Choosing the Right Salt Spreader Main Image

To some, owning a salt spreader means cutting a few holes in a large enough can and shaking out the salt. To others, it’s a deeply integrated part of their snow removal services. Many decide which type of spreader to use simply by considering the volume of material it can hold compared to the volume of material they plan to use. Making a decision like this can be a costly mistake. Choosing a spreader that allows too much of the wrong material to flow is a huge waste and can be a complete waste if your spreader can’t throw any material at all. Most spreaders are designed to be able to handle a variety of materials, but even the most versatile spreader can’t apply every type of de-icing material that’s on the market. As a consumer or contractor trying to decide how to combat ice, the first question that needs to be asked is: what de-icing material will I be using?

Choosing a Deicing Material

Choosing De-Icing MaterialAfter considering the effects of road salt and its alternatives, it’s time to make an educated decision as to which material you’ll be using. First, consider the surfaces you’ll be clearing. Different surfaces can require the use of different materials. For example, parking garages are treated with magnesium chloride to reduce the corrosion of the rebar used in its pre-cast concrete panels, whereas treatment of sensitive concrete surfaces or other masonry pavers usually calls for a material like calcium chloride. Depending on your needs, you may want to consider purchasing several different spreaders to fulfill different applications. A more cost effective solution is to line up similar jobs that have the same de-icing needs in order to reduce the variety of de-icing material being used.

Considering Capacity

Salt spreaders can range from 75 lb capacity push spreaders to massive 4 cubic yard truck mounted units that can hold close to 8,000 lbs of material. Styles include: smaller push or walk behind salt spreaders, small ATV salt spreaders, small to mid-sized tailgate salt spreaders, under tailgate salt spreaders for dump trucks and large v-box or hopper salt spreaders. There are also liquid spray systems for those who prefer to pre-treat or de-ice with liquid materials. Deciding which capacity fits your needs will rely on the capacity of material needed per job and for the entire route. Balancing these two needs is very important to maintaining efficiency.

Capacity Required per Client

Home owners and contractors that are handling smaller jobs like residential driveways and walkways, paved areas with tight corners or confined areas will want to use a walk behind spreader or small to mid-sized tailgate spreader. The average capacity range for these spreaders ranges between 2.7 and 5.75 cubic feet. Using this size spreader will offer more visibility and will spread your chosen material more efficiently for these types of applications. Using a larger salt spreader will make handling a vehicle in the confined space of a smaller job more difficult and will waste de-icing material with the added maneuvering. You can mix materials in the hopper of these spreaders and they are easily calibrated for precision material spreading. These are typically too small to be the primary salt spreader for most contractors, but are great for home or business owners or as an additional spreader for contractors.

Snow Removal Client

For larger clean up jobs like driveways, parking lots, roadways or bridge decks, a tailgate or hopper salt spreader is recommended. Designed for professional contractors, the average capacity of these spreaders is 9.0 cubic feet and above. You can mix de-icing materials in these hoppers and they are easily calibrated for precision material spreading. Though they can handle large areas, these spreaders are undersized for maintaining very large areas like malls or entire subdivisions. Some contractors will attempt to cut costs by buying a smaller spreader than they really need. This can end up costing you more in the long run once you add up the down time of continually stopping for each refill and the additional fuel consumption from driving back and forth for materials.

Municipalities or contractors who specialize in maintaining large parking lots, roadways, bridge decks, malls, and subdivisions can benefit from the large capacity provided by v-box or large hopper salt spreaders. The average capacity for these spreaders is 1 cubic yard and larger. These spreaders are best for handling bulk materials and have restricted mixing capabilities. These are not intended for precision spreading--their best application is to broadly cover large areas.

Liquid systems are often used as an addition to hopper salt spreaders. This pre-wetting process helps your de-icing material better stick to the road, allowing for less of the material to be needed to accomplish the same job. Some liquid spray systems can replace the use of a normal salt spreader. If you prefer to mix liquid de-icers with your dry material or your chosen material is a liquid, these spray systems will be best suited for you.

Total Capacity

Snow Plow RouteAfter considering the capacity needed per each job, it’s time to start calculating the total amount of material needed for your entire route. Grouping your clients together, while assessing the size of each job and the materials needed per client, will help you plan the most efficient route. Planning your route will help you narrow down the wide range of spreaders available to those that are designed to handle the material(s) you’ve chosen and are sized appropriately for the work load you plan on undertaking. It wouldn’t make sense to buy a spreader with a capacity of 3 cubic yards if your material total for your entire route is only 1 cubic yard. Alternatively, if your route requires 6 cubic yards of material, a spreader with a capacity of 1 cubic yard is too small.

Some contractors value the ability to carry extra de-icing material in their trucks. With larger hopper or v-box spreaders that occupy the entire truck bed, this isn’t an option. These spreaders will require the contractor to either have their own supply of bulk material at their headquarters or they’ll need to visit a landscaping supply center for every refill. It’s important to balance the needs of each client with the needs of your entire route before deciding which spreader will fit your work load best.


