What Causes Ice to Be Colder When It Is Salted?

In its native state, salt is a crystalline mineral made of sodium chloride. It is one of the most important minerals for human health and a variety of other functions. It is used to melt ice and make it colder, among other things. How does it, however, make ice colder?

So, why does adding salt to ice make it colder? Because salt forms a thin coating on ice and saltwater has a lower freezing point than water, the freezing point of ice drops from 0 to -2 degrees Celsius. As a result, adding salt to ice makes it colder.

Let’s take a closer look at the main reasons why saltwater is becoming colder.

Why does salt lower the temperature of ice water?

On the roadways, salt is used to melt the snow and prevent it from refreezing. Adding salt to ice cubes in coolers, on the other hand, can help keep beverages cold.

Both appear to be contradictory, but understanding the link between the physical states of water (ice, liquid, and vapour) and temperature is necessary to comprehend how and why saltwater freezes slower.

When water is brought to a boil, the molecules inside it move quickly and produce steam. When the same water is cooled to a low temperature, there is insufficient molecular mobility, resulting in freezing.

As the ice cubes have a coating of water on the outside surface, the temperature drops from freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) to as low as -21 °C or -5 °F when salt is added to ice water. The saltwater becomes quite chilly when the ice melts.

This is because the salt lowers the freezing point of the water, making it colder than it would otherwise be.

The Freezing Point Depression at Work

The colligative feature causes depression to reach its freezing point. In this case, the chemical identity of the substance is irrelevant; just the quantity of particles generated matters.

It’s vital to understand how melting and freezing occur in different physical states of water to fully comprehend why adding salt makes ice colder. Almost all liquids shrink as they cool because the molecules move slower.

When the molecules are chilled, the intermolecular force increases, drawing them closer together. When a liquid reaches freezing temperature, it solidifies.

Water is an exception to this rule; when water is cooled, it contracts until it reaches a temperature of roughly 4°C. After then, it expands somewhat until it reaches its freezing point.

The molecular structure of water forms a network of hydrogen bonds, which causes this action. As the temperature drops, the connection becomes stronger.

Ice must now absorb heat from the surroundings to help it break the hydrogen bond and transform into a liquid.

When water freezes, it releases heat. At the freezing point, ice and water are in equilibrium, which means that the energy released by ice when it melts equals the energy absorbed by water when it freezes.

When you add salt to ice, it melts into water and absorbs heat, but it also refreezes and releases heat. As a result, the temperature drops, making the ice even colder.

When you dissolve salt in water, it splits into two ions: Na and Cl. These cover the space between the water molecules, making ice crystallisation more difficult. As a result, the temperature must be lower in order for it to refreeze.

Why do we use salt to melt ice and make it colder?

Have you ever wondered why we salt our roadways throughout the winter? Because salt has a lower freezing point than water, it helps to keep roads safe during the winter. A layer of salt is placed on the road when it snows or there is a snow event.

As a result, the snow melts rather than freezing, and the road becomes wet rather than slippery. Different forms of salt, such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, are occasionally used instead of rock salt to melt snow at a lower temperature, especially in extremely cold locations.

Making ice cream at home using an ice cream maker is another classic usage of salt, particularly crystal salt. The canister’s ice bath is filled with ice and salt, and the cream is swirled in the canister to assist it freeze. It can only reach the freezing point, i.e. 0°C, if no salt is added.

The cream freezes faster when salt is added to the ice bath. This is because salt dissolves in water when it comes into touch with the ice’s outer surface. Because salt freezes at a lower temperature than water, the ice bath becomes colder and the cream freezes faster.

Crushed ice, rather than solid ice cubes, is shown to provide speedier cooling. It’s because salt has a larger surface area to dissolve, resulting in faster melting. As a result, instead of using huge cubes, crushed ice is used to speed up the ice cream production process.

Another typical usage of salt is to apply the salt phenomenon to coolers. It can be used to quickly chill and keep a beverage cold. The surface of the bottle should be in touch with ice to cold faster.

A salt-water-ice bath is generated in the cooler when you add saltwater to it. The ice in the cooler will cool the drink, while the salt will lower the temperature to below freezing.

When no salt is added and only water and ice are used, the beverage becomes colder but does not stay colder for as long as when salt is added.

If you merely use ice, however, the beverage will not chill as quickly because the chilling agent (ice) does not completely contact the surface of the beverage container.

When you want to keep your drink cold for a long time while you’re outside, mix it with saltwater and ice. When saltwater is added to ice, the temperature drops immediately, allowing the drink to stay colder for longer.

Because the salt will dissolve the ice and the water will be chilly, the drink will stay cold for longer.

Regular ice water and saltwater ice are compared.

Regular water and salt brine are combined to make saltwater ice. This is then frozen at a temperature below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Both increase in temperature at the same rate and reach room temperature around the same time when melted.

The main distinction is that saltwater is colder when the ice is partially thawed. Even while saltwater decreases the freezing point, it does not lower the boiling temperature.

When compared to regular water, saltwater boils at a greater temperature, and adding salt does not lower the temperature of boiling regular water.

Regular WaterSalt Water
Freezing temperature0 degrees CelsiusLowered by 1.85 degrees Celsius
Boiling temperature100 degrees celsius> than 100 degrees celsius

Table salt vs. rock salt

The most prevalent varieties of salt on the market are rock salt and table salt. Both rock salt and table salt have the same chemical composition, NaCl. Rock salt takes longer to dissolve in water than table salt.

The fundamental difference between rock salt and table salt is that the grains of rock salt are bigger.

As a result, the water molecules extract the ions from the rock salt, which are then incorporated into the water solution before the other ions in the rock salt are removed.

If the ion-stripping process takes too long, the water will freeze before the salt is dissolved. In addition, rock salt contains numerous insoluble contaminants that might enter the solution, reducing the amount of salt available.

Because table salt is finely crushed, it has a larger surface area, which helps it melt ice faster by covering more of the ice’s surface area.

However, rock salt is more commonly used since it is affordable and readily available, making it ideal for melting ice or making ice cream.

Table saltRock Salt
Size of granulesFinely powderedLarge granules
Surface areaMoreLess
ImpuritiesFewer impuritiesMore insoluble impurities
Cooling EffectQuickerSlower
CostExpensiveMore Expensive

The effect of salt concentration on the freezing point of water

The influence of salt concentration on the freezing point of water is depicted in the diagram below.

The line in the following graphic indicates that the lower the freezing point becomes as more salt is added to the solution until it reaches 23.3 percent salt concentration.

The influence of salt concentration on the freezing point of water


To summarise, adding salt to a mixture of ice and water causes the ice to melt by lowering the freezing point. Unlike water, which emits heat, salt absorbs it, making the entire mixture colder.

Read more: Is NO2+ a Polar or Nonpolar Substance?

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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