What happens when you write?
Although we call the black stuff in pencils “lead,” it’s not the real metal known as lead. It’s actually a mineral called “graphite,” which is made up of carbon. When you write with a pencil, graphite particles from the pencil rub off and stick to the fibers of the paper you’re writing on.
What do erasers do?
When you rub an eraser across a pencil mark, the abrasives in the eraser gently scratch the surface fibers of the paper to loosen the graphite particles. The softeners in the eraser help to prevent the paper from tearing. The sticky rubber in the eraser grabs and holds on to the graphite particles.
Erasers work because of friction.
As the abrasives in your eraser are rubbed against paper, friction produces heat, which helps the rubber become sticky enough to hold onto the graphite particles. As the rubber grabs the graphite particles, small pieces of combined rubber and graphite get left behind. That’s the “stuff” you brush off of your paper when you’re finished erasing.
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!