If you live in a place that gets cold in the winter, you have probably seen trucks out spreading a mixture of sand and salt on the streets after a snowfall to help de-ice the road. Have you ever wondered how this works? This basic chemistry project can give you some clues.
Areas of Science
Short (2-5 days)
Low ($20 - $50)
Andrew Olson, Ph.D., and Teisha Rowland, Ph.D., Science Buddies
To determine which added material will make ice melt fastest.
If you have ever made homemade ice cream the old-fashioned way using a hand-crank machine, you probably know that you need ice and rock salt to make the cream mixture cold enough to freeze. Similarly, if you live in a cold climate, you have seen the trucks that salt and sand the streets after a snowfall to prevent ice from building up on the roads. In both of these instances, salt is acting to lower the freezing point of water, and changing what phase of matter the water is (i.e., turning solid ice into liquid water).
For the ice cream maker, because the rock salt lowers the freezing point of the ice, the temperature of the ice/rock salt mixture can go below the normal freezing point of water. This makes it possible to freeze the ice cream mixture in the inner container of the ice cream machine. For the salt spread on streets in wintertime, the lowered freezing point means that snow and ice can melt even when the weather is below the normal freezing point of water. Both the ice cream maker and road salt are examples of freezing point depression.
Table salt (technically sodium chloride, or NaCl) when mixed with water is an example of a chemical solution. In a solution, there is a solvent (the water in this example), and a solute (the salt in this example). A molecule of the solute dissolves (goes into solution) because the force of attraction between the solute molecule and the solvent molecules is greater than the force of attraction between the molecules of the solute. Water (H2O) is a good solvent because it is partially polarized. (This polarization is caused by the distribution of electrons in the water molecule; specifically, its hydrogen ends have a partial positive charge, and the oxygen end has a partial negative charge.) Because water molecules are partially polarized, it is possible for them to arrange themselves around ions (which are molecules or atoms that have a charge), like the sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-) ions that make up table salt. This is why there is a greater attraction between the water molecules and the molecules of salt than there is between the molecules of salt by themselves, and why the water can dissolve the salt to create a salty solution.
Other substances when mixed with water can also lower its freezing point. The amount by which the freezing point is lowered depends only on the number of molecules dissolved, not on their chemical nature. This is an example of a colligative property. In this science project, you will investigate different substances to see how they affect the rate at which ice cubes melt. You will test substances that dissolve in water (i.e., soluble substances), like salt and sugar, as well as a substance that does not dissolve in water (i.e., an insoluble substance), specifically sand. Which substances will speed up the melting of the ice?
Terms and Concepts
- Freezing point
- Phases of matter
- Freezing point depression
- Colligative properties
- What is freezing point depression? When does it happen?
- How are solutions made?
- Which of the suggested test substances are soluble in water?
- Which of the suggested test substances are insoluble in water?
For more information on colligative properties, see:
- Nave, C.R. (2006). Colligative Properties of Solutions. HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Georgia State University. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
For information on Avogadro's number and molecular weight, see:
- Lachish, U. (2000). Avogadro's Number, Atomic and Molecular Weight. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
To try a simulated experiment on freezing point depression or boiling point elevation, see this resource (note that it is a Flash animation that requires browser plug-in):
- Greenbowe, T.J. (2005). Boiling-Point Elevation and Freezing-Point Depression. Department of Chemistry, Iowa State University. Retrieved accessed September 6, 2007.
Materials and Equipment
Science Buddies' recommended supplies for this project can be found at Amazon.com
- Identical bowls or saucers (4)
- Ice cubes (12). They should all be the same size and shape.
- Salt (¾tsp.)
- Sugar (¾tsp.)
- Sand (¾tsp.)
- ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon
- Timer or clock
- Refrigerator. You will want an empty shelf that can hold all four bowls, unstacked, at the same time.
- 50mL graduated cylinder, or smaller size.
- Large cup with a spout, such as some measuring cups. Alternatively you could use a funnel that fits in the graduated cylinder.
- Optional: Masking tape and a permanent marker for labeling the bowls
- Lab notebook
Downloadable display board template - only $1.99
- Make a great display board with the downloadable template that is customized for this project.
- Get printable templates for each section of your display board.
- Save time with preformatted data tables and pre-set font sizes that look good on a display board.
- Just enter your project information and data, print, and attach to the display board!
Figure 1. You will need these household materials, and access to a refrigerator, to do this science project. If you want to label the bowls, you will also need masking tape and a permanent marker.
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Tip: As you do your experiment, take a few pictures of yourself in action and of your experimental setup. Use the pictures to help make your science fair display board more interesting and informative.
- Get the salt, sugar, sand, and measuring teaspoon ready to use nearby.
- Once you have set up the ice cubes in their bowls, you will want to quickly add the substances to the ice cubes so that they do not melt before adding the substances.
