Dry Erase Marker Magic Trick!

Sharpie written on a white board.We’ve all seen it before—perhaps you’ve done it yourself. You’re sitting in a room, about to write on a white board. You pick up a marker, start doodling, taking notes—delving into your magnificent plan.

It’s a great success, real progress is being made, then you realize … that marker you thought was made for the whiteboard was actually a Sharpie. Permanent, bold, and a great way to ruin both the white board and your day.

Fortunately for you, that permanent marker is not as permanent as you think. At least on a whiteboard, that marker can be taken off with acetone, rubbing alcohol, or simply by tracing over it with an actual dry erase marker and erasing both at once.

So, how does a dry erase marker remove permanent ink? Let’s explore the science behind this office-space phenomenon!

Science Behind It

We’ve written about dry erase markers before, so how is it that they can remove permanent marker? It all comes down to the basic scientific concepts behind the removal of a substance, which we think are pretty neat.

In order to remove a material from a surface, you either need a physical or chemical means to remove it. An example of a physical way would be scraping off paint from a wall. You are physically removing it. With chemical removal, you first need a solvent.

What is a solvent? When talking about a solution in chemistry, there are two words you need to understand: “solute” and “solvent”. A solute is the substance to be dissolved. A solvent is the substance doing the dissolving.

A great example of this is sugar in iced tea. The sugar is being dissolved– so it’s the solute. The iced tea– really the water in the tea, if you want to get technical–is the solvent. Water is an amazing example of a solvent. In a macro example, water acts as a solvent to erode away the natural world to form rivers and slowly mold the mountains we call home. In a micro example, it acts as a solvent to dissolve sugar crystals and create a homogenous (and quite tasty) glass of tea.

Now that we know what solvents are, it makes sense that a permanent marker can be removed by a solvent. “Permanent” is a bit of a strange term. It just means it can’t be erased or easily removed like a washable marker or pencil. With a solvent like alcohol or acetone, though, permanent marker comes off a smooth surface pretty easily.

How it Works

That’s precisely what a dry erase marker contains: a solvent. According to Clarus Glassboards, dry erase markers contain “color pigments, a chemical solvent and a polymer or “release agent.” The chemical solvent is usually made of alcohol, which happens to be a great solvent for the pigments in permanent markers.

To put all this together, the mechanism works like this: the permanent marker is adhered to the board. When you write over it with a dry erase marker, you’re actually adding pigment and solvent to the board. The solvent dissolves the permanent marker underneath and allows each part–dry erase pigment, permanent marker ink, and the solvent–to be wiped away.

It may be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that drawing on top of permanent marker is the best way to remove it, but helpful coincidences like this happen every day. When you’re able to understand the science that’s going on behind the scenes, it all becomes a bit more clear–and sometimes clean.