimes mix these organic compounds into salt brines to decrease corrosion, while still enjoying the effectiveness of mag chloride treatments. 

Calcium Chloride

One magnesium chloride substitute we don’t recommend is calcium chloride. It’s more dangerous for people, pets, and plants than mag chloride, and it’s more expensive. We don’t recommend using it as a deicer or a dust suppressant.

Check out this blog for more info on calcium chloride and its alternatives. 

Alternatives to Magnesium Chloride Dust Control

The simplest dust suppressant is water. Treating roads with water keeps dust down and aids nearby plant growth, so that’s a win-win! But before you fill up the old water truck, consider these downsides first.

Water requires frequent reapplications—even multiple times a day in dry climates—and each application requires thousands of gallons of water. That’s very wasteful, especially if you live in an area where water is scarce. And if your water source is far from the roads you’re treating, you’re looking at some hefty hauling costs. So while water is a non-toxic substitute for magnesium chloride, it still usually isn’t the most cost-effective or eco-friendly solution.

Instead, try finding an organic dust suppressant. A good magnesium chloride alternative for dust control is Surfa-Zyme. Surfa-Zyme is an enzyme-based dust suppressant. It’s made out of all-natural, food-grade material and is 100% environmentally friendly. It requires no special PPE, and you can easily wash it from your equipment. 

To apply Surfa-Zyme, first dilute it with water and then spray it over the road. It creates a natural crust over the soil and traps the dust particles so they can’t enter the atmosphere. Surfa-Zyme does require multiple applications, but with each application, the crust thickens and grows stronger. 

Surfa-Zyme is compatible in a variety of climates, including dry ones, and is long-lasting. Ideally, soil should have at least 20% clay content before treatment. 

Mag Chloride Soil Stabilization Substitutes

There are many different types of soil stabilizers, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll just talk about the one that’s the most eco-friendly, effective, and affordable long-term: Perma-Zyme. 

Perma-Zyme is an enzyme-based soil stabilizer that is effective for unpaved roads and the subbase of paved roads. It creates a concrete-like surface that lasts up to 10 years for unpaved roads and up to 20 years for paved roads, all with little to no maintenance. Perma-Zyme works in all climates. It does require at least 15% clay in the soil, and since many soils are clay-based, it is effective with most soils. 

Perma-Zyme is 100% natural, organic, and non-toxic, so it won’t harm the workers who apply it, the environment, or the people who live nearby. It also aids in dust control. While it’s not technically a dust suppressant, Perma-Zyme greatly reduces dust because it bonds clay particles together into the hard, concrete-like surface. That keeps them from escaping into the atmosphere.

One of the big differences between Perma-Zyme and magnesium chloride is that Perma-Zyme only requires one application. You will need a motor grader, water truck, sheepsfoot compactor, and a smooth wheel roller to apply it. 

The first step in applying Perma-Zyme is ripping up the soil using the motor grader. For standard traffic that will see cars and pickup trucks, rip the soil to a depth of six inches. For heavier traffic, you must dig 12 inches deep. 

Next, use a water truck to get the soil just under optimum moisture. Once the soil is close to optimum moisture, add Perma-Zyme to water in the water truck and spray it evenly across the soil. Then, use the motor grader to mix the Perma-Zyme into the soil and shape your road.

Finally, compact the soil. Use the high-frequency vibratory function on the sheepsfoot compactor to allow for aggressive compaction, and then use the smooth wheel roller for additional compaction and a smooth driving surface.


Magnesium chloride helps with deicing, dust control, and soil stabilization, but it isn't the most efficient or safest method. It’s costly to reapply, corrosive to vehicles, ineffective in certain climates, and harmful to the environment. 

Magnesium chloride alternatives that are effective and safer for the environment, like acetate and plant-based deicers, Surfa-Zyme for dust control, and Perma-Zyme for soil stabilization. 

To learn more about Perma-Zyme, watch this one-minute overview.

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