Salt Watch logo

Road Salt: The Basics

What's the problem with road salt?

Road salt is important for helping people travel safely in the winter. But road salt doesn't stay on roads: it washes off into streams, where it damages the quality of our drinking water and hurts critters that aren't adapted to life in salty environments. Learn more about the history of road salt, how much we use, and why it's a problem for stream health.

Okay, but don't we still need salt for safety reasons? What are you really suggesting?

Yes, salt is needed. We are not pushing a “salt ban.” We hope that salt can be used in smarter ways and in smaller quantities moving forward. Alternative approaches include brine or sand application. Read more about alternatives to salt.

It's summer now, so I don't need to worry about road salt, right?

Unfortunately, no. Research finds that road salt can continue to pollute streams in the summer, and that aquatic life may be even more sensitive to salt in warmer weather. Learn why.

Your Salt Watch Test Kit

What comes in my Salt Watch test kit?

Your kit will include four easy-to-use test strips, plus a postcard with all the information you need to take salt readings and submit your results. To use your kit, you'll need access to a stream, a small container (like a juice glass) to hold some water, and a computer or smartphone so you can submit your findings.

Why do you need my address?

We need your address to send you a Salt Watch kit. Your personal information will not be shared outside the Izaak Walton League.

When should I use my Salt Watch kit?

You can use your kit any time you can safely approach a waterway. Many Salt Watchers monitor regularly throughout the year. (For example, some make a plan to test their local stream on the third Saturday of every month.) This is a great way to observe chloride levels in your community all year round! It's also very important to test salt levels around the time of events that cause those levels to change. If you're interested in Salt Watch but have limited time, the most important opportunities to use your strips are:

  • Before a winter storm, to find out the "normal" level of salt in your stream
  • After salt has been applied to roads
  • After the first warm day or rainstorm following a snow or freeze
  • After the next rain event

If you run out of kits, feel free to request more! You can test for chloride runoff year-round!

What waterways can I test with my Salt Watch kit?

You can test any freshwater surface water (rivers, lakes, streams) as well as tap water from public water systems and private groundwater wells. Estuaries and oceans contain naturally occurring salt, so there is less of a need to test their chloride concentrations. When you report your data, you can indicate which type of water source you tested.

What should I put the water in for my test?

A small, clean juice glass will work. We do ask that you avoid paper cups because the bleach in paper products will affect the test results.

Can I collect water and test it later?

Yes. Salt Watch lends itself well to testing water that's been previously collected, since chloride concentrations shouldn't change significantly in water that's been taken from its original source.

Some considerations:

  • Use a plastic or glass container (with a lid, of course!)
  • Make sure the container and its lid are clean and have been rinsed with the water you're testing. We recommend filling up and emptying the vessel three times to ensure that it doesn't have any residual water left from a previous test.
  • Make note of the exact location where the water was collected as well as the date. You'll need this information when you enter your data into the Clean Water Hub.

Understanding and Using Your Results

I need more help understanding how to do this test.

This video demonstrates the entire Salt Watch test, while also catching you up on the history of Salt Watch – all in just five minutes.

How do I submit my results?

Submit your results to the Clean Water Hub! Check out our step-by-step instructions on how to submit your data. Also see this video, which shows you how to submit your Salt Watch results to the Clean Water Hub.

Okay, I got my results! How do I submit them??

Download the Water Reporter app (free for iPhone and Android), create an account, and join the Izaak Walton League group! We’ve got it all here in our step-by-step instructions. You can also use Water Reporter on a computer. Simply visit www.waterreporter.org.

Can you explain that again for us less-computer-savvy folks?

This eight-minute video walks you through the whole process on a smartphone. This six-minute version shows you how to submit your results on a desktop.

My chloride readings were lower than 30 parts per million (ppm) or higher than 634 ppm. The numbers on the conversion chart don't go that low or that high. What should I do?

If you get levels that are “off the charts” (in either direction), you should still report your results. Results below the range of the conversion chart should be reported as 25 ppm and results over the range of the conversion chart should be reported as 750 ppm.

For levels that are above the chart's range, you can also order high-range test strips, which measure levels from 300 to 6,000 ppm.

I'm used to submitting my data on Water Reporter. Should I still submit data there?

Please only submit data to the Clean Water Hub. Data submitted to the Clean Water Hub is more easily accessible to partner organizations looking to raise awareness and create change and has more specific sample and site information than data submitted to Water Reporter. All previous entries to Water Reporter have already been uploaded onto the Clean Water Hub. If you do submit data to both places, please specify in Water Reporter that you have also submitted that entry to the Clean Water Hub. We want to make sure samples are only submitted once and aren’t accidentally duplicated.

My results don't indicate that there are high chloride levels in my community. Should I stop testing?

No! All data is valuable. Even if there is not a known chloride pollution issue in the waterways you are testing, it is important to gather baseline data. This will make it easier to pinpoint a pollution problem should one arise in the future.

I found out that excessive road salt is a problem in my community! What can I do?

There are several ways you can take action to protect your local streams while also making sure travelers are safe! Visit our What You Can Do page for ideas and resources.

Other Questions

I would like more than four chloride test strips. Can you send me more?

While supplies last! Send us an email at saltwatch@iwla.org to request more strips.

I already have the Hach Chloride Test Strips. Can I use those?

Yes! Just make sure to use the conversion chart that came with your test strips. (Every batch has a slightly different scale.) And double-check the expiration date on the bottle to ensure your strips haven’t expired!

Download the following postcards, which are included in every Salt Watch kit, and you will have all the information you need to participate in Salt Watch.

  • Postcard 1: How to take a chloride test using Hach strips
  • Postcard 2: Submitting your results on the Clean Water Hub

Why are we testing for chloride? Shouldn’t we be testing for salt?

There is no way to specifically test for road salt. Chloride is a main ingredient in road salt and other conventional deicers, so we instead test for chloride.

Salt Watch is a trademark of the Izaak Walton League of America.