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Melamine foam cleaning products. Also known as a magic sponge and magic eraser. Look out for the danger.

Updated on January 6, 2012

On the inside of my left arm, in the thin skin near the elbow is a rough-feeling red patch. It's been there for over a week. In the last few days it looked like a bruise. Before that it was like a graze without the blood. The surface of the skin was scaly. Before that it was like a superficial burn. Ane when I caused it, there was no pain at all.

What did I do?

Magic Sponge

I'd been painting. Some paint had dried on my hands, and there was a blob on my arm and it would not wash off. I'd been using a handy magic sponge to prepare a surface for painting, and it did a great job, so I figured it would get the paint off my hands. It worked ok. I scrubbed a bit and the paint came off. Then I used it on my arm and it did not really work well. Eventually I gave up and peeled the paint blob away.

About two hours later, a stinging red patch appeared. It hurt like a burn, so I put some anti-sceptic on it. That did not help. The stinging lasted for several days.

What had I done to myself?

Some chemistry

Wikipedia tells us this stuff is formaldehyde-melamine-sodium bisulfite copolymer.

Those are big words, and I happen to know that formaldehyde is nasty stuff. It can exist in a gaseous state. It's been linked with cancer. At room temperature, it is a gas, smelly and colourless. So I wanted to know how safe it is in this commercially available cleaning-sponge.

Urea-formaldehyde is used in the glues that bond particle board together which is why you should always wear a quality gas-quality mask when cutting these products.

When reacted with melamine, formaldehyde produces melamine resin.

Had I given myself a chemical burn?

Don't panic

Being a skeptic, and knowing just enough chemistry to be careful, I looked further into this and discovered via snopes, that just because it mentions formaldehyde in the chemical composition, it does not automatically mean that it is chemically dangerous.

A classic example is that of sodium-chloride. This is just table salt, but neither the nasty sodium nor chloride is molecularly available while in this form.

So what is the painful patch on my skin? I conclude that it must be a mechanical abrasion.

200 x magnification

I took this photo at 200 times magnification so you can see the filaments. This is the 'micro fibre' they talk of that provides the abrasion. The arrows point to some of the filaments.
I took this photo at 200 times magnification so you can see the filaments. This is the 'micro fibre' they talk of that provides the abrasion. The arrows point to some of the filaments.

I am relieved to learn that I have not been poisoned, or suffered an alergic reaction but still, there is a warning here.

These sponges are like very fine sand-paper. If you use one to clean off your toddler's face or delicate skin anywhere on an adult, then expect a nasty and long-lasting reaction.

How does this product work?

It's a sponge, yet it acts like very fine sandpaper. In fact, the type of sponge is microscopically more like wire-wool than a typical kitchen sponge. It's what is called an 'open cell' structure which means that it is a nest-like structure. Therefore it is flexible, even though the filaments are rigid. The filaments are very hard, in fact almost as hard as glass. But they are also brittle which is why these sponges wear away quickly. However, the open cell structure traps dirt that is scratched off by the filaments, and the flexibility allows you to get into dips and curves.

You don't need to use soap or any chemicals - they work just with water as a lubricant, and they work very well.

You do need to be careful what kind of surface is being cleaned. If it is glass, then that's fine because glass is a little harder. If it is a rigid shiny plastic, then it is likely to take the shine off so try it first on a hidden area.

I find it excellent for removing marker-pen and crayon from walls, and for preparing generally sound painted surfaces for a touch-up or final coat.

Do not use it on your car.


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    • profile image

      Victim001 3 years ago

      I try this "Magic Sponge" on my skin as well to remove paints. I have more serious injuries than yours and have the same feeling of burning pain. It will create bruises to your soft/fair area of your skin but won't affect those rough and thicker skin such as your palm.

      This sponge doing great in cleaning your toilet, to help remove those stains create by germs. Some stain which i'm unable to remove by scratching with tools, this sponge able to finish the job well with excellent result.


      Do not use it to clean anything related to your food, such as food containers and kitchen stuffs especially those stuffs related to babies.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 6 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Wow! Excellent hub. You revealed many mysteries about these white "magic eraser" sponges for me. Thanks for putting the facts out there--I use these things all the time.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Useful information here. I'm not certain I would have used the magic sponge on my skin before reading this hub, but I am certain that will not happen now that I am armed with this information.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 6 years ago from Australia

      @Anon Actually, where I peeled off the paint the skin was fine, it was all around it that was sore.

    • profile image

      Anon 6 years ago

      I'm sure if these was from the sponge it would have had the same effect on the other areas you cleaned the paint off. Since this was the only area that you had to peel the pain from, I'd say it was more from the paint being peeled off than the sponge.

      All of the sponge info above is correct - definitely not for skin, shiny surfaces but great on grout etc etc

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 6 years ago from Australia

      @Pcunix - thanks for the extra information!

      @leahlefler - it's died down now but it was like a scald.

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 6 years ago from SE MA

      By the way - you mentioned not to use it on your car. I would agree not to use it on the finish, but I use these to clean the entry door areas that are constantly getting kicked and dirtied and to clean off that interior windshield fog. I was nervous about the latter as I feared it might leave fine scratches, but apparently not - glass is rather hard, after all.

      They are also fantastic at removing soap scum from the shower. All those dangerous smelling chemicals we used to use are pointless - these sponges really do the job.

      They clean rust off metal tools, polish pewter..

      We've found many other uses (I wrote a hub about it way back when) and use so many that we buy them in bulk - so much cheaper that way.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      Ouch! The abrasion on your arm looks painful - we have found the Magic Eraser great for crayon on walls, but we've also accidentally removed some paint with the product, too. Great article and research - and AWESOME picture of the magnified melamine foam. Very cool!

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 6 years ago from SE MA

      Yeah - abrasive. Don't use it on finished wood either :-)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting to learn from your experience and research. Thanks for sharing! I can still use my Magic Eraser--yay!