How to Remove Permanent Marker Stains From Wood

person writing on wood with permanent marker

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We've all had that moment. You know the one: When you first discover that your permanent marker is bleeding through the paper and all over your desk, or finding that your toddler has turned the hardwood floors into her own canvas. While permanent marker can seriously damage some surfaces, like marble, the good news is, it can be removed from most wooden surfaces with a little bit of patience and elbow grease. Plus, you probably already have most of these do-it-yourself treatments in your pantry or medicine cabinet.

Before you tackle your permanent marker stain, be sure to test these removal methods in an inconspicuous spot. If your wood is finished, unfinished, or stained, you may experience different results.

Ready to get removing? Try one of these at-home cleaning solutions to remove permanent marker from most wood surfaces.

Rubbing Alcohol

Regular old rubbing alcohol is an extremely effective—and extremely affordable—solution for permanent marker stains in wood. Grab some isopropyl alcohol from your medicine cabinet and pour it onto a clean, dry, cotton cloth. Dab, don't rub, the spot with the cloth until the marker stain begins to lift. Then, wipe away the residue with a slightly damp cloth and pat dry. It may take a few rounds to completely remove the stain, but stop applying the alcohol if you notice stain or discoloration on your cotton cloth.

Vodka

Yup, this classic spirit can be a highly effective cleaner for permanent marker stains. Opt for plain vodka, making sure to avoid flavored variations—the sugars in flavored vodkas can actually make your stain worse. Like the rubbing alcohol method, soak a clean, dry, cotton cloth in vodka, and lightly dab the marker stain. You should start to notice the marker lifting from the wood surface onto your cloth.

Nail Polish Remover

If acetone-based nail polish remover can remove stubborn gel manicures, it makes sense that it can battle permanent marker, too, right? Use a clean, dry cloth to lightly dab your stain with an acetone-based remover. Avoid rubbing the stain, as nail polish remover can damage wood finishes. We highly recommend testing this method in an inconspicuous spot before really getting to work.

Hairspray

Another staple from your medicine cabinet, hairspray can do a lot more than keep your coif in place. In fact, hairspray is known to remove all kinds of stains—from permanent marker stains on wood, to stains from pen ink in fabrics. Simply spray the stain with a little bit of hairspray and wipe the residue away with a cloth.You should see the stain begin to lift immediately.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a must-have ingredient in tons of homemade householder cleaners, but it can be an effective stain remover, too. Create a paste with baking soda and water, and gently rub it into your marker stain using circular motions. If you don't have baking soda on-hand, toothpaste—not gel toothpaste—can have the same effect.

Melamine Foam

Otherwise known as Magic Erasers, melamine foam can be used to remove spots from finished wood surfaces. Stick to very gentle spot treatments, as rubbing the surface too hard can lift the finish and damage the wood.

Dry-Erase Markers

If you're feeling extra bold—and your wood surface is painted or stained with opaque stain—try drawing over the permanent marker with a dry-eraser marker. Then, wipe the markings away. It seems counterintuitive, but often works on finished surfaces. Don't try this trick on unfinished surfaces.

Fine Grit Sandpaper

Heads up: This technique should only be used on unfinished wood. Using a fine grit sand paper on finished or stained wood will—with certainty—remove the finish, stain, or paint. However, if you need to remove permanent marker from unfinished wood or lumber, a fine grit sandpaper is your best bet. Why? Marker can permeate unfinished wood and lumber. Sanding the area with a fine grit will gently remove a few (minor) layers of the wood's surface, and lighten the stain. Avoid sanding too aggressively in one area though—you risk wearing a spot into the wood's surface. Use larger, broader strokes instead.

If you're removing permanent marker from a wood surface, be prepared to go through several rounds of very gentle cleaning with a clean, dry, cotton cloth. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing the stain, especially with an abrasive sponge, brush, or cloth—this may remove the wood's finish or damage its surface. Always be sure to test your solution in a hidden spot—like the inside of a table leg or bottom, back corner of a desk—in case it damages your item's finish or surface.

It is possible to save wood surfaces from marker stains, but if you're dealing with a particularly tough permanent marker stain and the above techniques just don't cut it, leave it to the professionals and contact a woodworker or furniture restoration service in your area.