If you’ve ever accidentally grazed your sleeve on a piece of paper with still-wet ink or noticed a stain only after you wash and dry your garment, you know how difficult it can be to remove ink stains from clothes.
Luckily, in the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab we’ve tested dozens of commercial stain removers and DIY stain removing methods for many of the most common household stains, so we know just what to do to get garments back in tip-top shape.
Different ink stains require different care, so make sure you follow the appropriate how-to guide depending on if you’re trying to remove ballpoint pen, felt-tip pen or permanent marker ink. All of these methods should only be used on washable fabrics and should first be tested on a small hidden corner of your garment to make sure they won’t cause any damage.
Two of our recommended methods use rubbing alcohol as the main ingredient. Because it is flammable, always use it away from open flames and launder all garments thoroughly after treating an ink stain with alcohol. Never try to remove ink stains from dry-clean only garments at home.
How to Remove Ballpoint Pen Ink
Good news: Fresh ballpoint ink is the easiest type of ink to remove from washable clothing like cotton blouses and denim jeans. As with any stain, the quicker you get to it, the easier it will be to remove.
What You’ll Need:
- Flush the stain with rubbing alcohol. If it’s a small stain, place a paper towel under the stain and use an eyedropper to apply rubbing alcohol onto the stain. For a larger spot, pour the alcohol into a small dish, immerse the stained area and soak for 15 minutes.
- Blot the stain with a clean paper towel. Continue sponging and blotting the stain until no further ink is released from the fabric.
- Rinse and apply a pre-wash stain remover. Rinse under cool water, apply a pre-wash stain remover and wash the garment on the hottest setting with a bleach that’s safe for the fabric — opt for a color-safe formula for colored clothes.
- Check that the ink stain is completely removed. If the stain is still there, repeat the steps above one more time or until the ink is gone. Toss the item into the dryer only after the ink is completely gone.
How to Remove Felt-Tip Pen Ink
Removing felt-tip ink is a bit more time-consuming — but not impossible, as long as you follow this guide.
What You’ll Need:
- Hot water
- Stain-removing laundry detergent
- Rinse the stain under cold water. Flush out as much of the ink as you can.
- Soak garment in a mixture of hot water, bleach-free laundry detergent and ammonia. Fill a basin with hot water and pour in a bleach-free, liquid laundry detergent, like one of the detergents we’ve tested in our Lab. The amount you’d use to hand wash a blouse should do, plus a couple of splashes of ammonia. Stir the solution and immerse the garment. Give the stain a rub with your fingers, and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Allow stubborn stains to soak overnight, giving it a rub every so often. To help it along, mix up a fresh solution or add a bit more ammonia.
- Rinse and wash the garment as usual. When the stain is gone or lightened as much as possible, rinse the garment, rub in a bit more liquid laundry detergent and wash as usual. As with any stain, air-dry the garment until you are certain the stain is completely removed. Putting it in a hot dryer will set the stain, making it harder to remove.
How to Remove Permanent Marker Ink
Removing permanent ink isn’t always possible. In addition to being formulated to last forever, the success of removing this stain is largely dependent on the material, color of the ink and how long the stain has been allowed to set in. The steps below may work on some fresh permanent ink stains, but if they’re unsuccessful, try a dedicated stain remover for permanent ink like Carbona Stain Devils #3 or Amodex Ink & Stain Remover. As a last resort, if your garment is bleach-safe, try using bleach to remove the stain.
What You’ll Need:
- Sponge rubbing alcohol into the stain. Place an old towel or a paper towel underneath the permanent ink stain. Pour rubbing alcohol onto another paper towel and use it to sponge around and directly on the stain. If the towel underneath the stain becomes too stained, remove and replace it with a clean one and continue to sponge until no more ink is being removed from the garment.
- Rinse the garment. Rinse the garment thoroughly in cool water. If the stain is not completely removed yet, you can try the above step once more or try an ink stain remover.
- Wash the garment as usual. If the stain is gone, wash the garment as you normally would and air-dry until you’re sure all of the stain is gone.
How to Get Ink Out of Leather
If your pen accidentally brushed up against your purse, don’t worry. Just dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and lightly rub the stain to wipe away the marks. If your purse has a shiny patina or a glossy surface, it’s probably been coated in a leather protectant and should be easier to treat. If rubbing alcohol doesn’t do the trick, try a commercial product designed specifically for cleaning leather, like Good Housekeeping Seal star Weiman Leather Cleaner & Conditioner.
If that doesn’t work or your purse is made of unfinished leather, take it to a dry cleaner that specializes in treating leather. To make marks, like ink, easier to remove the next time, apply a leather protectant, like GH Seal star Furniture Clinic Leather Protection Cream, to purses, sofas and other finished leather items.
Can you get ink out of clothes after drying?
If you’ve realized a bit too late that the shirt you’re folding fresh out of the dryer has an ink stain you forgot to remove or you’ve let a fresh stain sit a bit too long, you may not be completely out of luck. You can try the methods above first, but if you’ve been unsuccessful, turn to stronger commercial stain removers. These products often contain ingredients to target all types of ink. Just be sure to follow the label directions when using them and test them in a hidden spot first to be sure they are safe for the fabrics you are treating. Another option is the Shout Advanced Action Gel, which even works to remove stains that have gone through the dryer.
Can you use other DIY methods to get ink out of clothes?
Over the years, hairspray has earned a reputation for removing ink stains because of the alcohol in its formula. However, many of today’s sprays contain less alcohol, so they aren’t as effective on ink stains as older formulas may have been, plus you still have to deal with removing the sticky hairspray residue. Other DIY methods that you may have seen touted as effective ink removers include vinegar, toothpaste and even hand sanitizer. Though the alcohol in hand sanitizer may budge it a bit (as will most other DIY methods containing alcohol), we’ve never found any of these alternatives to be effective. If you really want to tackle ink, stick with the above options.
Does rubbing alcohol damage clothes?
Rubbing alcohol in small amounts should not cause damage to most fabrics. As with any store-bought or other DIY stain remover, you should test it on small hidden spot before using it on the visible part of any garment.
Lauren is a senior editor at Hearst. She was previously the senior editor at WomansDay.com and the home editor at GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com. Her book club, ramen, and jean jackets are a few of her favorite things.