- Into each of the four bowls, quickly place three ice cubes. Arrange the ice cubes so that only the corners are touching, forming a triangular shape, as shown in Figure 2, below.
- Tip: If you are using ice cubes from a tray, it helps to let the tray sit at room temperature a little (for about five minutes) so that the ice cubes more easily come out of the tray and do not break into pieces.
Figure 2. Arrange three ice cubes in each bowl so that just the corners of the ice cubes touch each other.
- Carefully sprinkle ½ teaspoon (tsp.) of salt over the ice cubes in one bowl, as shown in Figure 3, below. Then sprinkle ½ tsp. of sugar over the ice cubes in another bowl, and ½ tsp. of sand over the ice cubes in the third bowl. Do not sprinkle anything over the ice cubes in the fourth bowl — it will be your control.
Figure 3. Sprinkle salt, sugar, sand, or nothing over the ice cubes in each bowl.
- Move each bowl to an empty shelf in the refrigerator. If any of the ice cubes no longer form a triangular shape in their bowl, gently nudge the ice cubes to make a triangle again.
- You are doing this experiment in the refrigerator because it is easier to see the effects of colligative properties at colder temperatures. To think about why this is, imagine melting an ice cube on a hot, paved road compared to melting it in the refrigerator. The hot temperature of the road will make all of the ice cubes melt very quickly, which makes it harder to see the relatively minor effects of colligative properties on how fast the ice cubes melt.
- Note the starting time in your lab notebook. Tell other people who may use the refrigerator that you are doing a science project and to not leave the refrigerator door open long as this could change the temperature of the refrigerator.
- Check on the ice cubes every hour. When the ice cubes in one of the bowls have become at least half melted, take out all four bowls from the refrigerator and move on to step 7. (Be sure to take the bowls out before the ice cubes in two or more bowls have completely melted.)
- Depending on how cold your refrigerator is, it may take about four hours for the ice cubes to become at least half melted.
- While you are waiting, make a data table like Table 1 in your lab notebook.
|Substance||Amount Melted (mL)||Amount Remaining (mL)||Total Amount (mL)||Percentage Melted|
Table 1. Make a data table like this one in your lab notebook to record your results in. Note that the liquid measurements should be recorded in milliliters (mL).
- Carefully pour the liquid water from one of the bowls into a cup with a spout, such as a large measuring cup. Make sure the ice cubes stay in the bowl, but get as much liquid into the cup as possible. Then carefully pour the liquid from the cup into the graduated cylinder. Record how much liquid was in the bowl (the amount of ice melted) in the data table in your lab notebook. After recording your results, clean out and dry the cup and graduated cylinder.
- Alternatively, you could use a funnel instead of a cup with a spout and funnel the liquid directly into the graduated cylinder from the bowl.
- Repeat step 7 with the three other bowls.
- When pouring the liquid from the bowl with the sand, try to leave as much sand in the bowl as possible.
- Now let the ice cubes completely melt in their bowls (you can leave them at room temperature). Once all of the ice cubes are melted, repeat steps 7–8 (but this time you will not need to worry about keeping the ice cubes in the bowls). Record the amount of liquid remaining in each bowl in your data table.
- Calculate the total amount of water (originally in ice cube form) that was in each bowl. To do this, add the "amount melted" to the "amount remaining" for each bowl. Record the total amount for each bowl in your data table.
- For example, if the amount melted was 65mL and the amount remaining was 25mL, the total amount would be 90mL.
- Calculate the percentage of ice that was melted (when you first took the bowls out of the refrigerator) for each bowl. Do this by dividing the amount melted by the total amount.
- For example, if 65mL was melted, and the total amount was 90mL, dividing 65mL by 90mL would give you 0.72, which is the same as 72%. This means that 72% of the ice melted.
- Clean out and dry the bowls. Then repeat steps 1–11 at least two more times so that you have done at least three trials total.
- Did any of the substances you tested consistently speed up the melting of the ice (compared to the melting rate of plain ice cubes with nothing added)? If so, can you explain your results?
- Now you are ready to create your science fair display board! If you need help making your display board, a downloadable display board template for this project is available for purchase below. The template provides step-by-step guidance for creating all the usual sections of a display board: title, abstract, background information, question, hypothesis, variables, results, conclusions, and acknowledgements.
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- Does the melting rate depend on the amount of solute added? Design an experiment to find out.
- Investigate the effect of temperature on how colligative properties melt the ice cubes. To do this, try your experiment at different temperatures, such as room temperature or outside on a hot day. Be sure to monitor the temperature regularly throughout your experiment.
- Do other substances help melt the ice cubes more quickly or slowly? Identify some substances to try and then repeat this experiment.