After you figure out which material best fits your clients needs, what capacity spreader will handle your routes needs and which style will best accommodate your average job size, the selection of spreaders should be narrowed down to only a handful of options. The differences at this point are between the design of the spreaders and materials they’re constructed from.

Hopper Material

Recently the industry has been trending to favor spreaders made of polyethelene (poly), though steel and stainless steel options are still available. The material that the hopper is constructed of influences the flow of material through the spreader. Spreaders constructed of polyethelene have the advantage of being naturally smooth and slippery. This helps the de-icing material flow through the spreader more easily. Steel, on the other hand, is coarser, causing de-icing materials to catch or stick to it more frequently. With steel spreaders, de-icing material will begin to collect on the sides where it sticks to the steel hopper. Once these spreaders start showing corrosion, material flow can be further hindered by the rust that begins to build up.

Strength and Durability

StrengthWhen talking about the strength of each material, the debate is moot. Poly, steel and stainless steel spreaders don’t really offer any direct strength advantage over each other. When considering overall durability, spreaders constructed of steel are susceptible to corrosion from de-icing materials and, over time, this reduces their strength. These spreaders also incorporate more moving parts like belts, sprockets and chains. With the addition of these parts, maintenance costs and unexpected down times are likely to increase. Steel spreaders are also typically equipped with an engine that needs to be maintained to keep the spreader functioning. Due to the increased number of moving parts and an engine that requires continual maintenance, these spreaders can rarely be used without pre-season maintenance after storage. Alternatively, poly spreaders are resistant to corrosion, and most are powered by electric motors and don’t typically incorporate as many moving parts. This reduces the amount of pre-season and ongoing maintenance required to keep these spreaders in action. Considering maintenance costs is an important step for a contractor adding multiple spreaders to their fleet.



With local law enforcement cracking down on overweight vehicles more than ever, weight becomes a serious thing to consider when picking a salt spreader. It’s important to make sure you don’t exceed your vehicles gross vehicle weight ratio (GVWR) when traveling with a loaded spreader. Poly salt spreaders are much lighter, allowing the driver to carry more de-icing material in the spreader before reaching the GVWR. More de-icing material on the road means less time driving back and forth for re-loading and more time fulfilling your client’s needs. The other benefit to using a lighter spreader is reduced fuel costs. According to the EPA, eliminating 10% of a vehicles gross weight can improve gas mileage by 7%. Depending on the number of vehicles/spreaders in a contractor’s fleet, these fuel savings can add up fast!

Agitation Systems

Salt Spreader Agitation System

Though the material that the spreader is constructed from influences how well the material naturally flows through the spreader, many have agitation systems in place to keep de-icing materials from clumping together and creating blockages in your hopper. Gravity fed spreaders that use smaller bag materials typically don’t have these systems, as the material they are spreading is finer and more processed than bulk materials.

For larger spreaders using bulk materials, these systems are essential in making sure the spreader can handle the large amount of material being passed through them without causing clogs. Different methods of agitation are more effective than others. Conveyer systems can potentially move too much material for the rate its being spread and overload the chute. These systems also randomly dump sheets of material as the belt revolves, occasionally wasting de-icing material. After these conveyor chains dump material into the discharge chute, they revolve back under the spreader and occasionally pull material back into the truck bed with them, creating additional waste.

One of the alternatives to conveyor chain systems is an auger driven system. These systems utilize a metal auger in the hopper of the spreader to break apart chunks of bulk material and help the material keep moving towards the discharge chute. The auger is basically a corkscrew shaped metal part that spins at the bottom of the hopper. While this part spins, it breaks apart any large chunks of bulk material, allowing it to move towards and flow through the discharge chute easily.

The other alternative, typically used on poly spreaders, is a vibration system. These use a vibrator mounted to the side of the hopper to send vibrations through the sides of the hopper and shake the material within. This helps prevent the material from clumping together and helps it move towards the discharge chute.

Application Control

There is a variety of different controls for how a spreader applies de-icing material. Some utilize a single adjustment lever to control both the flow rate and spinner speed. Some have an additional manual rear gate that can be raised or lowered to increase or reduce flow. Even though you can manually adjust the rate of flow with these mechanisms, they aren’t very precise and you need to stop and exit the truck to manually make adjustments on the spreader. Once these manual controls are set, the driver can apply more or less de-icing material by speeding up or slowing down. This can create a road safety issue if the driver is more focused on the material flow rate than their surroundings.

Salt Spreader Controller

A safer and more efficient option is using a system that allows for independent control of the spinner and the auger from within the truck. Being able to adjust both these parameters allows for more precise control over material flow in a given area. If you need to lay down more or less material, you can increase or reduce the speed of the auger without affecting the spread width, as it has its own control. This is useful whether you’re adjusting to accommodate the rate of snow fall during a storm or if you’re just making adjustments to accommodate the needs of different job sites.

There can be many aspects to consider when choosing a salt spreader that’s appropriate for you and your work load. Keep in mind what material you’re spreading, the amount of material that needs to cover each job site, the amount of material needed to accommodate your entire route and which design elements will best suit your application needs. These key points will help you narrow down the wide field of salt spreaders on the market to the ones that will fit you and your needs best. Find your salt spreader today at RCPW!