It was a good day when I covered all of the walls in my office with big, cheap whiteboards.
It was a bad day, two weeks later, when I realized that big, cheap whiteboards means that I was going to have to deal with unclean whiteboards.
Here’s an example.
My boards and the eraser that came with my markers (paid link) had failed me, bigly.
Since I use these whiteboards heavily, I decided to launch an experiment! Time to find the best way to clean whiteboards.
I started online, of course. Lots of good articles out there:
- Good list of ten things to try from OnTime Supplies (though what’s up with coffee grounds?!?)
- Wikihow had two neat-looking tutorials, but none of them looked practical for use on a ton of big-ass whiteboards.
- Lots of great first-hand accounts from ThriftyFun. Though I’m not sure I want to use abrasives like toothpaste or Scotch Brite (paid link) on my beautiful new babies.
I started putting together a list, then decided I was just raid my basement and test whatever I had on hand. I’ve accumulated quite the collection of treatments, lubricants, and waxes from various projects.
I came up with nine contenders for the test. Here’s group 1:
And group 2:
How I tested
I decided to do two rounds of clean whiteboards testing.
In round 1, I would:
- Split my wall into 10 groups (9 treatments and 1 control with no treatment)
- Treat each slice with a different treatment
- Erase the board at various points in time (after 1 hour, after 3 hours, etc.) to see which held up best.
In round 2, I would take my finalists and do a long-term ghosting test.
Round 1: Nine Treatments for Clean Whiteboards
Here’s the grid I set up. The left side had the waxes, the control, and one of the goopy lubes.
The right side had lubricant sprays and car waxes:
They were all applied according to the label instructions. The lubricant sprays were just sprayed on, and then smeared around with a paper towel until the surface was dry.
Sealing and Cleaning a Whiteboard with Waxes
The first to drop out were the non-car waxes. Cheng Countertop Wax (paid link) and Paste Finishing Wax (paid link) are amazing for our DIY concrete countertops. Whiteboard treatments, though? Not so much.
You can see here that they left a smeary mess when I tried to erase the whiteboard after just one hour.
I’m kind of glad, as these were on the more difficult side to apply. Lots of rubbing on and smearing off, then waiting, then buffing.
Two down, seven to go.
Sealing and Cleaning a Whiteboard with Grease
Next to fall – our two grease entries. We use Super Lube (paid link) as a bike chain grease, and this food-safe petrol jelly (paid link) is left over from a meat slicer experiment gone horribly wrong.
These were a smeary mess to apply, and the markers could barely write on them. They were also a mess after erasing after just one hour:
Two more down, which leaves five.
Sealing and Cleaning a Whiteboard with Car Waxes
A friend I rate very highly suggested Turtle Wax as the solution, so I was excited about this test. I was testing Nu Finish Paste (paid link) and Turtle Wax Carnauba Cleaner Paste Wax. (paid link)
These were much easier to apply than the other waxes or the greases, which was nice.
However, I found that the whiteboard markers didn’t write particularly well on them. In general, they did no better or worse than the control in leaving marks.
Here’s what my control looked like when I erased after 1, 2, and 6 hours:
And here’s what the car waxes looked like after one, two, and six hours:
About the same level of whiteboard ghosting.
With two more out, that leaves us with three treatments — all spray-on lubricants.
Spray-On Lubricants for Clean Whiteboards
I was down to three finalists. Picture the old, grizzled gunslinger taking on two recent graduates from UofT Austin. One lives in the Brooklyn, the other is a Silicon Valley techrepreneur:
- WD-40, (paid link) the old-timer
- Teflon spray, (paid link) the hipster
- Teflon Silicone Spray, (paid link) the techie from Silicon Valley
I had high hopes for the Silicone spray, as did the super helpful guy at the local hardware store.
First, a word on smell.
This group of treatments smells.
WD-40 (paid link) has the familiar shop-class-meets-your-father’s-garage smell. It’s distinctive, though not unpleasant.
The Teflon spray (paid link) had a smell like electrified coconuts.
I don’t have a clever description for the Teflon Silicone Spray (paid link) — it also had a scent.
