HomeIndustryMaterialsHow Does an Eraser Work? How Do Pencils Work?

How Does an Eraser Work? How Do Pencils Work?

Types of Erasers and Their Functions

Rubber Erasers

Rubber erasers, often made from natural or synthetic rubber, are the most traditional and widely used type worldwide. They effectively remove pencil marks without smudging or damaging the paper (see below the common myths and misconceptions).

Vinyl Erasers

Vinyl erasers are known for their soft texture and ability to erase pencil marks cleanly. They are gentle on paper and are commonly used by artists and draftsmen.

Kneaded Erasers

Kneaded erasers, also known as putty erasers, are pliable and moldable. They can be shaped to a fine point, making them ideal for precision erasing and highlighting techniques. Kneaded erasers are commonly used in art and charcoal drawing due to their versatility and ability to be shaped.

Gum Erasers

Gum erasers are soft, crumbly erasers made from a combination of gum materials and pumice. They are effective in removing pencil marks, but they tend to produce more residue compared to other eraser types.

Plastic Erasers

Plastic erasers are made from a mixture of plastic materials. They are durable, long-lasting, and produce minimal residue when erasing. These erasers are often found in mechanical pencils with built-in erasers.

Materials Used in Eraser Production


Rubber, both natural and synthetic, is a primary material used in eraser production. It provides the necessary elasticity and texture for effective erasing while being gentle on paper surfaces. The rubber used in erasers is extracted naturally, primarily from rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis), trees that are native to the tropical regions of South America, especially Brazil.


Vinyl is a type of plastic material commonly used in erasers. It offers a soft and pliable texture, allowing for clean and precise erasing without smudging or damaging the paper. Vinyl is derived from petrochemicals, specifically from the polymerization of vinyl chloride monomers.


Various types of plastics, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, or styrene, are used in eraser manufacturing. Plastic erasers are often durable, long-lasting, and produce minimal residue when erasing.


Pumice is a volcanic rock that is finely ground and mixed with other materials to create erasers. It provides a slightly abrasive texture, which aids in the erasing process by lifting off pencil marks from the paper.

With a porous and abrasive texture, pumice stone, is typically formed during volcanic eruptions and can be found in various vulcanic regions.


Some erasers contain clay or kaolin, a type of fine white clay, which contributes to their softness and ability to remove graphite marks effectively.

Additives and Fillers

Erasers may include various additives and fillers to enhance their performance. These can include substances like calcium carbonate, talc, titanium dioxide or even wax, which help improve the eraser’s appearance, erasing capabilities, or texture.

Physical Properties of Erasers


Erasers generally have a soft and pliable texture. They are designed to be gentle on paper and allow for easy removal of marks without damaging the surface. The choice of the erasers depends on the individual needs, their texture, composition and shape are used in different areas.


Erasers are usually flexible, which enables them to conform to different shapes and surfaces. This flexibility aids in effective erasing and provides better control while using the eraser.


Erasers come in various colors, although the most common color is white. The color is determined by the materials used in the eraser’s composition.


Erasers are typically lightweight and have a relatively low density. This allows for comfortable handling and maneuvering while erasing. To be taken into account that different factors can influence the density of an eraser, including the materials used, manufacturing process, the composition etc.


Erasers are mildly abrasive to varying degrees. The abrasive quality helps lift and trap the graphite or other markings, allowing them to be easily removed from the paper surface.


Erasers are made from different materials, such as synthetic rubbers, vinyl, or plastic compounds. These materials are selected for their erasing capabilities and their ability to avoid smudging or damaging the paper.

The Role of Friction in Erasing

Mechanical Abrasion

Erasers are typically made of materials that have a certain level of abrasiveness. When you rub the eraser against the paper, the friction between the eraser and the surface causes a mechanical abrasion. This abrasive action helps break down the graphite particles or other particles on the paper and lift them away.

Binding and Lifting

The friction between the eraser and the paper surface creates an adhesive force. The eraser’s soft and pliable texture aids in this process, allowing it to conform to the paper and maximize contact area.

Smudging Prevention

Friction also helps prevent smudging during erasing. The abrasive action of the eraser, coupled with the friction between the eraser and the paper, minimizes the risk of smudging the erased marks across the paper.

