It is well known that when you add salt to ice, the ice not only melts but will actually get colder. From chemistry books, I've learned that salt will lower the freezing point of water. But I’m a little confused as to why it results in a drop in temperature instead of just ending up with water at 0 °C.

What is occurring when salt melts the ice to make the temperature lower?

When you add salt to an ice cube, you end up with an ice cube whose temperature is above its melting point.

This ice cube will do what any ice cube above its melting point will do: it will melt. As it melts, it cools down, since energy is being used to break bonds in the solid state.

(Note that the above point can be confusing if you're new to thinking about phase transitions. An ice cube melting will take up energy, while an ice cube freezing will give off energy. I like to think of it in terms of Le Chatelier's principle: if you need to lower the temperature to freeze an ice cube, this means that the water gives off heat as it freezes.)

The cooling you get, therefore, comes from the fact that some of the bonds in the ice are broken to form water, taking energy with them. The loss of energy from the ice cube is what causes it to cool.

We know that melting or freezing is an equilibrium process. The energy that is required to melt an ice cube will not contribute in elevating its temperature until all the solid water is molten.

If we take two ice cubes and add salt to one of them, then put each of them at room temperature, both of the ice cubes will absorb energy from the surroundings, and this energy as we said will contribute in breaking down the bonds between water molecules.

The cube that salt has not been added to, has a melting point $0~\mathrm{^\circ C}$ and so if we measure its temperature during melting it will remain zero until all ice is molten. That ice cube to which we have added salt, the salt that is added lowers the melting and freezing points of water because it lowers the vapor pressure of water. This ice cube will absorb energy from the environment to help break bonds between water molecules. We know that the salt added will dissolve in the melted portion of the ice. This formed solution of salt will have a lowered freezing point, so the equilibrium between the solid phase and the aqueous phase will be shifted towards the liquid phase since such a solution will freeze at say $-2~\mathrm{^\circ C}$. Since both phases are close together, the ice will absorb energy from the salt solution and will reduce its temperature to the $-2~\mathrm{^\circ C}$ to maintain the equilibrium. When all ice is molten we end up with a salt solution that has got a temperature of say $-1.5~\mathrm{^\circ C}$. This is due to the solution being diluted now. After that, it will start absorbing heat from the room and reach zero and above. So, in conclusion that is how salt melts ice.

  • The question was about why the temp would drop, not how salt melts ice, so the concluding "that is how salt melts ice" is misleading. but the text does add some explanation. However, it might be the reason why the other answer got more upvotes, as it more directly focussed on the temp decrease. – redfox05 Mar 12 at 16:53

A mixture of water and ice stabilizes at the freezing point of water.

If the ice were any colder, it would absorb heat from the water, in the process raising its own temperature while freezing some part of the water.

If the water is any hotter, it will cool down by melting some of the ice.

This works because ice thawing is endothermic; energy (heat) is used up to turn solid into liquid even though the temperature is staying the same.

The freezing point of water is $0 \pu{°C}$, so water-ice slush stays at $0 \pu{°C}$. If it was lower, it would stabilize at the lower temperature. By adding salt, you are lowering the freezing temperature. The mixture stabilizes there and is colder.

  • Not as technical as the higher voted answers, but done in a very easy (non-chemist) to understand way. Combined with the others, this answers all my questions, thanks. – redfox05 Mar 12 at 16:55

When you dissolve $\ce{NaCl}$ in water, it will have to take energy from the system to break its structure so it can dissolve in water. This is the reason the water gets colder because the salt uses the energy from the water to solve it. Now let's look at why ice melts when salt is added. This is based on a so-called colligative attribute. These attributes are only dependent on the amount of substance. When you add particles to a solvent, its vapor pressure lowers. This will result in a higher boiling point(using salt for cooking) and a lower freezing temperature for the solution.

I hope this gives a starting point for further reading consult books on physical chemistry(for e.g. Atkins).

When you add salt to the ice it melts, I won't go into why since you didn't ask that; all you need to do is that it does if you don't believe me ->

http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/road-salt.htm

Moving on, whenever a substance undergoes a phase change it's temperature does not rise and usually stays relatively constant, if you looked at a graph of most substances when undergoing different phase changes (i.e. solid to liquid to gas) you will observe regions that are 'flat' or horizontal this is because the energy is no longer causing a rise in temperature but a change in state. Since you have dissolved salt in the ice it will lower the freezing point (note that freezing and melting point of any substance is the same they can be seen as mirrors for one another) this means that water can now exist at lower temperatures and not turn into ice or in other words it will begin to melt at lower temperatures this could attribute as to why the temperature would LOWER as it no longer needs to reach as high a temperature to begin to melt. I haven't explained it very clearly but I hope you understand it consulting a physics and chemistry text book as the person above has suggested is a good idea.

Melting is endothermic and freezing is exothermic. We never observe water warm up when it freezes because more energy has to be lost from the system before more water freezes. When water freezes from being in cold air, the release of heat actually slows down the freezing. When you add salt to a mixture of water and ice, it causes more ice to melt by depressing the freezing point and not by adding internal energy so it actually gets colder.

protected by jonsca Oct 9 '14 at 23:28

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.