How To Get Ink Stains Out Of Clothes

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Use these methods to get ink stains out of clothing and fabrics, even if the stain is old or has been through the dryer.

Man's button up shirt with a broken ballpoint pen making an ink stain on the front pocket

The best method to get ink stains out of clothes depends on the type of ink you’re dealing with. Some inks are water-based. It’s easy to get those stains out. Others are oil-based and may take a bit more effort. So, start by identifying the type that caused the stain. Then follow the steps below to get the stain out of your clothes.

Identify the Type of Ink

If you aren’t sure what type of ink your pen uses, find it on the list below.

Water-based Inks:

  • Rollerball pens
  • Gel pens
  • Fountain pens
  • Drawing (dip) pens
  • Kids’ washable markers

Oil-based Inks:

  • Ballpoint pens
  • Permanent markers (Sharpies)
  • Dry-erase markers
  • Highlighter pens
  • Felt-tip pens

If you still have the pen that caused the problem, it’s easy to figure out what type of ink you’re dealing with. But what if it’s an old stain, maybe one that’s been through the dryer a few times? If it’s lasted through the wash, it’s probably an oil-based ink stain.

Steps to Get Ink Stains out of Your Clothes

Time Required: About 25 minutes

Use the information above to identify the type of ink and then follow the appropriate method to get rid of the stain. Keep in mind that the older an ink stain is, the longer you may need to let the stain-remover work.

 Equipment You Need

  • Paper towels
  • Plastic cling film
  • Shallow bowl (for large stains)

 Materials You Need

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Color-safe bleach – (Oxyclean is one)
  • White vinegar – for water-based stains
  • Rubbing alcohol – for oil-based stains

Removing Fresh Water-Based Ink Stains

Use a clean paper towel to blot the ink. Be sure to dab, not rub–you don’t want to spread the ink–and rotate the towel if you need to, so you’re always blotting with a clean spot. Once you’ve got most of the ink up, turn the fabric over and hold it under cold running water with the ink facing down to flush out more of the ink.

Next, launder the clothing using the hottest water permitted on the care label. Let it air dry after laundering and check to make sure the stain is completely gone. (Sometimes, ink stains reappear as the fabric dries, and the dryer’s heat could make it harder to remove.) If it is, then you’re safe to wash and dry it as usual in the future. If not, repeat these steps.

Removing Old Water-Based Ink Stains

Spread a sheet of plastic cling film on your counter to protect it, and top it with a stack of paper towels. Place your clothing stain-side up on the paper towels and dab it with a little liquid laundry detergent on both sides. Let this pre-treatment sit for 5 to 10 minutes, but don’t wait so long that it dries.

Next, combine 2 tablespoons of warm water and 2 of white vinegar. Saturate a folded paper towel with this mixture and place it on the stain. Spread a sheet of plastic cling film over the stain to prevent evaporation. If it’s a larger stain, fill a bowl with equal parts warm water and white vinegar, then dunk the stained part of the garment in the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Either way, let it sit overnight, then rinse it under running water and launder using the hottest temperature on the care label.

Removing Oil-Based Ink Stains

Put a piece of cling film on your counter and top it with a stack of paper towels, then the ink-stained item, with the stain facing up. Use a folded paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol to dab the stain–but don’t rub it, or you’ll spread the mess. Refold the towel as needed, so you’re always working with a clean spot.

Next, pour a little liquid laundry detergent on the spot and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then launder the item in the hottest water permitted by the care label. Let it air dry and check to make sure the stain is completely gone. If there’s any ink remaining, repeat the steps above or try one of the ink-removal methods below.

Other Ways to Get Ink out of Clothing

If you don’t have the equipment or supplies needed to use the methods above to remove ink stains, don’t give up hope. Here are a few alternative laundry hacks to get ink out of clothes. Remember, no matter the method you use, launder the item once you can’t see the stain. Then check again before you put it in the dryer to make sure the stain hasn’t reappeared.

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. So, if you have any dryer sheets on hand, try getting one wet with warm water, then use it to blot the ink stain. Be sure you don’t rub, so you aren’t spreading the stain, and switch to a new dryer sheet as needed until the stain is gone. (Here are more uses for used dryer sheets, too.)

Hand Sanitizer

Out of rubbing alcohol? One of the many uses for hand sanitizer includes getting oil-based ink stains out of fabrics. Be sure the one you’re using is free of dyes, fragrances, and moisturizers because they can cause new stains on your clothes.


Grandma’s secret to getting ink out of clothes: an overnight milk soak. This method works best with water-based inks. It’s as easy as filling a shallow bowl with enough milk to cover the fabric’s stained part. Some people add an equal part of white vinegar to the milk or use buttermilk if you have any in the fridge.

Nail Polish Remover

You can often get permanent marker stains out of clothes with nail polish remover. This method can also damage clothing too. So, be sure to do a spot test with a small amount of nail polish remover on a cotton swab in a hidden spot. (The inside of the bottom seam is one such place.) If the item is color-fast, use nail polish remover instead of rubbing alcohol in the method above.

Vegetable Glycerin

Chemically, glycerin is a type of alcohol and that makes it an excellent stain remover. To get out ink stains with it, mix a tablespoon each of glycerin and powdered oxygenated bleach. Stir in a few drops of liquid dish detergent, and dab this onto both sides of the ink stain. Wait for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse the item using the hottest temperature permitted by the care label. Air dry and check to make sure stain is gone, then launder as usual.

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 hairspray formulas contained a lot of alcohol. These days, we know that dries out hair, so 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.

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  1. 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!

    2. I can do all of the steps above except for hottest water due to I have colored shirts & they will shrink in hot water, so will this work with cold water?

    3. Katie Berry says:

      The idea is to use the hottest setting the fabric can handle, so if yours needs to be washed in cold water then use that. 🙂

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

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