Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Do Magic Erasers have formaldehyde?; Magic Erasers vs Norwex Cleaning Up Pads

If you are reading this post you probably have heard someone say something along the lines of:
"Magic Erasers have formaldehyde in them!"
"Magic Erasers are toxic and cause chemical burns!"
You are probably wondering if you should ever use Magic Erasers because you are wondering if they are safe.  I have been in your position too.  Years ago I first heard something along those lines, did some research and was reassured enough to begin using them again.  Then recently I heard the same thing again and realized that I had forgotten all of my past research, so I decided to research them again, document my research, and post it for my future use down the road.  So this post is for me to remember as much as it is for you.

Along with the food and body product revolution, I have been whisked into the "clean without harsh chemicals" movement.  For me, its all about showing respect for my body and the earth.  So I have been taking baby steps to avoid harsh chemicals.  And since Magic Erasers are just sponges that work with water alone, they fit into my "try to clean with just microfiber, water, or non-harsh chemicals" ideology.  I love the cleaning power of Magic Erasers, especially for my stove-top.  So when people say that they are toxic, that sends me scrambling for answers/proof because I don't want to give them up.

Okay, so here is how this post will go.  I will provide you with a description of the ingredient in Magic Erasers, explain that ingredient, provide safety information, and then lastly compare it with Norwex Cleaning Up Pads.  I'm including the comparison at the end because both times that I heard statements accusing Magic Eraser of being unsafe was from Norwex consultants.

What are the ingredients in Mr. Clean Magic Erasers?  Proctor & Gamble reports that the only ingredient in Original Magic Erasers and their Extra Power Magic Erasers is melamine polymer, which is an "Abrasive Foam".

What is Melamine Polymer Foam?  Melamine foam is a "foam-like material consisting of a formaldehyde-melamine-sodium bisulfite copolymer."  Melamine Polymer is also known as melamine foam, and is a form of melamine resin.  Melamine foam feels soft but really is as hard as glass and cleans through abrasion.

Okay, so the scary word fomaldehyde is there.  But did you catch the dashes in between formaldehyde and melamine and sodium?  Those dashes are not just "ingredients" in a recipe--it is a complex scientific process that produces a different compound.  I don't understand it but chemical engineers and scientists do.  So in melamine resin, the "formaldehyde is more tightly bound in melamine formaldehyde than it is in urea-formaldehyde, reducing emissions".  Here's a snippet from that page for you:
WHEW!  Now onto some explanations that I do understand.

How does melamine foam clean?  It works by magic, right?  Hence the name Magic Eraser!  Just kidding.  Melamine foam has an open-cell structure made up of very skinny and flexible strands of melamine resin surrounded by air pockets.
how melamine foam works
This makes it feel soft, but it functions like very fine sandpaper.  The dirt, grime, or stain is being rubbed/sanded away by the resin and locked in air pockets.  When it is a little bit wet with water, it "erases" to its fullest potential without the need for excessive "elbow grease".

So who makes the melamine foam for P&G Mr. Clean Magic Erasers?  The German company BASF makes a melamine resin foam that is called Basotect.  There are a few different types of Basotect foam.  Magic Eraser is made of the Basotect Foam that is called Basotect W.

Is this foam safe?  BASF has taken the trouble to provide certain certifications for its Basotect foam.
It is certified to ├ľko-Tex® Standard 100 in product class II [≤ 75 mg/kg and emissions ≤ 0.1 mg/m3], which shows that Basotect W is deemed harmless to health when used or processed. This means that no substances harmful to health are released and absorbed through the skin. The foam has also been tested to Japanese Law 112 [also known as JIS L 1041], one of the most stringent tests for formaldehyde in the world. Unlike other cleaning materials, Basotect W is well below the permissible limits.
And when I went to look it up myself, I discovered that it OEKO-Tex put it in class I [≤ 16 mg/kg], which is even better.  I wonder why they reported being in class II...maybe it was a "jut to be safe" judgement.  Regardless, this foam passes these tests with flying colors.  YES, Magic Erasers are VERY SAFE when used according to directions.

