The obvious answer to that question is “No,” which is mildly unfortunate, because think of how much more money the wizard world could have for upgrading the Floo Network if they were in fact creating and selling these bits of cleaning magic to us Muggle folk. But since it isn’t magic that makes Magic Erasers and other soft foamy scrubbers work so well, what is it?
The answer is science, my friends. Specifically, we have chemistry and the good people at BASF, a German chemical company, to thank for this great invention. Those soft foamy scrubbers are made from melamine foam, whose ridiculous scientific name is formaldehyde-melamine-sodium bisulfate. I know; it’s a mouthful. The melamine and formaldehyde combination leads to a lot more than just magical cleaning supplies; those two are also used to make countertops, white erase boards, insulating materials, glue, dinnerware, and fire retardants.
I expect that a handful of people have their eyebrows raised right about now over that word “formaldehyde.” Yeah, formaldehyde, a common preservative and carcinogen, isn’t a great thing to have around the house. Fortunately, what’s found in Magic Erasers et al is a chemical compound created with the use of formaldehyde on melamine and not actual formaldehyde. There was a small dust-up about this a few years back and Snopes has it all pretty well covered.
The melamine foam works like very, very fine sandpaper. It is microporous and if you were to look at it under high magnification, you’d see a tangle of fine, hard, fibrous strands. I was unable to find a creative commons photo of this thing, but if you click here and scroll to the bottom, you’ll get a chance to see what I am talking about. This mixture of hardness and holey-ness is what makes the melamine foam such an effective cleaner. It’s also why it is always better to test the foam on a small, discreet area first and then launch ahead on into a project – this powerful abrasive may be more than you bargained for on painted or otherwise delicate surfaces.
And speaking of delicate surfaces, don’t rub this stuff all over your body. This foam can clean anything off of anything, and there is no reason to be putting that all over your skin. I know, it seems like common sense, but in my research for this article, I found many, many, many warnings about rubbing Magic Erasers on people. I also found many, many, many warnings about eating melamine foam. Again, it seems like common sense.
However, melamine is not unknown in food. In 2007, pet food made in China was recalled because of the high concentrations of melamine. Melamine was added to sub-par pet food to falsely suggest that the food had more protein in it than it actually did. To be clear, China isn’t the only country facing this type of issue: a similar problem with livestock feed occurred in the US. Countries including the USA have strict guidelines about and tests for melamine in food. Sadly, this has not fully stopped the problems of melamine being used in food for human consumption: in 2008, China saw a worse situation unfold when melamine had been added to infant formula.
So what’s the final word on Magic Erasers? They’re non-edible, non-rub-able, surprisingly hard and holey-amazing bits of foam that have the grit and abrasiveness to deal with almost any mess.