How do erasers erase?

Use erasers to remove graphite, ink ... and scuff marks?

You can expect to write about 45,000 words with a single pencil, and along the way there are sure to be a few mistakes. And with mistakes come erasers -- and some erase better than others.

Pencil erasers (also called plug erasers), for example, and those standard-issue pink school erasers are basically the same type of eraser -- while they get the job done, they're considered some of the worst offenders when it comes to smudging, leaving behind eraser debris, and tearing or wearing a hole in the paper. As you rub the eraser against the paper, the eraser begins to disintegrate -- some of this will help remove the graphite and some you'll need to brush or blow away, but this hard rubber may require you to rub vigorously to get your desired result. Softer rubber erasers require less force and friction, making them less abrasive to paper. White vinyl erasers, for example, erase more cleanly than the common pink eraser because they are made of softer vinyl. Kneaded erasers are moldable and soften when you knead them in your hands. They're one of the least abrasive erasing tools for removing graphite, charcoal and lead, and because this type of eraser is sticky enough to absorb graphite particles without friction, they leave no smudges, debris or tears.

Erasers can do more than erase your unwanted pencil doodles, though. Remember erasable-ink pens? Erasable inks may not be as popular today as they were in the 1980s, but if you're looking for an erasable ink product, they're still out there. Erasable inks contain liquid rubber cement, which means that unlike traditional inks, these will stick to an eraser if you erase them within 10 hours of writing (otherwise the rubber hardens and can no longer be lifted from the paper). Products like magic erasers can take marks off of a number of surfaces, but give your standard pink pencil eraser a try on some of those scuffs. You might be surprised at how effective it can be at erasing more than just pencil marks.

Author's Note: How do erasers erase?

I learned something new about pencils while researching this article. No, not that pencil lead isn't lead (I knew that fact already); rather I learned about the pencil sandwich -- the industry term used to describe how pencil wood is placed around the graphite insert. I did, however, also learn that there's a reason I prefer a soft, kneaded eraser over erasers of any other flavor: It actually does the job you expect an eraser to do.

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More Great Links


  • Conley, Gregory. "Erasers." (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Lunsford, Robert. "Today is Pencil Day!" The Roanoke Times. 2010. (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Morimoto, Kazuki; and Yasuhiro Nishioka. "Publication number: US 2011/0124778 A1 -- Abradant-containing eraser." U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 2009. (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Reader's Digest. "What Can You Clean With an Eraser?" (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Ritter, Steve. "Erasers." Chemical & Engineering News. Vol. 80, no. 50. Page 33. 2002. (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Ritter, Steve. "Pencils & Pencil Lead." Chemical & Engineering News. Vol. 79, no. 42. Page 35. 2001. (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • The Atlantic. "Nothing Is Permanent, Not Even Ink." 2010. (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • The Human Touch of Chemistry. "The history behind your eraser." (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • World Watch Institute. "Life-Cycle Studies: Pencils." (Feb. 15, 2013)
  • Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. "Fun Facts and More." (Feb. 15, 2013)

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