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How to Get Permanent Marker Off a Whiteboard + More Must-Try Teacher-Cleaning Hacks

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Photo of Jeanne Sager
Updated | 8 min read

So you’re trying to clean your whiteboard, and you realize one of your students used a permanent marker to doodle (or worse, write a naughty word)? If we had a nickel for every time a member of our teacher team had to look up “how to get permanent marker off a whiteboard,” we’d have a lot of nickels.

It’s why we put our heads together to create this list of cleaning hacks for teachers — from the whiteboard and Sharpie issue to cleaning your manipulatives.

Granted, you’ve probably got a custodial staff that is worth its weight in gold (Have you ever seen a custodian make quick work of a student’s, ahem, vomit? They’re really angels in work pants!), but think about all the smaller items you’ve brought into the classroom — your whiteboard erasers and markers, the individual bins full of LEGO bricks, your rolling cart — and yup, there are a million and one places for germs and dust to gather in your classroom that may not get touched on a regular basis. Since we’re pretty darn passionate about sustainability here at Teach Starter (have you heard about our One Million Trees Project?), we tried to ensure the ideas you’re about to go WHOA over are safe and sustainable!

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How to Get Permanent Marker Off a Whiteboard

We promised you our best tricks for getting permanent marker off a whiteboard, so we’ll get started there. Here are the tips our teacher team swears by!

  1. Use hand sanitizer. These days we all have a ton of hand sanitizer hanging around, and it’s not just useful for keeping classroom germs at bay. Squirt sanitizer on the permanent marker, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then grab a rag, and start scrubbing away at your whiteboard. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer should help lift the stray marker (or those doodles).
  2. Use a dry-erase marker. Grab one of your dry eraser markers (you know, the ones you actually DO use on your whiteboard), and draw over the permanent markings — you will want to make a solid block of dry-erase marker. While the ink is still wet, grab your dry-erase marker, and rub. It should take off both layers! One warning: Do NOT use a red dry-erase marker for this.
  3. Use rubbing alcohol. If the stain is set, you may need to put a little more elbow grease into cleaning off the permanent marker. Grab your microfiber cloth, dampen with rubbing alcohol, then gently wipe away at the stain. You may have to try a few times, but eventually, the alcohol should remove the permanent marker.

Looking for ways to keep your whiteboard clean in general? White vinegar is the key, and it’s all-natural too. You can use it straight in a spray bottle, and apply a thin mist before wiping it off with a microfiber cloth. The vinegar will remove all marker residue and stains like magic, and the solution is so safe, students can even help with this one.

permanent marker on whiteboard

Some other cleaners we’ve seen work (although beware they do involve more chemicals):

  • Spray WD-40 on your whiteboard (yes, really) to clear away stray marks.
  • Mix dish soap and warm water together, and wipe down your whiteboard. Allow the mixture to sit until it’s completely dry, then tackle it with a warm wet cloth. You may need to try this a few times, but the dish soap should help lift stains.

How to Remove Mounting Putty from Carpet (or a Classroom Rug)

So, you thought that the mounting putty (or sticky tack) was going to stay on the back of your posters, didn’t you? It was a good effort, but somehow it ended up … in the carpet? Before you decide to abandon circle time on the carpet entirely, give this a try.

Grab some:

  • Baking soda
  • Coconut oil
  • Drop of dishwashing liquid (optional)
  • A spoon
  • A hard-bristled brush

Mix the baking and coconut oil into a paste, and use a spoon to apply a thin layer over the mounting putty or tack on your classroom rug. Then use a hard bristled brush and a little elbow grease to scrub off.

Are the custodians not able to vacuum frequently in your room? You can also sprinkle some baking soda over your carpet to freshen it up between professional cleans. Let the baking soda sit for an hour or so, then sweep it in using a soft broom. You can also leave it overnight, but you might want to give the janitorial staff a heads-up so they know why it’s all there!

Get printable posters for your classroom!

How to Clean Math Manipulatives

Math manipulatives are made to be handled a lot — it’s right there in the name — so it’s no wonder they can get dirty easily … and pass germs around your classroom, especially during cold and flu season.

