MANHATTAN — Leave your shoes outside the door — or at least put them on a cookie sheet to catch the runoff when you come inside from the wintry mess.
That's what experts from some of the city's top cleaning services suggest to prevent tracking in the salt, dirt and snow from outside that can wreak havoc on your floors and pose potential threats to your pets' paws and the soles of your feet.
The most commonly used ice melts are rock salt (used by city agencies on roads and sidewalks), calcium chloride (which many building owners use for their sidewalks) and urea (used by homeowners who want a pet-friendly alternative).
Even though rock salt is the least expensive, many landlords won't use it and some hardware shops refuse to stock it because it can damage concrete, stone, bricks, plants and other materials and is generally considered most toxic, especially to pets.
"Generally, buildings don't use salt on the sidewalks because it's highly corrosive," said Marina Higgins of Argo Real Estate, which owns and manages thousands of apartments across the city. "Most use calcium chloride, but what a resident tracks into the house is probably a combination of both."
Here's what you should do to protect your family and floors from de-icers and why:
1. Be mindful before you step inside
"Stomp your feet when you get off the street and take your shoes off when you enter the apartment," advised Kadi Dulude of the Wizard of Homes, which was voted the city's best cleaning service by New York magazine.
"If you really want to keep the salt out of the apartment then take the shoes off outside your apartment door and put the shoes in a baggie to bring inside."
The water from the snow could also pose problems.
"Some floors are not to have any water on them, let alone little puddles that can stay under your boots when you take them off," Dulude said. "I recommend getting a 'boot tray' where you can put your snowy, salty boots to dry without causing any damage."
If there's no mat or shoe covers available, Ashley Seigel, of the New York-based MyClean maid service, suggested using a cookie sheet to rest your shoes on.
"It's important to act fast and clean these problem areas as soon as they are affected," Seigel said.
2. Avoid letting pets or your bare feet step on salt crystals.
Many pet owners are aware of the dangers of salt when walking their dogs, which is why many dress them in booties in this weather. The crystals can stick to animals' paws. As ice begins to melt, the heat can irritate and possibly even burn them, according to the ASPCA.
It can also irritate human feet.
"If you walk on those floors barefoot then you'll get salt crystals stuck under your feet. Depending on what kind of salt was used, it may be really bad for the feet and skin," Dulude said.
3. Salt crystals and de-icing chemicals can ruin your floors.
"The main thing will be that it will act like sandpaper on floors, scratching them up," Dulude said of the affects of salt on wood flooring.
It can strip the urethane coating off wood floors, Seigel added, leaving them susceptible to damage from moisture, abrasion and dirt.
Carpeting is at risk, too.
"Carpet fibers are damaged in addition to becoming clouded and loose from the salt residue," Seigel said.
Linoleum is often fine as long as the flooring has no cracks or imperfections where the salt crystals can sneak under.
"If the salt gets under linoleum and is stepped on with hard shoes, over time you'll start seeing the tiny bumps where the hard crystals are," Dulude said.
Tile floors tend to be the most impervious, she said. They won't scratch or get damaged from salt.
The best way to clean salty carpets is by vacuuming, Dulude said. For other types of floors, wiping with a damp cloth is best. The same should be used on your shoes since they can be ruined by some types of salt.