How To Get Ink Stains Out Of Clothes

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

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.

The best method to get ink stains out of clothes depends on the type of ink you’re dealing with. Removing ink from water-based pens is fairly easy, even when the stains have been there for a while. Others are oil-based and may take a bit more effort. So, start by identifying the type that caused the stain. Then follow the instructions below to get the stain out of your clothes.

How to Get Ink Stains out of Your Clothes

Time needed: 25 minutes.

Follow these steps to remove ink stains from clothing and other fabrics, even stains that have been set by the dryer. Keep in mind that the total time indicated is a starting point: the older an ink stain is, the longer you may need to let the stain-remover work.

  1. Identify the type of ink

    The best way to remove ink from clothing depends on the type of ink that caused the stain.

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

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

  2. Fresh stains from rollerball or gel pens.

    Remove fresh water-based ink stains with cold water followed by a hot wash. Press a clean paper towel on the spot to blot the ink without rubbing. Change towels if you need to, so you don’t spread the mess.

    Once you’re lifted most of the ink, turn the garment over and hold it under cold running water with the ink facing down to flush out the rest of the stain. Immediately launder the item using the hottest water permitted on the care label. Let it air dry then check to make sure the stain is completely gone.

  3. Dried water-based ink.

    Remove dried water-based ink stains with a pre-treatment and vinegar soak. Dab the stained area with a little liquid laundry detergent on both sides. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes but not so long that it dries. Next, combine equal parts vinegar and warm water and soak the stain in this solution overnight. The next morning, rinse it under warm water and launder immediately using the hottest temperature allowed on the care label.

  4. Fresh permanent marker.

    Fresh stains from oil-based inks like permanent markers come out by dabbing them with a paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol. Repeat on both sides of the stain, but don’t rub it or you may spread the mess. Immediately launder the item using the hottest setting permitted on the care label.

  5. Dried ballpoint pen.

    As long as the ballpoint pen, permanent marker, or other oil-based ink hasn’t been set with heat, you can remove it using rubbing alcohol followed by dish soap. Apply the alcohol to both sides of the stain with a cotton ball. Wait 10 minutes, then apply a small amount of liquid dish detergent to the spot and let it sit for another 10 minutes. Rinse the item under warm, running water with the stain facing down. Repeat the rubbing alcohol and dish soap applications if needed. Once the ink is gone, launder the garment in the hottest water permitted by the care label.

  6. Air dry to check

    The dryer’s heat can make stains more difficult, if not impossible to remove. When treating clothes for stains, allow them to air dry after you’ve used a stain remover. That way, if the stain reappears, you can still repeat the process or try another method. If the ink stain is completely gone after treatment, you’re safe to wash and dry the clothing as usual. If home-based methods don’t remove the ink stain, take it to a cleaners for treatment with professional-strength solvents.

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, like ballpoint pen stains. To remove ink from shirts and other clothing, get a dryer sheet wet and use it to blot the stain. (Here are more uses for used dryer sheets, too.)

Hand Sanitizer

Out of rubbing alcohol? One of the many uses for hand sanitizer is oil-based ink stain removal. Apply a small amount to a clean white towel and dab both sides of the stain without rubbing. Be sure the hand sanitizer you use 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 pen stains. 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 you can use buttermilk if you have any in the fridge.

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Nail Polish Remover

You can often get permanent marker stains out of clothes with nail polish remover. But note: this method can also damage clothing too. So, be sure to test an inconspicuous area with a small amount of nail polish remover on a cotton ball in a hidden spot. (The inside of the bottom seam is one such place.) If the item is color-fast, use nail polish remover on both sides of the stain then launder the item at the hottest temperature allowed on the care label.

Vegetable Glycerin

Chemically, glycerin is a type of alcohol, and that makes it an excellent stain remover. Mix 1 teaspoon each of glycerin and powdered oxygenated bleach, then stir in a few drops of liquid laundry detergent or dish soap. 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 warm water and immediately launder it. Air dry and check to make sure the 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 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.

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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.

  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.