- For a related, more advanced experiment on freezing point depression, see the Science Buddies project Chemistry of Ice-Cream Making: Lowering the Freezing Point of Water
- Do you think salt would melt ice in your freezer? Why or why not? Try it and find out.
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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.
Science Buddies Staff. "What Makes Ice Melt Fastest?" Science Buddies, 29 Dec. 2021, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Chem_p049/chemistry/what-makes-ice-melt-fastest. Accessed 13 June 2023.
Science Buddies Staff. (2021, December 29). What Makes Ice Melt Fastest? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Chem_p049/chemistry/what-makes-ice-melt-fastest
Last edit date: 2021-12-29
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Salt, baking soda, and sugar will all act to lower the freezing point of the ice, making it melt quicker than the untouched ice cube. Sand is another common substance that may be seen on the roadway. In fact, it is not used to melt ice, but rather for traction for shoes or cars. Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc.What makes ice melt faster science fair project results? ›
While it seems simple, adding salt to ice water actually activates two complex, and contradictory, chemical reactions. The salt disrupts the equilibrium of water and ice, slowing down the amount of water freezing into ice and speeding up the amount of ice melting into water.What makes ice melt faster salt sugar or sand? ›
Out of the three substances tested, salt melted ice the fastest, followed by sugar, then sand, and lastly control. Salt melted ice the fastest.What liquid makes ice melt the fastest experiment? ›
“ After many trials, we have concluded that our hypothesis was correct. Boiling water melts the ice the fastest out of all the other 4 liquids.What makes ice melt the fastest conclusion? ›
The substance that makes ice melt the fastest is salt. For 20 minutes on 3 ice cubes, the average amount of water was 21.16 mL. That means out of 33 mL in 3 ice cubes, salt melted 21.16 mL of that.What surface makes ice melt faster? ›
Metal is a better conductor than plastic, so energy is transferred more quickly through the metal. This is why we saw the ice on the metal block melt more quickly.What is the best way to keep ice from melting science fair project? ›
Styrofoam is the best insulator for preventing ice from melting.What makes some ice melt faster than others? ›
Ice melts according to surface area and volume, according to Hunting Waterfalls. The greater the ratio of surface area to volume, the faster it melts. This makes smaller pieces of ice with more exposed surface melt more quickly than larger pieces, notes SevenFifty.Does ice melt faster in water or air experiment? ›
Since the water and the air are both at room temperature, it may not be obvious why the ice melts faster in the water. There are so many more molecules in the water that can contact the ice that the transfer of heat to the ice is much more efficient and faster in the water than in the air.What makes ice melt faster sugar? ›
Sugar lowers the freezing point of water by binding with the water molecules and creating more space between them. This helps them overcome the electrostatic forces that bind them into a solid structure. The same is true for any substance that dissolves in water.
Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than the 32 degrees F at which freshwater freezes. The difference between the air temperature and the freezing point of salt water is bigger than the difference between the air temperature and the freezing point of freshwater. This makes the ice with salt on it melt faster.What makes ice melt? ›
A block of ice is solid water. When heat (a form of energy) is added, the ice melts into liquid water. It has reached its melting point – 0°C.Why does ice melt faster with salt? ›
When salt is applied, it dissolves into separate sodium and chloride ions that disrupt the bonds between water molecules. As the ions loosen hydrogen bonds, the ice melts into water.What makes a liquid melt faster? ›
1) Different masses or densities. The rate at which a substance changes temperature is related to its mass. If 1 fluid ounce of ice cream is less dense than a fluid ounce of coffee, the ice cream will change temperatre more quickly. 2) Differences in melting points.Does baking soda melt ice? ›
It is a perfect ice melt for your icy areas at very little expense. Generously sprinkle baking soda on the ice- or snow-covered area, and wait for the ice to start melting. This may take a bit longer to melt than other options, but it will work. Do not use the soda-sprinkled path until the baking soda has done its job.Does sugar increase the melting rate of ice? ›
Sugar is also soluble in water, and also lowered the freezing/melting point of the water, but sugar does not make ice melt as fast as salt does. Flour does not cause the ice cube to melt faster because the flour has almost the same freezing/melting point as pure water.Does ice melt faster in milk or water? ›
A: Ice will melt more quickly in water because water is less dense than either milk or Hershey's Syrup. (Milk is about 3% more dense than regular water.)Does more water make ice melt faster? ›
Ice melts faster in water than it does in the air of the same temperature because the increased density of the water allows more points of interaction where heat can be transferred between the surrounding particles and the ice cube.What minerals melt ice the fastest? ›
Based on research the sea salt will melt the ice the fastest because of the halite and all the chemicals in sea salt including; sodium, chloride, sulfate, and magnesium.Does pressure make ice melt faster? ›
The melting point of ice decreases when pressure increases because when pressure is increased volume is decreased and the volume of water is less than ice. So it will be easier to change the state from solid to liquid, and therefore, the melting point decreases.
