How To Get Ink Stains Out Of Clothes

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A broken ballpoint pen or accident with a permanent marker does not mean your clothing is hopelessly stained.

A man's button up shirt with a ballpoint pen in the pocket which has leaked and left an ink spot that needs treatment to get out.Pin

The best method to get ink stains out of clothes depends on the type of pen that caused it. Removing ink from water-based pens like rollerballs or gel pens is fairly easy, even when the stains have been there for a while. Oil-based ink like that in permanent markers or ballpoint pens takes a bit more effort but is not impossible. The one catch is that if the stain has been through the dryer or otherwise exposed to heat you may need repeat applications or to take it to a professional.

Before You Begin

You will need at least 15 minutes to remove most ink stains, and possibly longer if repeat applications are required. Plan to wash and air-dry the item at the end, so you can inspect the area. Until the stain is completely gone, do not expose it to heat, use warm liquids, or put it in the dryer. Heat can make ink stains more difficult, if not impossible to remove. If you need to speed up drying time, use a fan or a blow dryer on the cool, no-heat setting.

Water-Based Ink

Water-based inks include rollerball pens, gel pens, fountain pens, drawing pens, and kids’ washable markers.

Removing Fresh Ink Stains

Blot the stain with a paper towel dipped in cold, soapy water. Change towels if needed, so you don’t spread the mess. Once you’ve lifted most of the ink, turn the garment over and hold it under cold running water to flush out the rest of the stain. Repeat as needed until the spot is completely gone then let the item air-dry and inspect it. If there are no traces of discoloration, launder the item as usual.

Dried Stains from Water-Based Ink

Remove dried water-based ink stains by dabbing the area with a little liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish detergent on both sides. Let this sit for 5 minutes to loosen the stain. Next, combine equal parts vinegar and cool water in a bowl. Without rinsing away the liquid detergent, submerge the stained area in this solution and let it soak overnight. The next morning, rinse the garment stain-side down under cold water and let it air dry. Repeat the process if needed. If the spot has completely disappeared, launder the item as usual.

Oil-Based Ink

Oil-based inks are found in ballpoint pens, permanent markers (Sharpies), dry-erase markers, highlighters, and felt tip pens.

Fresh Ink Stains

To remove fresh stains from oil-based inks like permanent markers, first slide a thick towel or piece of cardboard under the garment to avoid spreading the stain while you remove it. Then, dab the area with a paper towel moistened with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Repeat on both sides of the stain, but don’t rub or you may spread the mess. Once the stain has disappeared, hold the item beneath cold running water to flush the area then let it air-dry. If you see traces of ink, repeat the process. Otherwise, launder as usual.

Dried Stains from Oil-Based Ink

As long as ballpoint pen, permanent marker, or other oil-based ink hasn’t been set with heat, you can remove it using isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol followed by dish soap. First, slide a thick towel or piece of cardboard beneath the item to protect surrounding surfaces. Then, dampen a cotton ball with alcohol and saturate both sides of the spot. Do not rub or you may spread the ink stain. Wait 5 minutes, apply a small amount of liquid dish detergent to the spot, and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Rinse the item under cool water and let it air dry. Repeat the process if needed, then launder as usual.

Other Ways to Get Ink out of Clothing

If you don’t have the things needed for the above methods, here are a few alternative laundry hacks to get ink out of clothes. Remember, no matter what you use, rinse the item under cool water and let it air-dry then inspect it. Until the spot has completely disappeared, do not use hot or warm water or put the item in the dryer, since heat can make ink stains permanent.

Wet Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets contain oily surfactants to help them stop static cling. Those oily substances can also help dissolve oil-based ink stains. Try dabbing at both sides of oil-based ink stains with a wet dryer sheet until the mess is gone. Rinse the item under cool water and let it air dry then inspect it again before laundering.

Hand Sanitizer

You can also use hand sanitizer to remove oil-based ink stains. Apply a small amount to a clean white towel and dab both sides of the stain without rubbing. Be sure the hand sanitizer is free of dyes, fragrances, and moisturizers which can cause new stains on your clothes. Rinse the item under cool water and let it air dry then inspect it again before laundering.


To use milk on water-based ink stains, fill a shallow bowl with enough to cover the fabric’s stained part. Let this soak overnight then rinse with cool water and let the item air-dry. If the stain remains, try another method.

