Magic Erasers ~ Toxic or Eco-Friendly?

After my last post on detoxing your bathroom I was reminded of a product (thanks Raven) I’ve always dismissed in my head as toxic. I’m sure you’ve heard of cleaning erasers, the most popular brand would be Mr. Clean’s magic eraser that is marketed to help surfaces look ‘new again’! I thought this article would be straight forward seeing as Mr. Clean is a Proctor & Gamble product….and my jaded self usually deems any traditional cleaning product toxic. Well I’ve researched it and I’m surprised really, but I don’t think magic erasers are toxic. Don’t get me wrong, they are not eco-friendly but they don’t appear to be laced with loads of cleaning agents within the sponge that would be released when used.

The confusion starts when savvy mamas Google ‘magic eraser ingredients‘ and find the material safety data sheets for Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Cleaning Pads and see warnings to keep this product away from toddlers and then see the word Formaldehyde included in the only chemical ingredient listing called ‘Formaldehyde-Melamine-Sodium bisulfite copolymer’. As moms, we get upset when seeing Formaldehyde listed in ingredients because we know it’s been lurking in our kid’s personal care products (shampoo, body wash, etc.) and think of nasty products like nail polish that contain this chemical that harms human health. Well in the case of the magic eraser, the formaldehyde is used in the manufacturing & production of the melamine sponge (which is the eraser). So unlike Melamine dishware where we worry about the trace amounts of formaldehyde leaching after subjecting the dishware to cleaning, we don’t have to worry about this chemical ‘leaching’ out of the sponge. So while this product is not a toxic cleaning tool – it’s not eco-friendly because chemicals will be absorbed back into the earth when the eraser is discarded, but nothing will be ‘off-gassing’ while it’s being used which I find comforting knowing how many people I know use them.

You might have seen the ‘chemical burn’ picture via an email of a child that circulated around the internet a few years ago. The mother had taken photos of her child with terrible burns on his arms saying that he rubbed the magic eraser on his skin. I believe this has been deemed a hoax, but I would agree with the household products database that these sponges should be kept away from children. It’s not a chemical finish that is removing soap scum and marks from surfaces, its the foam’s structure of melamine resin that becomes more like sand paper when the sponge is put under water. So the outer material of the sponge works like fine sandpaper which could cause a child (or parent with sensitive skin) to react to this surface. This however is different than the supposed ‘chemical burn’ that the child in that email received by using a magic eraser. As far as I can see, adding cleaning chemicals to the sponge has not happened.

So was I delighted with these findings? No, not really, but I was surprised. I would have bet a lot of money there were chemical cleaning agents added to a Mr. Clean magic eraser and I don’t think this is the case. Split decision here if I would actually purchase one. I would recommend a magic eraser over spraying toxic cleaners at a permanent marker stain on a wall, but it would be a joke to call them an ‘eco-friendly’ solution and make them a permanent fixture in my home. Here is why I wouldn’t recommend simply for soap scum or every-day cleaning:

1) If a sponge only lasts a few weeks (I’ve read they breakdown quickly when used) they are not considered an earth-friendly, reusable product.
2) The foam was made by a German company (BASF) and was invented as an insulator and fire retardant. Sorry, but all I can say is gross…it makes me itchy just thinking of holding one.
3) I will never go back to cleaning with something that my kids can’t use. I wouldn’t let them hold one of these and whenever I start cleaning my bathroom, my girls especially want to help. My current cleaning system is very safe for them to participate with.

So while I’m still not a fan, I will no longer be fearful when I hear another glowing testimonial from a mother that swears a magic sponge was the only thing that could get marker off her floor or walls. But, if P&G starts spinning that these sponges are good for the environment, I might not be able to stop my eye twitch…

Related Articles:

Eco-Cleaning Made Easy

Self Cleaning Oven – Toxic For Humans or Only Birds?

Starting with the Bathroom – It’s Time For Chemical Detox

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15 Responses to Magic Erasers ~ Toxic or Eco-Friendly?

  1. Shayne January 22, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    I’ve been lurking for about a year, thought it was high time to thank you for the posts you write.
    As for today’s, I really appreciated reading what you found. I’ve only used one of these once, and I had a bad feeling about what was in it. Glad to know that it’s less dangerous than I thought, yet still not going to add it to my cleaning regimen. There are so many things that work just as well, if not better, that are natural.