In a bucket, combine a half-gallon of hot water, about six drops of dish soap, and ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol. Once you pour the homemade ice melt mixture onto your sidewalk or driveway, the snow and ice will begin to bubble up and melt. Just keep a shovel handy to scrape away any leftover pieces of ice.What material keeps ice from melting? ›
Good insulators are materials that do not conduct or transfer energy well and keep your ice from melting. Things like polystyrene, bubble wrap and cotton wool are good insulators.How can we solve the ice melting problem? ›
Using electricity and water wisely. To swap from energy produced by fossil fuels to clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy. Driving less and walking more or taking the public transportation system. Or replacing Combustion engines with hybrid engines.Does crushing ice make it melt faster? ›
With more "faces" exposed to air or liquid, it's easier for heat to diffuse into the ice. And so smaller cubes melt faster than the same volume of bigger cubes. Crushed ice, unfortunately, melts fastest of all. (Shape matters, too.Will ice melt faster in the sun or shade experiment? ›
Sunlight warms the blocks of ice which results in the ice melting. Melting is when something turns from a solid to a liquid. The blocks of ice that were shaded from the sun melted more slowly than the block of ice that was in direct sunlight. This is because sunlight warms things up.Does ice melt faster in water or vinegar? ›
I recorded the time it took for an ice cube to melt in 4 different liquids, which were soda, water, baking soda water, and vinegar. All of them were at room temperature to ensure accuracy. The results show that the ice cube melted the fastest in the water, then the soda, the vinegar, and finally the baking soda water.Does carbon dioxide make ice melt faster? ›
In theory, more carbon dioxide could lead to more ice fracturing, and as ice breaks into smaller pieces, more of it is exposed to warm air and it can melt more quickly.Does vinegar melt ice? ›
The acetic acid in vinegar is a chemical compound that lowers ice's melting point, but it doesn't melt ice quite as well as rock salt and some of the above alternatives. Like isopropyl alcohol, vinegar can technically be used on its own, but it provides better results in a mixture of equal parts vinegar and hot water.Does sand make ice melt faster? ›
Sand doesn't melt ice. In fact, it doesn't really affect ice in any significant way at all. It is used, however, for its ability to create friction and make surfaces less slippery. In comparison to salt, which is used specifically for melting ice, sand is not able to lower the freezing temperature of water.Which melts faster in heat sugar or salt? ›
Answer and Explanation: Salt will melt at a higher temperature. The reason for this is salt is an ionic compound, while sugar is a covalent compound. Ionic compounds generally have much higher melting points than covalent compounds.
Hypothesis: The water cube will melt first as it is the least dense of the three solids giving less products with in the cube to melt.Does ice melt faster in saltwater or freshwater experiment? ›
The difference between the air temperature and the freezing point of salt water is bigger than the difference between the air temperature and the freezing point of freshwater. This makes the ice with salt on it melt faster.What is the best ice melting solution? ›
1. Calcium Chloride Ice Melt. Calcium chloride ice melt is the most effective ice melt in lower temperatures when compared to other ice-melt compounds. It is less expensive than sodium acetate but more expensive than other compounds.What makes ice melt slower? ›
Amount and Temperature of Liquid
The amount of liquid surrounding the ice factors into how quickly ice balls melt. A chilled liquid that surrounds an ice ball creates a slower melt compared to room temperature liquid. Ice also melts faster in a liquid rather than when it's exposed to air.
Instant Ice Science Explained
When ice freezes, the water forms small crystals that gradually spread. If you catch the cold water before the crystals have time to form, you can still pour out the water and it will freeze as you pour. Pouring it over an ice cube triggers crystals to form faster than they normally would.
What's the science behind this? Salt lowers the freezing point of water to below zero degrees Celsius. When you add salt to the ice cube, it melts a thin layer on the ice cube. The water then refreezes around the string, allowing you to pick it up!What is the theory of the instant ice experiment? ›
In the case of instant ice, pure water is supercooled ahead of time. A nucleation event is created when the supercooled water is poured over ice. The structure of the already-frozen ice starts the chain reaction that turns the supercooled water into ice right before our eyes!Why does ice melt faster in saltwater or freshwater? ›
Because salt particles make it harder for water particles to freeze back onto the ice, the ice that is in contact with dissolved salt melts faster. When the saltwater flows over the surface it melts the ice on its way, creating channels, like rivers, over the surface of the ice ball.Does different liquids affect how fast ice melts? ›
I recorded the time it took for an ice cube to melt in 4 different liquids, which were soda, water, baking soda water, and vinegar. All of them were at room temperature to ensure accuracy. The results show that the ice cube melted the fastest in the water, then the soda, the vinegar, and finally the baking soda water.