Why Does a Magnet Attract Iron?

By Geoffrey Weed; Updated April 24, 2017
Why Does a Magnet Attract Iron?

Why Does a Magnet Attract Iron?

Magnets attract iron due to the influence of their magnetic field upon the iron. Before a piece of iron first enters the magnetic field of a magnet. the polarization of the iron's atoms is random. As it is exposed to the magnetic field, the atoms of the iron begin to align their electrons with the flow of the magnetic field, which makes the iron magnetized as well. This, in turn, creates an attraction between the two magnetized objects. This is why a piece of iron that is exposed to a strong magnet becomes magnetic itself for a period of time afterward.

What Causes Magnetism?

Magnetism is caused by the flow of electrical energy in the form of electrons. In natural magnets, this means that the majority of the electrons in the atoms of a magnetic element are flowing in one direction. This causes a magnetic field. Anything within the magnetic field is affected by it, but some substances react more strongly. Man-made electromagnets use the same basic principle; simply flowing electrons through a wire in the same direction to cause a magnetic field to form.

What Do Magnets Attract?

The truth is that magnets attract much more than iron. In fact, magnetic fields have a level of attraction or repulsion on all atoms that fall within their range. For instance, a strong electromagnet could attract or repel animal matter and even a human being. Small magnets don't have a visible effect on such matter because they simply aren't powerful enough. While their magnetic field is influencing everything around them, they can only visibly affect materials that are easily influenced, such as iron.

About the Author

A legal clerk and law school student at The Thomas M. Cooley School of Law who lives in southeastern Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree in English from Western Michigan University. Geoffrey has over a decade of experience working as a freelance writer and has completed hundreds of articles during that time.