  2. Kara January 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    FYI — the new magic erasers (the bathroom scrubbers) do have a cleaning agent in them. The original & power ones do not (at this time, anyway).

  3. Becky Rivera January 23, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    My son did get a burn on his skin when he used this to try and get gum of himself. I am trying to find green alternatives.

  4. Becky Rivera January 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    that is off himself

  5. suzanne January 24, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    That is terrible Becky! One green alternative I can recommend is the same recommendation I wrote about for SOS pad – read more here:

    http://mommyfootprint.com/good-guide-sos-pad-eco-alternative/

    This is the Norwex version of the stainless steel spirinetts. They aren’t harsh like the magic erasers – use with olive oil and it shouldn’t be abrasive to the skin.

  6. Jenn June 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    My daughter also got a bad burn on her skin from the magic eraser. I don’t believe the email circulating was a hoax, there was just some question about it being an actual “chemical burn” as there were supposedly no chemicals in it. I’ve seen the pics from that “hoax” email, and they look just like the burn my daughter got. Parents, keep them away from kids, they are terrible on their poor little skin…

  7. Liz August 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Why not try the ecosense cleaning products from melaleuca, they are safe, earth friendly, concentrated (you add the water instead of paying for it) and you don’t have to worry about burns/kids getting into it/gloves or masks.

  8. Frances April 14, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I too have received a chemical burn from the eraser pads. I wiped the sponge over my wrist to remove paint and my wrist was exactly the same as the little boys wounds , took a week to recover and extremely painful. Daughter a doctor and she diagnosed chemical burn, NOT AN URBAN MYTH

  9. Mary May 21, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Woww for all the people out there that got “chemical burns”: They’re not chemical burns!! The foam that the eraser is made out of is extremely abrasive. When I was a child, I liked rubbing soft things on my face and skin. What did the kids do when they saw the eraser? They rubbed it on themselves! If the eraser can rub through over a decade of grime off my parents’ kitchen counter in under 30 seconds, just think of how abrasive it can be to the skin!

    I’ve cleaned without gloves with the magic eraser for longer than 20 minutes at a time. I would have gotten a “chemical” burn within that 20 minutes if such a thing were possible.

    Just keep it away from children and don’t rub it on yourself! Problem solved.

  10. CRistina November 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    That picture may have been a hoax but I will tell you, because it happened today, that if you use magic eraser on your child those burns just like the picture will occur.

  11. Matt November 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    One other thing to keep in mind is that since these are a microabraisive they will rub OFF the finish or whatever you are scrubbing on.

    If you use them on the wall the paint will be rubbed off in micro amounts. If you rub them on finished wood, then you will have essentially used very fine sandpaper. Keep in mind that the sponge decomposes and leaves melamine around your home as well.

    My wife uses them and I HATE them. Imagine grabbing sandpaper and using it around your home. That is what “magic” eraser is.

    I would also venture a guess that you will have melamine embedded in any material that is porus as well. As it will get “stuck” as the sponge falls apart, just like sandpaper.

  12. Anna January 20, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Melaleuca makes a pad just like Mr Clean and I love it!

  13. Trina February 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    So, I came across this today looking for information on what is actually IN magic erasers. I had never really thought too much about them (yeah okay head in the sand) however yesterday, my 3yo drew in permanent marker all over the floor, the chair, and herself. I grabbed my trusty magic eraser and proceeded to scrub it off. Put the thing on the counter and walked away to a different task. My daughter grabbed the sponge and tried to rub off the marker on her arm. Within an HOUR her arm is raw, red and irritated… I dunno what is in these things, but I can tell you, they CAN and DO cause skin irritation, and what is on her hand looks an awful lot like a chemical burn…

  14. Suzanne March 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    The ‘burns’ people are experiencing aren’t burns at all. Again, the molecular structure of the foam acts as sandpaper, basically sanding the grime and dirt off of your tub, etc.

    If you rub sandpaper on your skin, you’ll get the same effect. My opinion: if your child is old enough to really help with this kind of cleaning, they’re old enough to be educated on not using it on skin.

  15. Jesse April 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I was looking for.

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