How to Keep Wooden Steps Ice-Free [5 Easy Methods]

You can keep wooden steps free of dangerous ice and snow with a number of different tactics. Some of the best ways on how to keep wooden steps ice-free and safe in icy conditions are:

  • Install tread strips on your steps.
  • Use a de-icer that is safe for wood.
  • Mix a wood-safe liquid de-icer from common home products.
  • Spread sand or similar absorbent material on icy steps to soak up moisture and provide traction.
  • Lay a towel or cloth over icy steps as a simple tread strip.

These are all quick solutions that work well in icy conditions. However, it’s also important to be proactive. Clear snow and ice off your wooden steps soon after it snows to prevent hazardous ice buildup. Also, remember to avoid dangerous ice-removal tactics, such as pouring boiling water on ice buildup, as these methods may actually create icy conditions on your wooden steps.

Snow and ice on wooden stairs leading up to a house

5 Ways to Keep Ice Off Wood Steps

As if driving on icy roads wasn’t tricky enough, icy wooden steps leading up to a porch can make getting in and out of your house a hazard. Below are the tried and tested methods for keeping your wood stairs safe and ice-free in winter.

Install Tread Strips

Tread strips made from rubber or other synthetic material are a great way to keep your wooden steps clear of ice. Tack down the strips on your steps to ensure they aren’t dislodged during use. Once installed, these strips make it much more difficult for ice to form, and provide traction to prevent slipping even in extreme winter conditions.

Prevent Slipping on Ice on Stairs
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Like all ice control measures, tread strips work best when you remain proactive. Clear snow from steps soon after a snowfall. Slippery conditions often form when snow is allowed to settle and compact, so shovel or sweep your steps within 12 hours after snowfall whenever possible.

Use the Right De-Icer

To break up stubborn ice and snow, you can employ a de-icer. However, be certain to choose one that will not harm your steps or deck. Here’s a quick breakdown of which de-icers to use and which ones to avoid.

Avoid These De-Icers on Wooden Steps

Rock Salt and other common salts (table salt, Epsom salt) are slow de-icers that not only harm wood, nearby plants, your pets’ paws, and your deck—they also don’t work especially well. When temperatures dip below 15℉ (-10℃), salt won’t work to melt ice.

Calcium Chloride de-ices to very low temperatures, but it is a very harsh product that will damage your wooden steps. Avoid using any de-icers with calcium chloride on your deck.

De-Icers to Use on Wooden Steps

Magnesium Chloride is safe to use on your wooden steps and is not harmful to plants and animals. It’s a great choice for de-icing wooden steps. It most often is included in liquid and salt de-icers and is effective down to -10℉ (-23℃).

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Potassium Acetate is similar to Magnesium Chloride. It is much safer for wood, plants, and animals than most de-icers. It is typically found in liquid-deicers. It is a great choice for extreme winter regions because potassium acetate effectively melts ice at temperatures as low as -15℉ (-26℃).

Use a Homemade De-Icer

If you don’t have any commercial de-icer on hand, you can create a homemade liquid de-icer using the following recipe:

  • 2 parts rubbing alcohol
  • 1 part hot water
  • 1 tablespoon of dish soap for every quart of alcohol/water mixture
  • Mix thoroughly

Pour the de-icing solution on your icy wooden steps to melt existing ice and prevent the formation of new ice.

It’s important to use a mixture containing alcohol and dish soap because these additives help the water resist re-freezing. Standard boiling water poured on icy steps will often re-freeze into a dangerous, near-invisible layer of ice, creating an even more hazardous situation on your steps.

Spread Sand or Kitty Litter for Traction

Another way to make wooden steps safe in icy conditions is to apply sand or kitty litter. Although neither will melt ice on your steps, it will provide a gritty layer of traction that prevents dangerous slips and falls. Apply a liberal amount of sand to cover the ice on your steps to make them safe for foot traffic. The best part is, unlike de-icers, sand works no matter the temperature.

If you don’t have sand at the ready, you can improvise by using cat litter, sawdust, or even ash from your fireplace. All of these help to provide traction on icy wooden steps.

