Compared to paved, asphalt and concrete driveways, a gravel driveway is cheaper to install and usually easier to maintain.
But it has one major downside – it can be difficult to clear snow off a gravel driveway. You risk removing the gravel along with the snow.
That’s not to mean it’s impossible – it just requires a bit more care and the right tools. In this guide, we discuss the best methods to de-ice a gravel driveway without damaging it.
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How To Melt Ice On A Gravel Driveway
One of the easiest and safest ways to get snow off a gravel driveway is to melt it away. The ice melts and flows away without moving the gravel.
There are two ways to melt ice on a gravel driveway: using salt or heat.
1. Deicing salts
Salt is the most commonly used de-icer. It lowers the freezing point of ice, causing ice to melt. There are different kinds of salt you can use depending on your budget and plant or pet safety considerations.
- Rock salt or sodium chloride is inexpensive and works well to melt ice. On the downside, it can harm plants as well as pets.
- Magnesium chloride is more environmentally friendly than rock salt. It also melts ice faster. On the downside, it is more expensive.
- Calcium chloride can work at very low temperatures up to -25F, making it ideal for deicing driveways in very cold climates. It’s also less harmful than sodium chloride.
- Potassium chloride is not a commonly used deicer. That’s because it only works in temperatures of 25F or higher and works slower than other types of salts.
If you are on a budget, go with sodium chloride. If you want to protect your plants and lawn or you want a fast-acting de-icer, get magnesium chloride. If you live in a cold climate or want a less harmful (but still affordable) alternative to rock salt, use calcium chloride.
Mix the salt with sand and apply it on the driveway. This will make the driveway less slippery.
Another tip is to apply the de-icer salt just before it snows. This will be more effective in keeping the driveway ice-free compared to applying salt on top of the snow.
2. Heated driveway mats
If you don’t want to use any salt on your driveway, the other option is using heat to melt the ice.
Heated mats are typically used on walkways but you can also lay them down on a gravel driveway. They are tough enough to drive over.
The biggest advantage of heated mats is that they melt the snow as soon as it falls, thus keeping the driveway clear all the time. Two, it’s a hands-free de-icing method.
Once you lay the mats down and plug them in, there’s nothing else you need to do.
Their disadvantage is that getting enough mats for a long driveway can be expensive. Operating these mats will also increase your power bills since they run on electricity.
For this reason, I recommend heated mats for shorter driveways.
There are also heating systems that are installed under driveways. But these are not ideal for gravel driveways. Because gravel is loose, it doesn’t conduct heat effectively. Gravel also shifts around, which can damage the heating system.
Can You Plow A Gravel Driveway?
Plowing snow off a concrete or paver driveway works really well since these are smooth and firm surfaces.
It’s trickier to plow snow off a gravel driveway. If you are not careful, you’ll scrape away gravel along with the snow.
To safely use a snow plow on a gravel driveway, make sure the plow blade has plow shoes attached. Plow shoes keep the blade raised above the ground, preventing it from digging into the gravel.
Adjust the shoes such that the plow is floating half an inch above the gravel.
If your plow doesn’t have shoes, you can use a plumbing pipe to achieve the same result. Here’s a video showing how to do this hack.
With that done, now you can get started clearing the snow. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Go slowly especially if you are dealing with wet and compacted snow. If you are too rough or quick, you might push gravel off the driveway.
- Start plowing from the middle of the driveway while pushing the snow to the sides. Use a V-blade or an angled blade to clear the snow to the sides.
- Keep an ear out in case the blade starts scraping gravel. Immediately stop the plow and adjust its height.
- For very thick snow, don’t attempt to clear it in one pass. Multiple passes will make your work easier and protect the gravel.
- Don’t use the snow plow if there’s less than 2 inches of snow on the driveway. Either wait for more snow to fall or use another more delicate method to clear the snow such as de-icing salt or a shovel.
- After you’ve finished plowing, use a shovel, rake, snow/leaf blower, or broom to remove the remaining thin layer of snow on the gravel.
Can You Use A Snow Blower On A Gravel Driveway?
Yes, you can use a snow blower on a gravel driveway. It is especially great for clearing a long driveway that would take forever with a shovel.
But, as with a snow plow, there’s a risk of picking up gravel.
To avoid this, adjust the skid shoes on your snow blower. Lower the shoes to raise the auger a half inch to an inch above the gravel.
That way, the auger will pick up only ice and leave the gravel untouched.
Some augers are also adjustable. This is common in 2 and 3-stage snow blowers. Raise the auger such that it’s not resting on the ground.
Once you are done blowing snow, you’ll be left with a thin layer on the gravel. Use salt or a shovel to get rid of it.
You can also just leave it and let it melt in the sun.
Here’s a helpful video on how to use a snow blower on a gravel driveway.
How To Shovel Snow Off Gravel
If all you have is a snow shovel or even a regular shovel (here is what to do if you don’t have it), you can use it to clear snow off a gravel driveway. If the ice is thick and packed, use a metal shovel to break it up.
Since it is labor and time intensive, shoveling snow works best for smaller driveways.
The first step is figuring out how deep the snow is. Choose one spot and push the shovel into the snow to see how far the gravel surface is.
Once you know where the gravel starts, you can shovel just above it to avoid scooping up gravel.
As with other methods, you’ll inevitably leave a thin layer of snow on the driveway once you are done. You cannot shovel it without picking up gravel.
You can leave it to melt, use a de-icing salt or brush it away if it is soft and light.
Tip: If the snow is soft and has yet to compact, you can also clear it away using a rake. A roof snow rake works really well.
Can You Use A Leaf Blower For Snow?
Yes, you can use a leaf blower to get rid of snow from a gravel driveway. A leaf blower is especially ideal for fresh snow that’s still soft.
That said, there are several issues with using a leaf blower to de-ice a gravel driveway.
- One, you can only use a gas powered leaf blower. Because electricity and water don’t mix, you cannot use a corded or battery powered leaf blower.
- Secondly, most gas leaf blowers are strong enough to fling gravel. So you have to be careful not to blow away gravel with the snow.
Find a throttle setting that clears away the snow but doesn’t blow the gravel.
Generally, however, I recommend using a leaf blower only on paved, concrete or asphalt driveways. For a gravel driveway, stick to one of the methods we have discussed above.
Whichever method you choose to clear your gravel driveway, the priority is to ensure you don’t damage the driveway.
In my opinion, de-icing with salt is the best way to keep your gravel driveway clear in the winter. It doesn’t take too much work, doesn’t require expensive machinery, and it doesn’t carry away the gravel.
But if you are concerned about the environmental impact of salt, a plow or a snow blower can also work as long as you use them correctly.
And for a small driveway, a shovel or rake is enough to get rid of the snow. The trick is to shovel or rake the ice regularly to keep it from getting too thick or hard.