|photo by Cherie Diez at the St. Pete Times|
On 24 May I wrote a column about the inane suggestion that people clean their tubs with a half a grapefruit and some table salt. It sparked a conversation in the comments about Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I was aware of them, but I'd never used one. None of the commenters seemed to know what the active ingredient in them is, the best anybody could do was report that they are made from melamine foam.
Intrigued, I bought some over the weekend and I was amazed at how well they cleaned up my ancient enamel sinks and tub. Amazing.. I noticed that the labeling on the box made no mention of an active ingredient or anything added to the sponge that would make it clean so well. So I dug. Come with me on a journey of discovery.
Here's the Mr. Clean I remember.
And here he is today. The only men I know who look like that and who care about cleanliness are prone to breaking into a rollicking chorus of "Rose's Turn" when the mood strikes but that's a topic for another time.
As I said earlier, there's no active ingredient listed, but these things clean like you cannot imagine. Well it turns out the active ingredient is elbow grease. Sort of.
Magic erasers are made from a form of melamine foam. Technically, it's a formaldehyde-melamine-sodium bisulfite copolymer foam made by the German company BASF. It was invented as an insulator and fire retardant. That it cleans like the dickens was a happy coincidence. Melamine is an extremely hard polymer and it's what gives things like Formica laminate its rigidity.
However, when it's pumped full of air something interesting happens.
Despite the fact that the material itself is very hard, the tiny strands that make up the foam's matrix feel soft to the touch. On a microscopic level, those rigid little strands are very abrasive, like super fine grit sandpaper.
There are no active ingredients listed on the package because there really aren't any. Magic Erasers clean by a physical process, not a chemical one. When you rub a dirty spot with a Magic Eraser, you're essentially sanding away the dirt. As you rub, the foam disintegrates. If you clean dishes or anything that will contact food with these things, rinse thoroughly when you're done. Eating melamine is not a very smart thing to do.
As a cautionary note, don't clean anything with a glossy surface with these Magic Erasers. Remember that you're using a microscopic abrasive so when in doubt, test a spot first.
So bravo BASF for being so clever and bravo Proctor and Gamble for breathing new life into an old brand. These things really work.
Many thanks to BASF for the information I used for this post.
Oh and one more thing. They are called Mastro Lindo in Italy. Why are mundane things so entertaining when they're in Italian?