The $6 Pantry Staple That Will Make Shoveling Snow Easier

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I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the snow isn’t too bad. Last year we got a “big” snowfall — six inches! — and the whole town went crazy. The kids had three days off from school, and parents and children alike were running around, all kinds of giddy. After being in New York for more than a decade, my response was a little more tempered — especially because it was the first time I had my own sidewalk to shovel. I quickly learned that if you don’t keep on top of it, snow quickly turns to ice that can stay in place for days, even with a light snowfall.

That’s why I was excited to learn about this super-easy trick to make shoveling snow a breeze. And, nope, it’s not salt!

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The secret ingredient for super-easy snow shoveling is cooking spray!

Here’s what you do: Coat both sides of your shovel with cooking spray, like PAM, and then shovel away. In the right conditions, the snow should slide on and off your shovel like fried eggs on a nonstick pan.

Here’s why it works: If the snow is just at freezing and wet, and the air temperature is just above freezing, and your shovel temperature is also at or above freezing, then the liquid water suction of the melting snow will make snow stick, making it harder to shovel. “In this case, oil helps,” explains Dr. Matthew Sturm, a professor at the Geophyiscal Institute at the University of Alaska and the leader of the Snow-Ice-Permafrost Group. (He’s also spent the last 38 years shoveling snow off his driveway in Alaska.)

But there are some caveats: If your shovel is below freezing — say, you left it outside on a way-below-freezing night — then the melting snow will likely freeze onto your shovel, and the oil won’t be a help.

The oil won’t make a difference either if you have dry snow and the air temperature is below freezing and so is the snow. “The snow won’t stick to a cold shovel whether there’s oil on it or not,” says Dr. Strum.

The bottom line: Got all that? My takeaway is to keep your shovel inside, where it’s marginally warmer, then coat it with cooking spray before plunging it into just-starting-to-melt snow. I’ll definitely be stocking up on a big can of PAM at Costco, where they cost about $6 each and should last a whole season.

Your turn: What’s your favorite snow-shoveling hack?