Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Isopropyl alcohol can damage white board surfaces

I rarely post Newscripts clips from C&EN, but I feel like this week's piece by Celia Henry Arnaud is pretty useful knowledge: 
Earlier this year, a professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College sent a group email complaining that the dry-erase boards in the classrooms weren’t being erased. Even worse, the boards couldn’t be erased...

...People floated various ideas about what was happening. A popular theory was that the cleaning crew must be doing something to make so many boards go bad at once. But Smith was sure that wasn’t the problem. After all, the dry-erase boards in the chemistry department were fine.

Then someone in the email chain said they’d been using the sanitizing wipes the university had included in their COVID-19 kits to clean the boards. That key clue broke the case of the nonerasable dry-erase boards: Smith and his colleague David Myers knew what the problem was.

When people used the wipes—which contain 2-propanol (also known as isopropyl alcohol)—on the boards, the alcohol was damaging the boards. The professors had inadvertently caused the problem themselves.

People who read cleaning labels might be surprised to learn that 2-propanol damages dry-erase boards. After all, some board cleaners contain the alcohol. But in those cases it’s at low concentrations, and it’s mixed with other components, like emulsifiers and stabilizers, that protect the board’s surface.

The surface of a dry-erase board has an oily film that allows it to be erased. “Once that oily surface is gone, the ink can soak into the board and then you can’t erase it,” Smith says. “The good news is that if you use the cleaners that you’re supposed to use for the boards, they have conditioner in them to resurface the board.”

I've noticed this issue myself, and it makes you wonder if white boards around chemical laboratories are unusually stained because of this issue!  


  1. We had people cleaning dry erase whiteboard with acetone - and this is really bad.
    Methyl alcohol, on the other hand, seems OK.

  2. I actually haven't noticed any issues using straight isopropanol, although I stick with water most of the time. The commercial cleaning solutions, on the other hand, may make it easier to erase the boards but also often make it so that the markers don't write as well on the surface. I wonder how much variation there is between white board surfaces and coatings, and whether that can explain the differences between my boards and the ones in the article.

  3. We found if you left dry erase marker on the white boards for too long, you couldn't remove the ink with an eraser or the Expo brand board cleaner. Only thing useful was IPA. But it was a rare occasion when we needed it.

  4. We used to use ethanol at uni, IPA at work now, though I have noticed that issue with the whiteboards that get wiped down with it. Methanol works, but do you really want to squirt loads of methanol on your whiteboard?

    1. My undergrad advisor used every solvent we had in the lab in an unsuccessful attempt to clean cured spray foam off my fingernails. We both didn't understand that a cured thermoset is basically one big molecule, and soluble in nothing. I could see him trying to clean a whiteboard with methylene chloride, benzene, and even nastier solvents if he got frustrated trying to get marks off the board.

  5. There are different materials used in white boards. Cheaper, lighter ones are typically resin based and more prone to getting stained. My guess is these surfaces get damaged more readily by solvents. More durable white boards are often ceramic-coated metal surfaces and should be resistant to pretty much any organic solvent.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20