STEM Tuesday: Mr. Clean Magic Erasers

cleaning - 1I’m always on the look out for the next-best cleaning product.  Oh, I have such a multitude of cleaning supplies.  So organized into caddies!  I can take them from room to room, adding to my efficiency. If only I liked to clean as much as I like things to be clean.

I think I might like shopping even less than cleaning.  Lucky for me, CoCo works as a courtesy clerk at our local grocery store. She’s the one who turned me on to Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.  They really do work like magic; especially on painted walls.  They even get off those black marks that come from who knows where.  This week WIRED Magazine tells me what’s inside the magic.  I bet you’ll be surprised as me.

Remember a few years ago, when some dogs mysteriously died because Chinese manufacturers added melamine to their product? Melamine is high in nitrogen.  Protein is chocked full of nitrogen. When food manufacturers test products for protein content, they actually measure nitrogen, then calculate the amount of protein based on that number. At the time, it was a well known secret that Chinese milk producers spiked their products with melamine to get the protein content up. Not after six babies died and the perpetrators were executed. (Turns out, it was more than just the melamine that contributed to the deaths. More on the melamine and the human micro biome here.)

So what to do with all that melamine?  It’s good for flame retardants and fertilizer and combined with another nasty chemical, it’s super-great for cleaning.

Formaldehyde! Remember that stinky stuff that got inside your nostrils during biology class and wouldn’t let go for the rest of the day, so everything smelled like formaldehyde? Yes, that’s in Magic Erasers, too. Funny thing is that back in the 1970s, manufacturers spiked milk with small amounts of formaldehyde as a preservative. What kills the tiny living things like bacteria, isn’t so good for human cells either. Formaldehyde irritates the skin, corrodes internal tissue, and even causes cancer.

According to WIRED,

..if you mix [formaldehyde] with melamine, the result is a tough resin in which those toxic effects are neutralized.”

You can still get Melmac dinnerware on eBay.

You can even make countertops and dinnerware out of it.  Remember Melmac?

Okay, so now force gas bubbles into the resin while it’s still molten and, voila you get Mr. Clean melamine foam.

A little sodium bisulfite helps “boost the resin production.”  Sodium bisulfite is another chemical that has a connection to the dining table. It’s used as a preservative in wine-making.

Add a little water and the cleaning bubbles are activated.  Magic.  Well, not quite.  A little elbow grease is still needed.

These three chemicals make up the soft little pad of foamy resin.  I suppose that’s why the Magic Eraser eventually disappears as I scrub. I guess it’s not really magic. It’s just chemistry that makes it seems magical.

chemical structure of sodium bisulfite (bisulp...
chemical structure of sodium bisulfite (bisulphite) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Structure of formaldehyde (methanal), CH 2 O
Structure of formaldehyde (methanal), CH 2 O (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: idealized representation of melamine ...
English: idealized representation of melamine resin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)