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Why Do Some Pencil Erasers Not Erase? – ‘The Why’

Welcome to the newest edition of The Why.  “Why do some pencil erasers not erase?” you ask? Good question. (Besides, it beats answering the question: “Why do some guys really, really like feet?”)


Putting it in your mouth won’t help here/Image: ExpressCo.

Now that school is back in session everywhere this question comes as no surprise. Even in 2014 we still have many uses for the humble pencil. Unfortunately, when you make a mistake and try to erase it not only does the eraser not work it oft’times makes things worse by smearing grapheme on the paper and sometimes even ripping it.

A bit of research reveals that pencil experts, such as Andy Welfle,  co-host of the podcast Erasable, says that when it comes to the “pencils that you can just buy at Office Depot, or Staples, or Wal-Mart . . . a lot of them do have really terrible erasers. A lot of them are just kind of a plain cheapish rubber.”

When they were invented in 1770 by Edward Nairne they were made from rubber. A lot has changed since then and it’s not all good. Since no company was going to say: “Our pencil erasers suck now because we make them out of . . . “ we must rely on other sources such as The Atlantic and Rigoberto Advincula.


Why do some pencil erasers not erase?/Image:LivingBetter50

Advincula is a professor at Case Western Reserve University who has worked as a consultant in the industry. He said erasers are now generally made from a mix of plastic and rubber. According to The Atlantic natural rubbers—“the stuff that comes from rubber trees—have good erasing properties.” On the other hand, thermoplastics, “a type of polymer that can be hardened or softened depending on heat, are easier to shape.” Additionally numerous additives, such as “aromatic agents”, can alter the blend even more, “as can the compounding process.” Most erasers today are made of all three: rubber, plastic and other stuff.

Sadly, change isn’t always good. Natural rubber makes the best erasers. Unfortunately, our suspicions were confirmed as Advincula states that eraser manufacturers have embraced PVC and plastics despite the end-resulting inferior product and potential environmental issues.

Companies are making things in other countries and using cheaper materials to keep prices down. So nowadays you need to test drive not only cars but pencil erasers as well. That’s globalization and unionizing for you! Kinda rubs you the wrong way, doesn’t it?

Why do some pencil erasers not erase? Now you know.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

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About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.