Let’s see how they did.
It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but the newfangled Teflon Silicone Spray (paid link) was the poorest performer of the three. After three days of testing, it definitely had the most ghosting of these three finalists:
Let’s take our finalists and move on to Test 2!
Sealing and Cleaning Whiteboards: WD-40 vs. Teflon
This second test was a torture test. I took another wall, treated it, and then attacked it with every whiteboard marker in my arsenal:
I let it sit for two days, then erased it:
You can already see the ghosting on the control in the middle, but the WD-40 and Teflon are still going strong.
I then repeated this cycle two more times — I left the marker on for two days, erased it, and tried again.
The final test
Here’s what my plain control looked like (heavy whiteboard ghosting):
And the Teflon (light whiteboard ghosting):
And the WD-40 (clean whiteboards!):
The best way to clean a whiteboard
WD-40 (paid link) is the best treatment for clean whiteboards. It held up under multiple erasings and still looked great after over a week.
It’s also super easy to apply — spray on, wipe off with a paper towel.
It has a distinctive odor which I didn’t mind, but you might want to test it a bit before going nuts.
But wait, there’s more.
I also learned a bit about cleaning whiteboards throughout this whole process.
First, don’t bother with those whiteboard erasers (paid link). They won’t help you one bit unless you have a brand new board or are writing on glass.
Instead, get yourself some microfiber towels (paid link). They’re excellent for cleaning whiteboards.
Next, don’t bother with those tiny, expensive spray bottles of “whiteboard cleaner.” (paid link) We also tried these alcohol wipes, (paid link) but found them fragile and difficult to use. We had to use a lot of them to clean even a single board.
Instead, buy yourself some rubbing alcohol (I’ll put a link here, (paid link) but it’s way cheaper at your local drugstore). Put it in a really nice looking spray bottle (paid link) that you won’t mind seeing every day.
Microfiber + rubbing alcohol = happy clean whiteboards
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Have questions? Or maybe you have your own results you’d like to share? Pop them in the comments below.
And don’t forget to share this article with your whiteboard-loving friends!
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How are you going to clean all the goop off the other white boards?
Alcohol is a great way to ruin the surface. You’ll need it from then on.
I don’t know — it’s been a couple of years, and so far they’re holding up fine. These weren’t fancy whiteboards to begin with, so I’m not super worried about the surface.
It’s been almost three years and I am beyond stoked I found this because I have a cheap whiteboard I refuse to not use and was extremely IRRITATED. This was pretty dang funny (I read the whole thing, big time skimmer here) and this is the only thoroughly helpful thing I’ve found. Thanks Josh!!
Ive been using a 50/50 alcohol /water spray for probably 30 years to clean my house, so I tried it on my white boards and it worked like a charm! Other people told me I would ruin them too so I stopped. Thanks for doing the experiment.
Thank you ! I appreciate your thorough investigation.
Spray the WD40 on a paper towel, then use that to clean the board. It’s simple, fast, and not messy. I suppose a clean cloth would work as well.
Just hoping for an update! Are you still happy with your solution? Has the rubbing alcohol damaged the surface?
Very happy! No damage yet that I can see!
I would like to know how a RainX treatment would perform.
Great idea! Feel free to try it out and let us know!
I recently tried RainX…didn’t work well at all. Lots of ‘ghosting’. I’ve been using toothpaste to clean [the only thing that worked] but will be switching up to WD40.
Fantastic analysis! Appreciate your attention to detail and accuracy.
Love this post and your scientific approach. I have 2 boards of “cheap” melamine (not the fancy glass or enamel, but still expensive enough to replace). I used a product called MB 10W, which worked very well when I got it in 2013, but now results in ghosting. I’ll try your WD-40 approach. Please keep us posted on how your boards continue to perform.
you bet! It’s been a couple of years, and still going strong. I’ve gotten lazy about the WD-40 application (I love the smell in a garage, but not in an office). But the microfiber towels and rubbing alcohol are working great.
