How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes

Different Methods for Different Types of Ink

Illustration depicting products to remove ballpoint ink stains
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

Whether you forgot to remove the pen from your pocket, had a mishap at the office, or your little one decided to draw you a picture—on your shirt—ink stains are never a welcome sight. Luckily, it is possible to remove ink stains from clothing using common household products. Never wash and dry clothing before removing the stain—the dryer will set the stain and make it much more difficult to remove.

Stain type Water-based, dye-based, oil-based 
Detergent type Liquid laundry detergent
Water temperature Hot
Cycle type Varies by fabric type
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Watch Now: 3 Ways to Remove Ink From Clothes

Project Metrics

Working time: 20 minutes

Total time: 2 to24 hours

Before You Begin

The first step is to determine the type of ink that caused your stain. Water-based ink stains, such as from washable markers, are some of the easiest to remove. A permanent ink stain (including those from most permanent highlighters and markers) can be a bigger challenge, but ballpoint ink responds well to most methods.

Tip

Fresh ink stains are easier to remove than dried ones. If you are lucky enough to spot an ink stain before it dries, cover the stain with salt, dab gently with a wet paper towel, then brush off the salt. Repeat until the stain is gone.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Liquid laundry detergent

Tools

  • Clean, dry towels or cloths
  • Shallow bowl or tub

Remove Water-Based Ink Stains From Clothes

  1. Blot the Stain

    Lay the stained clothing on top of a clean, dry towel or cloth. Apply water to the stained area and blot with another clean cloth. While you blot, the stain will begin to transfer onto the cleaning cloth.

  2. Add Detergent to the Spot

    Apply a small amount of liquid laundry detergent onto the ink stain and allow the fabric to sit for three to five minutes.

  3. Wash the Garment in Hot Water

Wash normally, using the hottest water recommended for the fabric type. Before drying, check to make sure the entire stain was removed. If any trace of the stained area remains, repeat the cleaning steps.

Remove Permanent Ink Stains From Clothes

Rubbing alcohol is often effective on permanent ink stains. The liquid may not remove the stain completely (it is called "permanent ink" for a reason), but it will help to at least fade the mark. If the fabric can be bleached, you may have a better chance of removing the stain altogether.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Clean white towel
  1. Test the Fabric

    Grab a clean white towel and put the stained item on top. Test the rubbing alcohol on a hidden seam of the fabric. If the item doesn't seem damaged, move on to the next step.

  2. Blot the Stain with Rubbing Alcohol

    Use a paper towel or clean cloth to blot rubbing alcohol on the stain. This will dilute the stain and make it easier to remove it in the wash. The towel underneath may become wet and discolored from the ink leaching out—if this happens, move the garment to a clean, dry section of the towel to prevent the area from reabsorbing any of the removed ink. Continue this process until there is no more ink to remove. Rinse the stained area completely free of the rubbing alcohol; multiple rinses may be necessary.

    If you are trying to remove ballpoint pen ink, after using the rubbing alcohol apply regular liquid laundry detergent onto the area and let it sit for three to five minutes.

  3. Check the Fabric and Wash the Garment

If the stain is gone, wash your garment in a regular cycle using the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. If the stain remains, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water. Follow package directions for how much product to use per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours. If the stain persists, mix a fresh solution and repeat. Remember to check that the stain is completely removed before drying the clothes.

Other Treatments for Tough Ink Stains on Clothes

Nail Polish Remover

Although it can work on permanent ink stains, nail polish remover can damage fabrics. Test it on an inner seam or a hidden area of the clothing first. If all goes well, blot in the same way as instructed with the rubbing alcohol. Be sure to move the stained area to a clean, dry section of a towel as the ink is removed. When finished, rinse the nail polish remover completely from the fabric and launder the clothing as recommended on the care label.

Hairspray

Most hairsprays contain alcohol, which helps dissolve the ink and remove the stain. Try to find a hairspray with a high alcohol content, often the least expensive brands are best. Place a clean towel underneath the fabric where the stain is, spray the stain thoroughly with the hairspray and blot with another clean towel until the stain is gone. Launder the clothing as recommended.

Milk

Fill a shallow bowl or another container with enough milk to cover the ink stain when the fabric is submerged and let soak overnight. Remove the next day and launder the clothing as recommended.

Vinegar and Cornstarch

First, wet the ink stain with the vinegar. Then create a paste with two parts vinegar and three parts cornstarch and work into the fabric. Let the paste dry completely before washing the item of clothing.

Tip

If the garment is dry clean only, point out and identify the stain to your professional cleaner. If you are using a home dry cleaning kit, be sure to treat the stain with the provided stain remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag. See our guide for more stain removal tips.