Secondary batteries based on earth-abundant sodium metal anodes are desirable for both stationary and portable electrical energy storage. Room-temperature sodium metal batteries are impractical today because morphological instability during recharge drives rough, dendritic electrodeposition. Chemical instability of liquid electrolytes also leads to premature cell failure as a result of parasitic reactions with the anode. Here we use joint density-functional theoretical analysis to show that the surface diffusion barrier for sodium ion transport is a sensitive function of the chemistry of solid–electrolyte interphase. In particular, we find that a sodium bromide interphase presents an exceptionally low energy barrier to ion transport, comparable to that of metallic magnesium. We evaluate this prediction by means of electrochemical measurements and direct visualization studies. These experiments reveal an approximately three-fold reduction in activation energy for ion transport at a sodium bromide interphase. Direct visualization of sodium electrodeposition confirms large improvements in stability of sodium deposition at sodium bromide-rich interphases.