WD-40 now makes a non-aerosol. It works great, less smell, less overspray.
hey, cool! Didn’t know that. Here’s a link for anyone who wants to check it out: https://amzn.to/2IsiiYx
Your periodic erasing was done dry? With micro fiber towel?
During the test, my erasing was done with a combination of paper towels and standard whiteboard erasers. After I found the best surface prep, then I played around with different cleaning techniques and found that micro fiber + rubbing alcohol had the best results.
So do you literally spray the rubbing alcohol each time you erase with the microfiber towels? When you are in a meeting and need to erase so you ever wipe with dry microfiber towel? How often do you was the towel?
I cleaned a small whiteboard yesterday with alcohol & vinegar (no bueno), then toothpaste (better), and finally charcoal powder (best). There’s still a little ghosting left.
I am worried now that I may have messed up the surface with the abrasives. I was thinking about using Cannuba wax or some other type of coating before writing on the whiteboard again. I don’t want to spend a lot because I don’t wax my car. I take it to the car wash and let them do it. So, does WD-40 put a coding that then allows the markers to write on it properly without ghosting? Do you think if I apply WD-40, that would be all I need to do now?
How long does the smell last!
Thank you for your thoughtful experiments!!
Hi – you’re very brave using abrasives! I tested Carnuba wax, and it turned into a big mess.
It’s worth a test with the WD-40. The smell lasts a few days in my office, but I’m sure that will vary with ventilation. Good luck!
I love this post so much. Thank you! How often do you need to prep your boards with WD-40 vs just erasing with alcohol and microfiber? Does the alcohol remove the WD-40?
I have to admit that I’ve gotten lazy lately, and have just been using the microfiber cloth with the rubbing alcohol. It was just too much of a hassle to keep reapplying the WD-40!
Hi josh. Not sure if you still check this, but hoping you do. I have some whiteboard that are suffering from ghosting. So I literally just spray some Wd40 and clean it off, use them as normal – Then wd40 next time I need them clean again?
You might try the microfiber cloth + rubbing alcohol to get them clean, and then try out the WD-40 after that!
Did you ever tried with white petrol? For the cleaning process, really strong odor but I’m wondering cleaningwise which is better alcohol or white gasoline.
No, never even thought of that! Great idea, let us know if you decide to try it. Not sure I could tolerate smelling gasoline/petrol all day in our office, though.
Thanks for the great post Josh and for being the top google result for my search terms!
I wasn’t getting good cleaning results with electronics Isopropanol Alcohol or WD40 so thought I’d try Manuel’s petrol suggestion and it works great!
Following that direction I then tried white spirit (aka mineral spirit) which is petroleum based and it was equally as good.
Next trial was methylated spirit which is ethanol based and that worked well but has the advantage that it smells nicer and is less ‘oily’ than petrol or white spirits.
Also worth noting that rubbing alcohol can be either IPA or ethanol based (according to wikipedia) so that maybe why rubbing alcohol gives mixed results for some people. As I said IPA just don’t work well for my pen/board combo.
Scientific method for the win! Thanks Maker Josh!
I have a question. Did you try the cheap “magic erasers”. I’ve had great luck with the off brand ones from dollar tree with WD-40 and alcohol on different boards. Wouldn’t suggest to mix the two :-0
I bet they work well, but I’d be careful. Those magic erasers (melamine) are basically very very very fine sandpaper. It’s so effective at cleaning because it’s basically sanding the dirt away! I’d be hesitant to use them on a whiteboard because I’d worry that they will erode the finish over time.
Received a bunch of ‘shot’ white boards from my office’s purge during a move to a new building. I am excited to try your winner (and avoid the mess of trying the others – thanks!), but I have my own test to throw in for the running:
I am going to try a ‘denatured alcohol’ I have from my lab instead of isopropyl to provide the solvent that should ‘re-liquify’ the resin-residue from the markers dried in place.
