Removing Ink Stains

by Amy Gordon
(last updated March 4, 2019)

Have you ever had a ballpoint pen explode in your pocket? Or do you ever accidentally swipe a pen across your pants? It can actually be easy to remove most ink stains from clothes, although the more ink there is, the more difficult it can be. Ink stains from permanent markers are among the most difficult stains to remove—a shirt or pair of pants marked with permanent marker may be stained forever.

For most inks, try spraying the stain with hairspray. Saturate the stain with the hairspray, then wash in your machine as you normally would. If the stain is on a couch or carpet, spray it with hairspray until it is saturated, and then blot it with a clean, damp cloth as quickly as possible. If the ink is on a leather couch, do not use hairspray, as the hairspray can ruin the leather.

For another method, lay the ink-stained garment on a clean white cloth. Make sure there is not a layer of fabric from the garment between the stain and the cloth—you may need to put the cloth inside a pant leg or shirt arm. Dab rubbing alcohol at the ink blot with another clean white cloth. The ink should come off the garment onto the two white cloths, so don't use your good towels for this method. As you work, move the garment to a clean spot on the cloth so that the ink doesn't bleed back onto the garment. Rinse the stained area of the garment thoroughly.

Next, on a natural blend fabric, try using nail polish remover—blot as you did with the rubbing alcohol. Once you've removed as much ink as you think is going to come off, spread a thin layer of liquid laundry detergent or a paste of dry laundry detergent and water onto the stained area. Let the detergent sit for five to ten minutes, and then wash the stained garment in the washing machine as you normally would, without rinsing off the detergent layer. Check to see that the stain has been completely removed before putting the stained article of clothing in the dryer.

If the stain is from a permanent ink pen, you may not be able to remove it. If the shirt can be bleached, that may be the easiest and fastest solution. If hairspray doesn't work, lay the garment on a clean white cloth, and use rubbing alcohol just as you did for the regular ink pens. Any ink that comes off will end up on the towels, so watch—you may need to move the garment or towel around a lot. Follow this with nail polish remover and then acetone if the fabric of the garment is not rayon or acetate. Be sure to rinse the garment thoroughly between chemicals.

Most ink stains can come out of most fabrics if you are persistent. Permanent ink marks, however, may not come out.

Author Bio

Amy Gordon

Amy Gordon loves keeping things simple, natural, and safe so she can spend more time having fun. Every day she learns new things about making life at home easier and she loves to share it with you! ...


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