Abstract Isotopic composition of refractory elements can be modified, by physical processes such as distillation and sputtering, in unexpected patterns. Distillation enriches the heavy isotopes in the residue and the light isotopes in the vapour. However, current models appear to be inadequate to describe the detailed mass dependence, in particular for large fractionations. Coarse- and fine-grained inclusions from the Allende meteorite exhibit correlated isotope effects in Mg both as mass-dependent fractionation and residual anomalies. This isotope pattern can be duplicated by high temperature distillation in the laboratory. A ubiquitous property of meteoritic inclusions for Mg as well as for most of the other elements, where measurements exist, is mass-dependent fractionation. In contrast, terrestrial materials such as microtektites, tektite buttons as well as lunar orange and green glass spheres have normal Mg isotopic composition. A subset of interplanetary dust particles labelled as chondritic aggregates exhibit excesses in 26Mg and deuterium anomalies. Sputtering is expected to be a dominant mechanism in the destruction of grains within interstellar dust clouds. An active proto-sun as well as the present solar-wind and solar-flare flux are of sufficient intensity to sputter significant amounts of material. Laboratory experiments in Mg show widespread isotope effects including residual 26Mg excesses and mass dependent fractionation. It is possible that the 26Mg excesses in interplanetary dust is related to sputtering by energetic solar-wind particles. The implication of the laboratory distillation and sputtering effects are discussed and contrasted with the anomalies in meteoritic inclusions and other extraterrestrial materials we have access to.