I then plan, in place of WD40, to try some coconut oil and/or mineral oil to provide a lubricating, hydro-phobic surface left behind on the board itself, to prevent the resin colorants from markers adhering too well on a too-cleaned board after alcohol cleaner is used. I’m basing my tests off the main ingredients in a can of formulated board cleaner:
Water (CAS# 7732-18-5),
Denatured alcohol (CAS# 64-17-5), ethyl based alcohol (that is stated to leave a residue, unlike isopropyl)
Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAS# 61789-40-0) – a coconut oil treated to act as an Amphoteric surfactants
Potassium sorbate (CAS# 579-00-1), a preservative salt synthetically produced from sorbic acid and potassium hydroxide
Citric acid (CAS# 77-92-9).a tricarboxylic acid that acts a acidity regulator
Anyway, I’ll let you know how it goes, and how well my markers take any of the above oils being present on the board.
Great! Looking forward to hearing about it!
I’m looking forward to your results too, Jessica. Hadn’t thought of using wood alcohol, but I do have 100% purity IPA for electronic cleaning that has a lower vapor pressure than ethyl. Josh, I love how good ‘ol WD-40 beat the young whipper-snappers (again) -“WD-40: what’s in your closet?”
Word of warning: do NOT use floor waxes on whiteboards! After cleaning an old whiteboard, I used a wax for wood floors as a finish. Big mistake! Changed markings from erasable to permanent ink in less than 10 minutes! I’m still working on stripping off any residue wax on the board.
So Jessica eager to hear – how did it go?
Great article! I am a fellow admirer of the clean whiteboard. I have some fancy WD-40 with Teflon to try this with.
thanks for the recommendation with the microfiber towels, i have a small whiteboard in my room and i find that there is a lot of fibers left behind when im erasing with my eraser… would cleaning with the towel help? im gonna test it when i get it!
(my issue is bad because the little marker left over goes all over my hands when writing)
I think they would help!
The number one enemy of white boards are micro scratches. Do NOT use that green scrub pad in your hand on that board. You will ruin it forever. Nothing abrasive should ever touch the board. That includes old, dirty erasers that become hard as a brick. The reason the dry erase marker won’t come off the board is because the ink is imbedded in the scratches. Clean the board with alcohol and a gentle rag, then use WD-40 every now and then. If the WD-40 still doesn’t work for you, then your whiteboard is basically trashed.
hey! after not finding any wd 40 around my shop, I tried just a dab of brake cleaner spray on a paper towel, it effortlessly took away YEARS of white board smudge on my metal whiteboard. CAUTION! Very flammable, High initial odor, but cleaned my whiteboard like magic!
Would this work on a cheap non-metal whiteboard? I have a big very old super stained whiteboard that I’m trying to clean. So far, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and whiteboard cleaner have not worked.
It’s worth a try! Good luck.
I tried the WD-40 today after I attempted to clean up a memo size white board that appeared to be a lost cause and WOW!! I’m so glad I tried it!! It not only came clean, I discovered it to be great for cleaning “gunk” off of plastic storage totes. It also removed the permanent marker previously used to lanel the tote, so now I can reuse it & label it neatly. Apparently it works very well on plastic because I was able to get some stuff marks off a small white trashcan which now looks brand new & I’ve had it at least 10 years lol!! I’m pleasantly surprised that I found this hack & this site!! I’m also interested to hear the results of Jessica Clark’s experiment–hopefully she will update soon. Thanks for the hack Josh– I will definitely be checking your site frequently!
Is the WD-40 just fort sealing and restoring or does it clean off the old (years and years worth) ghosting and possibly non-dry erase marker markings as well? I’ve tried so many other “tried and true” non-abrasive cleaning methods and nothing is getting this whiteboard even close to clean.
I’m not sure — it’s worth a test if they’re as bad as you say!
So for cleaning I have used ‘shower spray’ -you know the stuff that is supposed to stop water marks! It cleans them beautifully, and writing is easy, but wiping still leaves ghosting on the slightly ‘shot ‘ whiteboard. I think they need sealing so WD40 is worth a stry I think.
I wanted to share the following information I received from my school “manager of janitorial services.” The following was taken from a lead Scientist of PolyVision (one of the largest worldwide whiteboard manufacturers).
1) Cleaning: The scientists state that the number one way to keep a whiteboard looking new is to clean it with a ratio of: 30/70 mixed isopropyl alcohol (30%) and cold water (70%). It must be mixed in a spray bottle and applied as needed, but weekly is recommended.
