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Are Permanent Markers Really Permanent? An Experiment

written by: Alicia • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 2/19/2013

This project enables students to challenge an assumption that drawing with permanent markers can never be erased. Students will investigate whether there is a way to get permanent marker off a few different surfaces.

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    Lesson Purpose:

    Use this project when you are teaching about chemical changes and basic life skills.


    Ask students if they have ever gotten permanent marker on anything? If they have any funny stories about it, allow them to tell the story. Talk about how difficult it is to remove marker from clothing, carpeting, wood, and plastic. Let the students know that they are going to perform some tests to see if they can find anything that will remove the permanent marker stains. Perform these tests in a well-ventilated area and warn students not to inhale fumes from hair spray and other chemicals.


    1. A permanent marker
    2. Piece of carpet (not installed on the floor!)
    3. Wood surface
    4. Plastic surface
    5. Old T-shirt
    6. Nail polish remover
    7. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
    8. Rubbing alcohol
    9. Hair spray
    10. White toothpaste
    11. Bleach
    12. Water
    13. Rubber gloves
    14. Scrub brush
    15. Notebooks
    16. Pencils


    1. Have students divide their notebook page into four squares. They should be headed: Clothing, Wood Surface, Plastic Surface, and Carpet. As the students test each of the cleaning agents to remove the stain, they write down the results in the appropriate square.
    2. Have students guess ahead of time (this is called a hypothesis) as to which solutions they feel may remove the permanent marker and on which surface. They may also come up with a hypothesis that none of the cleaning agents will work.
    3. Have a student volunteer use a permanent marker to make a stain on all four surfaces.
    4. Begin with the carpeting and have the students try to remove the marker stain with hair spray, nail polish remover, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, rubbing alcohol, white toothpaste, and finally a bleach water mixture. The bleach water mixture should be one cup of bleach and two cups of water. They should attempt only one item at a time. Cleaning materials should be poured onto the surface carefullly. They may rub them in with a rag if desired. Students should wear rubber gloves to protect their hands from any chemicals. All results should be noted in the carpet square.
      1. Another student volunteer can attempt to remove the marker stains from an old t-shirt using each of the items listed in step four. Record the results in the clothing square.
    5. A third student volunteer can place a pair of rubber gloves on and begin testing the permanent marker stain on the wood surface. He or she should use each of the items listed in step four. Results will be placed in the square marked wood.
    6. Finally, a fourth student will attempt to remove the permanent marker stain from the plastic surface. All results should be clearly marked in the plastic surface square.


    Have students compare their conclusions with their hypothesis.

    • Were any of the stains removed?
    • How were they removed?
    • Did some cleaning agents seem to work well on one surface and not another?
    • Why do you think that is?