There are a lot of different types of magnets. They vary is size, strength, and how they are made. Below we’ve listed the most common types of magnets and give a brief explanation of what they are and how they work.

Types of Magnets — Permanent Magnets

Permanent magnets are objects made from material that is magnetized. These are the magnets that many of us are most familiar with. Examples of permanent magnets include refrigerator magnets, magnets found in compasses, and so on. They are permanent in the sense that once they are magnetized they hold that level of magnetism.

types of magnets
Magnets on a fridge.

Materials that can be magnetized and exhibit strong magnetic properties are known as ferromagnetic materials. Ferromagnetic materials include iron, nickel, cobalt, steel, and some rare earth metals and naturally occurring materials like lodestone. Ferromagnetic materials are used to make permanent magnets.

Despite their name, permanent magnets can be demagnetized with heat, contact with other magnets, and hammering — which will loosen the magnet’s atoms from their magnetic attraction.

Types of Magnets — Temporary Magnets

Temporary magnets are easy to make and unmake. Temporary magnets can be made one of two ways: the stroke method or the electrical method. You can make a temporary magnet by stroking a piece of metal, like iron, with a magnet in a specific direction. After stroking the metal with a magnet in a specif direction a few times, it will become magnetized for a short period of time.

types of magnets
An example of a temporary electromagnet.

To create a temporary magnet with electrical current, you can wrap an iron nail with a conducting wire of copper and connect the ends of the wire to the terminals of a battery. Electricity will pass through the nail which will result in the formation of an electromagnet.

If you decide to test the above methods out, you’ll find that temporary magnets act like permanent magnets when they are within a strong magnetic field — created by either electrical current or a permanent magnet. Temporary magnets lose their magnetism when the magnetic field disappears. A few examples of a simple temporary magnets are paperclips and nails and other soft iron items.

types of magnets
Large electromagnet picking up material in a junkyard — an example of a temporary magnet.

An example of a complex temporary magnet, is the large electromagnet shown above. Although there are two basic types of magnets, temporary and permanent, there are many subcategories of magnets that fit within those two specific types.

Permanent Types of Magnets

Permanent magnets come in many shapes and sizes. They are sometimes used in conjunction with electromagnets to power or improve technology. They are also used for simple tasks like holding things on the refrigerator or in compasses to help decipher direction. Below we’ve listed some of the most common types of permanent magnets.

types of magnets
An antique Chinese spoon compass — this is what some of the first compasses looked like.

Lodestone was the first type of magnet discovered and used by man. As far as we know, the oldest known mention of lodestone and its magnetic properties date back to the 600 BC when the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus made note of Lodestone’s ability to attract iron.

Later on, lodestone was used to create the first compasses in China around the 4th century — which worked and looked much differently than modern day compasses. As shown in the photo above, some of the first compasses used a spoon made out of lodestone placed on a board to decipher direction. Magnetic compasses weren’t  used in navigation until much later when individual discovered that compass needles could be magnetized by rubbing lodestone across them.

types of magnets
Custom photo magnets from — an example of flexible magnets.

Flexible magnets are permanent magnets made out of ferromagnetic materials and a plastic binder. Due to their malleable and lightweight nature, flexible magnets are often used by custom magnet companies. Flexible magnets are sold in a variety of ways. Some flexible magnets are thin enough to be pulled through printers, while others come with adhesive coatings, making them easy to attach printed photos, invitations, and more to.

Temporary Types of Magnets

Temporary magnets are typically stronger and can be lighter than permanent magnets. They are used to lift heavy material, to propel things, and to power machines and technology, including MRI machines, MagLev trains, and some motors and generators. Below we’ve noted some of the most popular types of temporary magnets.

Electromagnets can be made out of a material that is not magnetic at all. They can be made of copper for example, a nonmagnetic material. As long as there is electricity flowing through the object, the object becomes an electromagnet because the electricity creates a magnetic field.

types of magnets
Shanghai Maglev Train or ‘bullet train’ — it can reach speeds of 430 km/h – or 280 mph.

Electromagnets are used for many things. They can be found in many everyday electronics, used to separate metal materials, and used to propel things — like high-speed Maglev trains.

Resistive electromagnets are made out of normal metal, such as aluminum or copper. Resistive electromagnets are used to power machines (including MRI machines). They require a lot of electricity to run. Because their power consumption is so high, they produce a lot of heat and require a large-capacity cooling system.

Superconducting magnets are the strongest types of magnets. They do not need a magnet core to function. Rather, they are made of coils of wire made from special metal alloys which become superconductors when cooled to very low temperatures.

Hopefully this information has given you a better understanding of the varying types of magnets. Please share any questions or comment you have with us via the comment section below.