Can You Use a Turf Sprayer for De-Ice?


Liquid de-icers are being used more and more as an alternative to rock salt. It allows more efficient and precise application than rock salt and can be more effective in lower temperatures. The application of liquid de-ice product requires special equipment that is very similar to lawn, turf, and other types of fertilizer sprayers. This raises an important question for turf and property management companies: Can I use our fertilizer sprayers and equipment for de-icing liquids?

In general, equipment used to spray fertilizer, herbicides, etc, can be used to apply liquid de-icer. However, the application of these ice-melt liquids differs from fertilizer or herbicide. This means that changes may be needed to convert your turf or lawn sprayer to use with things like salt brine, magnesium chloride, etc. Additionally, equipment like pumps, hoses, valves, and nozzles that you use for lawn and turf, may work for de-icing liquids, but better alternatives may be available.

This article is going to focus on the differences between lawn/turf sprayers and de-ice sprayers as well as the types of equipment and accessories that work for de-icing applications.

Differences Between Turf Sprayers & De-icing Sprayers

At first glance, a sprayer used for lawns or turf, won’t look too different from a sprayer used for de-icer. The contrast between these sprayers may be minimal but it is distinct. The task of spraying de-icing fluids requires different techniques than fertilizer or herbicide. Also, de-icing is generally done during colder temperatures, which can also lead to differences in the equipment best suited for the job.

Spray Nozzles

This is where the first major difference in equipment arises.  The nozzle sizes used for sprayer booms used to apply herbicides are generally much smaller than what is needed for anti-ice or de-icing. Anti-ice or de-ice is measured in gallons per acre or gallons per lane mile. The per acre or per lane mile are might be as high as 100 gallons. The nozzles needed to produce enough flow per minute to maintain this rate are much larger than what is used on a typical ag or turf boom sprayer. In this post you can look at a more detailed explanation of sprayer nozzles.

The type of nozzle is also different.  Flat fan nozzles are generally used for weeds, but with anti-ice and de-icing, solid stream nozzles and large flood nozzles will be required.  The solid stream nozzle helps to penetrate the surface of the ice and snow.  This is preferred to melt ice or snow faster. 

Pre-treating surfaces with de-icing liquids can be done with flat fan or boomless nozzles, but again the nozzles you use for herbicide or fertilizer applications may be too small.  Remember when treating roads with salt brine or de-ice solutions, you are going to travel at faster speeds than on turf. Faster speeds mean larger nozzles will be needed.

Stainless steel is the preferred material for de-ice liquids, but polypropylene will work as well. Brass nozzles are not recommended for use with salt brine or mag chloride.

Boom and Spray Bar

The type of boom and nozzle spacing used for weed control is slightly different from what is needed for de-icing or pre-treating parking lots, roads, etc. 

Pre-treating or de-icing can be done with solid steam nozzles, but these nozzles need to be spaced closer than what is normally found on a turf or ag spray boom.  Generally, those booms have nozzles spaced 15, 20, or 40 inches apart.  With solid stream de-ice nozzles, you want them placed between 8-12 inches apart. 

In the image below you can clearly see the solid stream nozzle in action. Notice the streaks left on the road from the nozzles. Flat fan and flood nozzles that are generally used for spraying turf would coat the entire surface. The image shows a large de-icing truck but a similar boom could be used for smaller sprayers used in parking lots or driveways.

anit-ice and de-ice sprayer
De-ice sprayer using solid stream nozzles.

The construction of your spray bar/boom is also important.  Plastic or PVC booms will get brittle in the cold, so you may want to consider a steel boom.  It is also important to consider the hoses or pipe size of your boom.  If it is a dry boom, you want to make sure your supply hoses are large enough to accommodate the flow needed for the larger de-ice nozzles.

Sprayer Controls

When using a sprayer for ice melt, the method you use to control your sprayer does not need to be fancy. Preasure-based sprayer setups will work just fine unless your speed will be changing a lot. This would likely be the case when treating city streets and highways when traffic is present. If this is the case you may want to opt for automatic rate control.

Pressure-based sprayers are set up so that you control your sprayer’s output by adjusting your operating pressure. This is the most common type for lawns and small sprayers.

More elaborate auto rate control setups require a controller console, flow meter, electric regulating valve, and a speed sensor or GPS. The control console allows you to set your rate. The console communicates with the speed sensor/GPS, flow meter, and regulating valve. If you speed up, the controller opens up the regulating valve allowing more flow, if you slow down it closes to decrease flow. This is how your desired application rate is maintained.

With a pressure-based system, you must increase your pressure manually as you speed up. This requires calculating beforehand what pressure is needed at different speeds to maintain your rate. It can be done if you do not change speed often, but an auto rate control setup does all the work for you. If you are new to sprayers this post on sprayer operating pressure explains the components needed for both pressure-based and auto-rate control.

Plumbing Components

In the turf sprayer world, polypropylene is the commonly used material for plumbing fittings, valves, and pumps.  This material works well with most de-ice products, including mag chloride, sodium chloride (salt brine), and calcium chloride.  Stainless steel also will work with these products but is not ideal for mag chloride. 

For hoses, the EPDM rubber and PVC hoses used for lawn and turf sprayers will also work well for de-ice liquids.

De-Ice/Anti-Ice Sprayer Pumps

The centrifugal pumps used in ag and turf industries will work with de-ice transfer and application.  The high-pressure diaphragm and roller pumps used on spray rigs can have issues with salt brine due to the suspended solids, also high pressures are not needed when applying de-ice products.

EPDM and Viton make up the majority of the rubber O-rings, gaskets, and mechanical pump seals used in the ag or turf industry.  Fortunately, these are both compatible with the common de-ice products out there. 

Your sprayer or transfer pump can be a common source of sprayer issues when using de-ice chemicals or salt brine. If you have issues with one of your centrifugal pumps when using it to spray or transfer de-ice liquids, you can find help in this post on troubleshooting transfer pumps. This can tell you if your problem is related to the material you are pumping or not.

Storage

Poly tanks are good for both lawn and turf pesticides, fertilizers, etc., and de-ice liquids.  The important factor to consider is the weight of each liquid.  Generally, poly tanks have a rating for liquids that weigh up to 14 pounds/gallon.

De-ice Sprayer Maintenance

Low temperatures can make hoses harder to work with.  The same goes for poly fittings, the cold can make them brittle. If a poly valve has liquid freeze in it, it will be hard to turn and can break. The same goes for poly pump housings.  It is important to make sure you can fully drain out hoses, pumps, and strainers when not in use.  Even salt brine can freeze if it gets cold enough.  

Protecting the seals in your sprayer and transfer pumps is just as important for de-icing use as it is for turf use.  Flushing the pumps after use will help keep the salt from causing issues.  You should flush your entire sprayer when your equipment will likely be idle for a week or more.  Adding a propylene glycol antifreeze to the housing of the pump will keep it from freezing and prolong the life of your pump.

Determine What’s Right for You

To finish up, yes, most of the turf spraying equipment is compatible with de-icing liquids.  Making sure that equipment and tanks are properly flushed before switching from pesticide/fertilizers to your salt brine or other anti-ice products is key, as well as knowing the differences in nozzle size and spray boom.  Depending on your situation it may work to put your equipment to use in the de-icing season.

Sprayer Guru

I have more than a decade of experience using, building, studying, and testing sprayers in several applications. With the knowledge I have gained I want to provide straight forward and detailed answers for DIY homeowners, farmers, and commercial turf and tree care pros.

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