Everyday Science: How Do Dry Erase Markers Work?

shutterstock_438832579 (1)I’ll be the first to admit – most of the writing topics I get excited about don’t pop in my head at 3:30 pm on a Friday afternoon. Last Friday, however, was an exception. It all happened while I was cleaning up the marketing office. Any other marketing nerd can attest: something very strange happens to our office space during the week; and by strange I mean a strange explosion of papers and boxes and coffee mugs that just haven’t found their way to the trash can or dishwasher (oops). Anyway, I was wiping off the white board in my office, and it dawned on me – how do dry erase markers work? I know – this has gotten your mind racing, too. My next step was to do a little bit of research, and I want to share with you what I learned.

First, let’s start with a little history behind the dry erase marker. In the mid-1990’s dry erase markers and boards came to life to serve as an alternative for chalk – which has become a thing of the past, for the most part. Dry erase markers don’t make as much of a mess as chalk does, and, not to mention the horrific sound chalk on a chalkboard makes – you know exactly I’m talking about!

But, what about dry erase markers sets them apart from permanent markers? According to Clarus Glassboards, “The ink is made of color pigments, a chemical solvent and a polymer or “release agent.” The difference between dry erase markers and permanent markers is the kind of polymer used. Permanent markers use an acrylic polymer that helps the pigment stick to surfaces, while dry erase markers use an oily silicone polymer.” In addition, dry erase boards have a static charge, which allows the pigment in dry erase markers to stick to the surface.

But let’s take it one step further. You may have also heard of wet erase markers. Yes – these are different than dry erase markers.  Wet erase markers can be used on non-porous, or acetate surfaces. A wet cloth can only be used to remove wet erase markers. On the other hand, dry erase markers can erase with a simple swipe of an eraser.

Restaurants and stores may opt to use wet erase markers for certain signs, as they allow for more permanent text that won’t be erased if someone accidentally bumps against a sign. On the other hand, dry erase markers are generally used for text that is changed more often. It’s also important to note that regular cleaning of white boards is important to remove chemical build up caused by markers.

So as it turns out, polymer science is involved in more things than we could ever imagine – including markers and thousands of other objects we cross paths with each and every day.