Use a Towel to Create a No-Slip Zone

You can make iced-over wooden steps safe by using one simple home item-a towel. Simply lay a towel on top of a slippery step. The towel will soon freeze to the ice beneath and act as a no-slip tread on top of the ice. This is a great option in emergencies, when you don’t have de-icers on hand, or when temperatures are too low for de-icers to work.

It’s best to attempt to clear steps of snow and ice before resorting to this method, but during the coldest months, it can be hard to remove stubborn ice. Using a towel as an impromptu tread strip makes your steps safe for humans and animals in icy conditions.

How Do You Get Ice Off Wooden Steps?

Removing ice from wooden steps can be tricky. You’ll want to use products that will remove ice without causing damage to your steps or create an additional hazard. The best ways to remove ice from wooden steps are:

  • Remove snow soon after a snowfall, using a broom or snow shovel. This prevents compacted snow and ice build-up.
  • Use a liquid de-icer containing magnesium chloride or potassium acetate. These will melt ice without damaging your wood steps.
  • Use a homemade liquid de-icer made from 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 1 part hot water, and 1 tablespoon of dish soap per quart of water/alcohol mix.

Keep in mind that treatments like sand won’t remove ice from your steps. They will only add traction to existing ice. Also keep in mind that seemingly simple solutions like using boiling water or salt to melt ice can be ineffective may create hazardous conditions, and can be harmful to your wood steps.

Pair of shovels used to clear snow and ice off wooden steps

What to Put on Outside Wooden Steps to Prevent Slipping

To add traction to icy exterior wooden steps, try one of the following methods:

  • Install non-slip tread strips on wooden steps.
  • Pour a layer of sand, cat litter, or sawdust on top of the ice to add grit and traction.
  • Lay towels on top of icy steps in a pinch.

Installing tread strips on your steps is one of the best proactive measures you can take to make your steps slip-resistant. However, this must be done during clear conditions. If your steps are icy now, installing tread strips isn’t an easy option. Applying sand or laying towels on top of ice-covered steps will keep you safe until conditions improve.

Can Ice Melt Be Used on Wood Steps?

You can use ice melt for wood steps, but be careful to check the ingredients in the ice melt product you buy. Rock salt and calcium chloride products can be damaging to wood. Additionally, rock salt is not a very effective ice melter. Calcium chloride is an effective ice melter, but is especially corrosive and not recommended for use on wood.

When possible, use an ice melt product containing magnesium chloride or potassium acetate. These ice melters will work in temperatures well below zero and are less damaging to wood than other products.

Can You Salt Wooden Steps?

You should never use rock salt, table salt, or Epsom salt on your wood steps. Salt dries out wood, causing increased wear and aging. The good news is, there are much better de-icers on the market that are safe to use on wood.

Keep in mind, standard salts are slow to melt ice and stop working entirely at temperatures below 15℉ (-10℃). They are not a good option for removing snow from wood steps.

Can You Use Vinegar to Melt Ice on Wooden Steps?

Vinegar is not a good option for melting ice on your wood steps for two reasons:

  1. Vinegar corrodes and damages wood.
  2. Vinegar freezes at 28℉ (-2℃), only four degrees lower than the freezing point of water.

By using vinegar on ice, you simultaneously run the risk of damaging your wood steps and contributing to hazardous conditions. Because vinegar freezes at nearly the same temperature as water, in most cases a vinegar and hot water mixture will re-freeze on your steps and create a new layer of ice.

Instead of vinegar, use a solution of hot water and rubbing alcohol. Alcohol has a freezing point of -128℉ (-89℃), so it won’t refreeze.

A set of snowy wooden steps

Tips to Keep Wooden Steps from Getting Slippery With Ice

When dealing with icy conditions, wooden steps can become a slip hazard. To make sure your steps don’t become slippery, proactively clear snow soon after it falls.

To increase traction on wooden steps, install tread strips in clear conditions. If conditions are already icy, apply sand or a towel on top of the icy steps to provide traction.

If you’re interested in removing ice from wooden steps, apply a de-icing product made with magnesium chloride or potassium acetate, or make your own homemade liquid de-icer from hot water, rubbing alcohol, and dish soap.

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