Nail Polish Remover

You can often get permanent marker stains out of clothes with nail polish remover, but this method can also damage clothing. Do not use it on acetate or other synthetics, since the acetone in nail polish remover can melt them. For all other materials, test an inconspicuous area with a small amount of nail polish remover on a cotton ball in a hidden spot. Dab the nail polish remover on both sides of the ink stain using a paper towel or cotton swab. Flush the area with cool water and let it air dry so you can make sure the ink stain is completely gone before laundering.

Vegetable Glycerin

Chemically, glycerin is a type of alcohol, and that makes it an excellent stain remover for both water-based and oil-based ink stains. Mix 1 teaspoon each of glycerin and powdered oxygenated bleach, then stir in a few drops of liquid laundry or dish detergent. Dab this onto both sides of the ink stain with a cotton swab or paper towel. Wait 5-10 minutes, then rinse the item under cool water and let it air dry. Check to make sure the stain has completely disappeared before laundering. If the stain remains, try another method.

Why Not Just Use Hairspray?

It used to be that a generous spritz of hairspray could remove ink stains from clothing. That’s because older hair sprays contained a lot of alcohol. Modern formulas use a much lower amount. So, if you tried hairspray and it didn’t work, use one of these methods to get ink stains out of your clothing instead.

When to Consult a Professional

Do not attempt to remove ink stains from non-washable fabrics like silk, velvet, damask, or jacquard at home. Professional dry cleaners have special solvents which they use to treat these materials. You should also consult a dry cleaner for stains on vintage or irreplaceable items. Another time to take it to a professional is if you have unsuccessfully used DIY methods to remove ink stains on clothing. Be sure to tell the dry cleaner about the methods you tried, so they know what solvents to rule out.

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  1. I left a multi colour ball point pen in my pocket and it stained multiple clothing items then it went through the dryer what’s the best way to get these stains out of different fabric clothing?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      The directions don’t vary with the fabric, so treat them all using the instructions for dried ballpoint ink.

  2. I am trying to get ink stain (ball point from a white onesie for an experiment. We are soaking it in just milk. How long should I soak it for/ The ink is from Sunday.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That method recommends soaking clothes with pen ink in milk overnight.

  3. This is a great idea for old stains! Going to try on 6 BIG old INK stains on my hubby’s work shorts, as have already tried so many other options x

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Go get ’em, Jill!

  4. My husband leaves pens in his clothes ALL . THE . TIME !!! I tell him it’s not my job to check his pockets … I do a million other jobs besides laundry – I refuse to check pockets too.

    The ball points don’t hurt, but the Uniballs? UGH. THAT just wiped out a whole load of lights. I’ll be trying at least one, if not all of your suggestions.

    Thanks so much.

  5. Rhonda Monroe says:

    Oh gosh thanks. I have a very detailed embroidery piece that I have invested at least 12-15 hours worth of work into already and came back only to find that my toddler had taken a pen and marked right across the fabric. It was so disheartening! I’m going to try your tips (though laundering will be quite tricky as it’s a delicate piece of work). Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh my goodness, that must have been heartbreaking!

  6. Great tips – gave me an idea to use nail polish remover as a solvent – similar ingredient to rubbing alcohol – acetone rather than ethanol – worked brilliantly ????

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to know you found a solution that works!

  7. I am a cook and i have to have a pen with me at all times. Today I left my pen in my arm pocket and washed my WHITE chefs coat. Thank you for this tip you might have just saved my job or me a lot of money!!!!! ????????????

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s hard enough keeping a chef’s coat white! Glad to have helped with the ink stain.

  8. Life saving! My boyfriend has a huge habit of leaving pens in his pocket and washing them. I’ve been able to save every article of clothing that was affected!!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to hear it!

  9. I need to try this. My husband is great for getting ink stains on his shirts. I can’t tell you how many shirts I have thrown away.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I used to throw out too many, too, Bev. Hope you find this useful!

  10. I have this ridiculous habit of crossing my arms while holding a pen at work. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve come home with ink on my clothes. Thanks for the tips.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome!

  11. Kimberlee says:

    Thanks for this info and the tips on removing ink stains. I have a son that is a waiter and sometimes leaves a pen in his pants pocket – what a mess. I read in my stain book about the alcohol and that did work some but didn’t know about using hairspray or the other stain mix you mentioned. Pinned the info so I can refer back if I need it again.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thanks for Pinning it, Kimberlee. I hope it helps!

  12. Regina L. L. Wells says:

    Absolutely love these tips! Thank you! I just got black pen ink on a pair of cream/gold threaded pants in court yesterday and almost cursed out loud. I will be trying these…your post is right on time.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hope they helped, Regina!