2) Ghosting: This is the top complaint of whiteboard users and scientists recommend the following to get rid of ghosting: (wipe the board with a soft type of cloth dipped in the mixture of (30/70 ratio) isopropyl alcohol and water. This is the most effective whiteboard cleaner.
3. Homemade Cleaning: They suggested the best “Homemade Whiteboard Cleaner” is the following: Again, a mix of (30/70) isopropyl alcohol and water is the best solution to clean a whiteboard, but there are a variety of other options that work just as well. Using a soft cloth moistened with WARM soapy water (dawn dish soap is best) and make sure water is quite warm. They also suggested, Windex window cleaner and Peroxide all work very well too and will not damage your whiteboard.
4. Caution: Stay away from ALL wax-based cleaners as they leave a film on the whiteboard and can make it unusable if heavily applied.
5. Frequency: Depending on the use of the board, it should be cleaned at different frequencies. Teachers who write on the board all day long should clean or wipe the board daily with one of the above whiteboard cleaners. Office usage where notes and schedules are posted on a board for a long period of time, should be erased and the board cleaned before rewriting the content again or at least once every few weeks.
Finally, I hope this information helps everyone and provides some additional methods. Thanks for the great information on all of the comments.
~Utah School Teacher, USA
How long have you been using the rubbing alcohol? I heard it ruins whiteboards.
For a few years now — seems to be holding up well!
WD 40 caused my whiteboard surface to bubble so I can no longer use it.
WD-40 worked great to get rid of the ghosting on my little whiteboards. And it makes it easier to erase the new ink, too.
For future reference, what strength of isopropyl alcohol do you use. I have 91%. Do you think that might be too strong?
That’s a great question! We used 70% for the test.
I’m impressed. Thanks for your good work.
I used permanent marker each week as a teacher. I’d clean it with commercial spray. Sprayed once to clean off the marker. Sprayed again for the shadowing letting it sit for a minute or two both times. Boards and laminated posters looked clean and great for years
THE BEST WAY TO CLEAN A WHITE AND RESTORE IT AT THE SAME TIME IS A PRODUCT NAMED C-WHITE. IT’S WARRANTED TO WORK OR YOUR MONEY BACK.
Believe it or not, (I didn’t believe myself) the best and fastest way I have ever used to clean my whiteboards is not only effective, but it’s also free, and you’re not going to believe what it is….. Cigarette ashes! No you haven’t misread it, cigarette ashes are the easiest way I have found to quickly and effectively clean all my whiteboards. There is also minimal mess, just sprinkle ashes on you board and with either a dry paper towel or toilet tissue, lightly buff the board using a circular motion and in mere seconds you will see a clean whiteboard rise up from the ashes, (sorry for that pun, but I couldn’t resist)
This has been great, thanks for going thru all the hard work to get these results.
Just cleaned my kids’ whiteboards using water & rubbing alcohol – like brand new! Easy to write on again, no problems.
Has anyone tried deep woods off… the bug spray. That stuff will take off anything!
Haven’t tried it! What an interesting idea. Please report back if you test it.
Pro tip: clean with windex or whatever, then wipe with a rag moistened with mineral oil. That’s all you need.
Tried WD-40 Specialist Silicone today (that’s all they had in the machine shop) and it’s just as bad or worse than before. Can’t erase at all unless with additional solvent of some sort. These are supposed to be “dry” erase boards, right? I shouldn’t need something wet to erase, IMO. I’m bringing in some classic WD-40 from home tomorrow (yeah, sure I am, like I keep saying I will but forget every day). I hate this whiteboard.
I love WD-40, can’t wait to try it. Thanks for all the work you put into this!
I am very happy I found this….
What about markers? I have to do quarterly calendars… and it seems it is harder to
get the ink off when it sits several months, so looking forward to trying the WD40!
We also are constantly having to make little changes to the calendars, so need a marker that EASILY wipes
off with a cotton ball or eraser through-out the months…any suggestions?
Thanks so much, Angie