Historical Development of Erasers

Early Methods (Pre-18th Century)

Before the invention of dedicated erasers, people used various methods to erase pencil marks. These included using breadcrumbs, pumice stone (still used), wax tablets, crustless bread, or rolled-up soft bread to remove marks from paper.

Natural Rubber Erasers (18th Century)

The first step into the modern erasers was the discovery and commercialization of natural rubber in the late 18th century led to the development of the first true erasers. Natural rubber erasers were made by kneading and molding rubber into solid blocks. These erasers were effective in removing pencil marks and were widely used.

Synthetic Rubber Erasers (19th Century)

In the 19th century, chemists began experimenting with synthetic rubber compounds as alternatives to natural rubber. One significant development was the creation of vulcanized rubber, which increased the durability and effectiveness of erasers. In the same era, the creation of vulcanized rubber was a big step in the tires industry, in 1845 the patent for the vulcanized rubber pneumatic (inflatable) tire was created.

Related article: What is a Patent? – Intellectual Property

Compound Erasers (20th Century)

In the early 20th century, compound erasers were introduced. These erasers combined rubber with other materials, such as pumice or abrasive particles, to improve erasing performance. The added abrasiveness enhanced the erasers’ ability to lift graphite marks from paper.

Specialty Erasers

Over time, specialized erasers were developed to address specific erasing needs. This includes ink erasers designed for removing ink marks, kneadable erasers for artists, mechanical pencil erasers, and more.

Modern Eraser Innovations

In recent years, erasers have seen further advancements. Manufacturers have introduced erasers with improved formulations, ergonomic designs, and unique shapes for better precision and control during erasing.

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Erasers

Eraser damage or tear paper

This is a common misconception. When used correctly, erasers are designed to be gentle on paper and shouldn’t cause any significant damage or tearing. However, excessive pressure or aggressive rubbing can potentially harm the paper surface. It’s important to use gentle motions and avoid excessive force when erasing.

Erasers remove all marks completely

While erasers are effective at removing pencil marks, they may not always erase them entirely, especially if the marks are heavily applied or have been on the paper for a long time. Some faint traces or smudges might remain after erasing.

Erasers work the same on all surfaces

Different surfaces may require different types of erasers for optimal results. Erasers designed for paper might not work as effectively on other surfaces such as plastic or glossy materials.

Erasers last forever

Erasers do wear down with use, and their effectiveness diminishes over time. The rate at which an eraser wears out depends on factors like usage, pressure applied, and the quality of the eraser itself.

All erasers are the same

Erasers come in different types, compositions, and formulations. Not all erasers are created equal, and some are specifically designed for particular purposes or media. For example, kneadable erasers are ideal for artists, while ink erasers are formulated to remove ink marks. It’s important to choose the right eraser for the task at hand.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability of Erasers

Material Composition

Erasers are typically made from synthetic rubbers, vinyl, or plastic compounds. The environmental impact of these materials depends on their source, production methods, and potential for recycling or biodegradability. Some erasers may contain PVC, which is less environmentally friendly due to its production process and long decomposition time.

Production and Energy Consumption

The manufacturing process of erasers can involve energy consumption and the release of greenhouse gases. The sustainability of erasers is influenced by the efficiency of production methods, the use of renewable energy sources, and adherence to environmental regulations by manufacturers.

Waste Generation

Erasers, like any other product, contribute to waste generation. When erasers reach the end of their usable life, they are typically disposed of as solid waste. Erasers made from non-biodegradable materials can persist in landfills for a long time.

Recycling and Disposal

The recyclability of erasers depends on the specific materials they are made of. Some erasers may be recyclable through designated recycling programs, while others may not be suitable for recycling due to the complexity of their composition. Proper disposal methods, such as separating erasers from regular waste and exploring recycling options where available, can minimize their environmental impact.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives

There are eco-friendly alternatives available, such as erasers made from natural and biodegradable materials like natural rubber or biodegradable plastics. These options can offer reduced environmental impact compared to traditional erasers.

Different erasers are designed with specific characteristics and properties to serve to different erasing needs and preferences.

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