Close up of man's white button-up shirt with a ballpoint pen and blue ink stain on the pocket

How To Get Ink Stains Out Of Clothes

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Ever find an ink stain on clothes and you have no idea how it got there? Happens to me all the time. It helps to know what kind it is, but even if you don’t it’s possible to get the ink stain out most of the time.

There is one catch, though. If the ink has been set with heat, it will be more challenging to remove but it’s not impossible if you’re patient. So read on for my tips to get ink stains out of clothes — even old ink stains that have gone through the dryer.

Removing Water-Based Ink from Clothes

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

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

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.

Get Oil-Based Ink Out of Clothes

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.

Old Ink Stains

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 more 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. Until the spot has completely disappeared, keep it away from heat.

Dryer Sheets Can Remove Ink Stains

Dryer sheets contain oily surfactants to help them stop static cling. Those oily substances can also help dissolve oil-based ink stains. Dab both sides of the ink stain with a wet dryer sheet until the mess is gone. Then it’s a cool rinse, air dry and inspect before laundering.

Use Hand Sanitizer on Ink

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. Rinse the item under cool water and let it air dry then inspect it again before laundering.

Be sure the hand sanitizer is free of dyes, fragrances, and moisturizers which can cause new stains on your clothes.

Try Milk to Get Ink out of Clothes

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 On Some Clothes

You can often get permanent marker stains out of clothes with nail polish remover, but don’t use this on acetate or other synthetics—they’ll melt. For everything else, spot test first. If all is well, dab the stain with nail polish remover on both sides. Then rinse with cool water and air dry. Repeat until it’s gone then launder.

Vegetable Glycerin

Chemically, glycerin is a type of alcohol, and that makes it an excellent ink stain remover. To get ink out of clothes using this method, combine equal parts vegetable glycerin and powdered oxygen bleach, plus a drop or two of liquid dish soap. Dab it onto both sides of the stain, give it 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the ink, then rinse with cool water. Check after it air dries and repeat if needed.

Why Hairspray Doesn’t Remove Ink Stains Anymore.

Old hairspray formulas were great at removing ink stains because they contained a ton of alcohol. Modern formulas use much less, so they aren’t good at removing ink stains from clothes anymore.

So, next time you fall asleep while writing in your journal and wake up to find ink stains all over your face, sheets, and pajamas, you know how to get the stain out. Wait. That only happens to me? Go figure.

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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. 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.

  12. 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.

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