An easy fix is to take them home, along with any other small hard plastic items that need a good clean, and pop them into your dishwasher. If you have utensil trays in your dishwasher, you may be able to place the manipulatives in there. No tray? Buy one of the plastic baskets parents use to clean baby bottle nipples and other accessories, fill it with your dice and other plastic items, and set the dishwasher to the hottest temperature for the best results. Make sure you only use the top shelf so you don’t end up with a pile of melted plastic.

You may also be able to use your washing machine to clean these types of items. Pick up a zippered delicates laundry bag, fill it with your plastic manipulatives, and pop it in the washing machine with a load of laundry.

Larger plastic toys like Duplo or plastic tracks can also easily be cleaned in your clothes washer — add some commercial disinfectant or vinegar to the wash to really get at those germs.

Cut germs with a poster that reminds students how to handle that sneeze!

How to Clean Adhesive Off Anything

Have you ever tried to clean the adhesive off from name tags off of your student desks and felt like it would take you a year to remove it all? Here are a few tricks that have worked for different teachers on our team!

  1. Soak the tags in Goo Gone. The trick is to allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes before you use a rag to wipe it away.
  2. Soak the name tags in hand sanitizer, then scrape with a razor blade.
  3. Spray them down with Dawn Power Spray and allow them to sit. After 5 minutes, use a razor blade to scrape them away.

How to Get Foam Residue Off Cabinets

Double-sided foam tape can work wonders when it comes to keeping your classroom posters and anchor charts in place all year long. But if you’ve hit that time of year when you now have to take them all down, you’re probably left with bits of foam residue all over your cabinets and classroom walls. Do you pull out a scraper? Hit it with an adhesive dissolver?

We’ve found that warm coconut oil and heat from a hair dryer will do the trick when combined with a razor blade. It’s a lot of work — we won’t lie — but it’s greener than using a commercial solvent and doesn’t leave your classroom with that heavy odor of chemicals.

How to Clean a Computer Screen

Are the computer screens in your classroom covered in fingerprints? How about your laptop or your classroom tablets? The list of things you shouldn’t do to clean them might just surprise you. Here are a few no-nos we’ve learned the hard way!

  • Don’t use paper towels on computer screens — It can scratch the screen.
  • Don’t use window cleaners such as Windex — It’s glass, but it’s not a window.
  • Don’t spray a cleaner directly on the screen — Ok, this one may be obvious!

As for what you can do to clean your classroom computer or tablet screens, the experts suggest rubbing alcohol on a microfiber cloth is best for removing fingerprints and dust.

More Classroom Cleaning Hacks

When we polled teachers around the country, we found that visits from the custodians vary greatly, with some janitorial staff giving classrooms a deep clean every day and others having to limit classroom cleaning to just once a week. Some teachers told us their classrooms were mopped daily, others once a year!

With that in mind, we thought we should share a few other cleaning hacks that teachers on our team have picked up over the years.

Magic Trash

Whether students have been doing group STEM projects and made a giant mess or you have just noticed there seem to be wrappers and bits of paper on the floor that shouldn’t be there, magic trash is a simple way to make a mess disappear faster than you can say abracadabra.

We’ve heard different ways of playing it, but here’s our very favorite: Tell students there’s a magic piece of trash out there that needs to be whisked away. Let students know the one who finds that magic piece — and takes care of it — will earn a prize. Let students get up and tackle the trash, then pick the one winner who took care of that very special “magic” piece of trash.

Classroom Jobs

Whiteboard wiper? Classroom library book shelver? Give your students classroom jobs that teach responsibility and help you keep the classroom clean at the same time.

Print a ready-made classroom helpers bulletin board to keep students on task.

Safe (and Easy) DIY Cleaning Solution

For a cleaning solution to disinfect, it must contain an active ingredient. Many of these are toxic to children, but white vinegar is a perfect option. Made from acetic acid and water, vinegar is an all-around power cleaner. (Note, although vinegar is known to kill some bacteria and viruses, it is not effective against COVID-19!)

For this solution, just mix 1/2 a cup of lemon juice with 2 cups of white vinegar, and pop into a spray bottle. The acidity of the lemon breaks down grease and grime, and the vinegar kills germs.

Do you have an amazing classroom cleaning hack we don’t have covered? Let us know in the comments below!

Banner image via Shutterstock/Jay Fong


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