Can you get burns from Magic Eraser?  You can only get a burn (either abrasive or alkaline) from a Magic Eraser if you rub it on your skin.  It is after all, an ABRASIVE foam and is NOT meant to be used on the skin.  If it was meant to be used on the skin, it would be marketed and packaged as such.  Just because you can get permanent marker off a floor/wall with a Magic Eraser, does not mean you should try to same thing on your skin or your gonna rub your skin off too!  Also, Urban Legends investigates the possibility of getting a chemical burn from rubbing melamine foam on skin.  The ph value of melamine foam is 8.1, so this is alkaline enough to get an alkaline base burn, which is very minor.  That's as alkaline as baking soda or eggs.  Please keep in mind that these scenarios are what could happen if you rub Magic Erasers on your skin, NOT what could happen if you use it as a cleaning tool.  Once again, used as directed, I consider Magic Eraser safe.

How do they compare to Norwex Micro Cleaning Up Pads?  First of, the information for all Norwex products is not easily found.  I do not know why they don't publicly post their ingredient information.  You can request this information from a consultant or the company and then the answer can be emailed to you.  I found out this information when I was a consultant and emailed it to myself.  And I still had more questions, which were also answered through email.  Basically, here is what I know about Norwex's pads:
  1. Norwex Micro Cleaning Up Pads only ingredient is melamine foam.
  2. The foam is made in Germany by worldwide renowned company that specializes in producing melamine for multiple applications.
  3. The foam is up to the standard of Japanese Law 112.
  4. Norwex added this product because it uses only water to activate and eliminate stubborn stains.
I speculate that this world renowned company is really BASF.  BASF is the only "world renowned" melamine-foam-making German company of which I know.  Since Norwex Pads are grey, I am thinking that they might be made out of Basotect G+.  Either way, if someone claims that Norwex pads are safer than Mr. Clean magic erasers, I would ask them to prove it, because I don't believe it.

Sorry for such a long post, but like I said, this post is also for me to have for future reference and it is also for those who are searching for documented evidence regarding the safety of Magic Erasers.

On a side-note (not that this post needs to get any longer..lol), "Formaldehyde in Top knitted Children's Wear within Egyptian Market" is a fascinating journal article about formaldehyde in clothing and helped me to understand why formaldehyde is/was used in the production of LOTS of clothing.  Now I know that there is a very valid reason why people should wash all their clothing prior to first use (because formaldehyde is water soluble).  I also learned that these formaldehyde gassing resins are used on fabrics like cotton and wool to compete with the characteristics of synthetic clothing, which have no need for these resins.  Fascinating, huh?

On another side-note, I really do like a few products from Norwex.  I was even a consultant for a while...until I learned that I was required to say only good things about them.  In fact, I was a consultant as I began writing this post but in the course of my writing, I quit consulting.  Obviously, I value my ability to speak my own mind more than I value a discount on quality microfiber.  I really should do a microfiber post one day because the microfiber cleaning world is a big and confusing one that takes a combination of knowledge and experience to navigate.


  1. That's awesome! Thanks for the informative post, and I'm happy to keep using these and not Norwex. Hey, they have these at the dollar store, and they look the same--heard of them? I'm not sure if they're made by the same company or elsewhere.

    1. Sorry I missed this comment. I don't know about the dollar store ones. You should find out where it is made. I do know that Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and Walmart's brand are Basotect products. Basically, if it says Made in Germany or has the Basotect logo (BASF), that's Basotect.

  2. How safe are these for people who are allergic to formaldehyde? I cannot wear any new clothing without washing because the chemical used to make new clothes stiff contains formaldehyde. So do many cosmetics, hair colorings, permanents, fingernail polish etc. Maybe those persons that are claiming that they got chemical burns from them are actually allergic and have contact dermatitis.

  3. This was very helpful, thank you so much!