I am wondering about the health aspects of black boards and white boards.

Black boards have now been around for centuries. Their only detrimental health effect is the chalk dust. Some senior colleagues tell me that they are having breathing issues after several years of teaching. Then again, it's just chalk, which is chemically fairly well-understood.

White boards are a rather recent fad in academia. They do not -seem- to produce dust as much as blackboards, but nevertheless there is a mess over time with ink dripping down onto the floor, and you need replace the erasers regularly. Last but not least, I have no clue about the ink used in those pens and their health effects.

Do you have practical advice how to handle black boards and white boards, and do you know about medical research about them?

  • 5
    They said chalk dust was bad for computers. Back when we had floppy disks and such old-time devices.
    – GEdgar
    May 8, 2018 at 16:48
  • 3
    Give them a piece of slate and a flint...
    – Solar Mike
    May 8, 2018 at 17:32
  • 54
    Ink dropping to the floor? What the hell do you do to your whiteboards?
    – Polygnome
    May 8, 2018 at 17:55
  • 19
    @Polygnome I imagine it's not a case of ink dripping (as a fluid), but rather the kind of flakes you get when erasing markings have been left to dry for a week or two.
    – Anyon
    May 8, 2018 at 18:17
  • 19
    Slightly off-topic but blackboards are way cooler to write on. May 8, 2018 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


The only type of board that doesn't affect the air in the classroom is a digital whiteboard (aka a smartboard). If you're using an actual white board or black board be sure that your room is well ventilated and cleaned often. For chalk boards specifically some sources recommend chalk holders and even face masks.

Here are the papers I found on the subject of white/black boards and health:


  • Effects of Chalk Use on Dust Exposure and Classroom Air Quality

    • Although using chalkboards in the classroom is a traditional and effective teaching method, chalk generates a large amount of airborne dust, and particularly submicrometer dust and nanoparticles that can penetrate into the respiratory system.

  • Investigation of Lecturer's Chalk by X-Ray Florescence and Fast Neutron Activation Techniques

    • The presence of Ca and small traces of Al, Fe, Mg and Si elements in the different lecturer's chalk samples were confirmed utilizing Fast Neutron Activation Analysis (FNAA), lifetime, and X-ray florescence (XRF) techniques. [...] It is highly recommended that Chalk dust is considered an irritant and an occupational hazard as shown in this investigation.

  • Assessment of Airborne Fine Particulate Matter and Particle Size Distribution in Settled Chalk Dust during Writing and Dusting Exercises in a Classroom

    • Though real-time airborne chalk dust generation was found to be low in this study and chalk dust contained only calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate predominantly and did not contain toxic materials, chalk dust could be harmful to allergic persons and may cause lacrimation and breathing troubles in the long run and certainly is a constant nuisance in classrooms as it may soil clothes, body parts, audio visual aids and study materials. The issue of allergy, lacrimation and breathing problem is certainly critical, considering that classroom teaching involves predominantly children and also in many cases teachers who might have crossed the middle age, thus becoming more susceptible. Exposure to low concentrations of fine particles for longer durations can be a matter of concern for children.

  • Trace elemental profile of School Chalk from a few Companies in Punjab areas by WDXRF Technique

    • The results of this study confirmed the presence of the elements like Ca, Al, Fe, Si, Ni, and Cr are in significant concentrations. The exposure to elements like Ca, Al, Si, Fe, Ni and Cr causes irritation to eyes and skin, cough, potential health symptoms includes accumulation to lungs. The study confirmed that black board chalk is an irritant and occupational hazard.

"Dust free" chalks


I didn't find as much research on whiteboards, unfortunately.

  • 10
    Total nit-pick here xD Not a serious criticism nor even a health concern for modern devices, but a digital whiteboard will produce constant radiation, which will in turn affect the air by heating it. I'd think the "safest" surface to use would be something akin to an "etch-a-sketch" in how the materials are contained within the writing surface. I don't know if anyone has bothered to make a large-scale one with a stylus instead of the knobs; that would be neat :) May 9, 2018 at 0:29
  • 5
    I have no idea if it was potentially toxic or not, but the stench of some whiteboard markers is most definitely detrimental (to learning/teaching). I have no idea who made these pieces of rubbish back then, but it wasn't a major recognisable brand name.
    – DetlevCM
    May 9, 2018 at 5:58
  • 1
    @kayleeFrye_onDeck Then use a smart board with e-ink display. It requires no power to remain "on" only to update. May 9, 2018 at 13:02
  • @Tschallacka Ooo, I like that! Thanks for the recommendation :) May 9, 2018 at 18:24
  • Why don't use Ziteboard (ziteboard.com) an online whiteboard? You can set the background to black or white. Sep 29, 2018 at 13:28

Why a Black board should be preferred-

  • White on black is easier on the eyes in a well-lit classroom. (due to the difference in contrast)

  • Black boards provide more flexibility - you can shade and colour with chalk more effectively, you can write with chalk from any point in the chalk piece, unlike the marker that has a tip

  • Tend to be more economical than markers as chalk is cheaper than marker ink.

  • Chalk is easier to clean than marker ink if it accidentally gets on your clothes while teaching.

  • Chalk boards don't produce glare unlike the glossy surface of a whiteboard. (students sitting at certain angles will have glare issues )

  • Marker ink residue is more harmful than chalk if ingested.

  • Marker ink has an unpleasant smell, whereas chalk is odourless.

  • Marker tips tend to widen and wear out sooner.

  • While writing, the rough surface of the Blackboard rubbing against the chalk gives adequate feedback to the writing hand, so it is easier to handle, unlike the smooth slippery surface contact between marker and whiteboard.

  • Dustless chalks are available that have a wax coated layer to prevent dust from flying out.

As far as scientific evidence goes, the human eye is most comfortable reading white on black OR black on white, so it is a matter of convenience as I see it.

  • 3
    Chalk, you can rub it away, But, when you make those small errors, reaching for the duster/sponge is inconvenient, so you rub the marker ink with your hand and it creates a blob in the whiteboard as well as in your hand. May 8, 2018 at 19:11
  • 24
    You also forgot that it's easy to tell when a piece of chalk is nearing the end of its life, while for a marker it's essentially a gamble if you're not bringing your own.
    – user9646
    May 8, 2018 at 20:04
  • 14
    - Chalk doesn't dry out if you leave the cap half-off.
    – Kevin
    May 8, 2018 at 23:40
  • 2
    Most of your points are just "bad whiteboard markers suck" but, in any case, this isn't an answer to the question. The question isn't "Why are whiteboards better/worse than blackboards?" May 9, 2018 at 13:02
  • 2
    'Chalk boards don't produce glare unlike (...)' I disagree. From experience in school and universities I can tell you blackboards can (and may of the ones I've encountered here in Spain most definitely DO) create a glare that can make you completely miss whole chunks of the blackboard for hours. (To be clear, I'm not saying whiteboards don't, just that blackboards do)
    – xDaizu
    May 9, 2018 at 13:07

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