How to Remove Ink From Jeans

pens leaking in back jean pocket

The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

A pen without a cap gets left in a pocket, an open pen gets dropped into a lap, or a toddler goes wild with a marker and you're left with an ink stain on jeans. Luckily, depending on the type of ink, the stain can be removed with just a few products and a little patience.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Large sink
  • Clothes dryer, drying rack or outdoor clothesline

Materials

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Cotton swabs
  • Paper towels
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen bleach

Instructions

items for laundering jeans
The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

Before You Begin

If the ink stain happens while you are wearing the jeans, immediately blot away as much of the ink as possible with a paper towel or napkin. Don't rub! That will push the ink deeper into the fibers or spread it so the stain becomes larger. Work from the outside edge of the stain toward the center to prevent spreading. Keep moving to a clean area of the towel and continue blotting until no more ink is transferred to the paper towel.

If the jeans are labeled as dry clean only, blot as recommended and head to the dry cleaner as soon as possible. Be sure to point out and identify the stain to get the best results from the cleaner.

Stain Type Ink or dye-based
Detergent Type Isopropyl alcohol and heavy-duty detergent
Water Temperature Warm or cold
Cycle Type Normal

Tip

These stain removal techniques are safe to use on any color of jeans from white to red to blue.

Instructions for Removing Ballpoint Ink From Jeans

  1. Blot Away the Ink

    If the ink stain is fresh, use a paper towel to blot away as much ink as possible. If the ink has dried, place several layers of paper towels under the stained area and dampen the ink with a few drops of water. Blot the dampened stain with a paper towel to remove any loose ink. Keeping moving to a clean area of the towel to prevent spreading the ink.

    Work from the outside edges toward the center of the stain to keep it from getting larger. Keep blotting until no more ink is transferred to a clean area of the paper towel.

    blotting ink on a pair of jeans
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Treat With Isopropyl Alcohol

    With the paper toweling still under the stained area to prevent the transfer of the ink to other parts of the jeans, dip a cotton swab into isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Starting at one edge of the stain, rub the swab on the ink. Use a fresh swab as the ink is transferred to the cotton tip.

    Work slowly to prevent spreading the ink and continue until no more ink transfers to the swab.

    For large stains, use an eyedropper to apply the alcohol and blot with a paper towel. It may be helpful to allow the alcohol to sit on older stains for 15 minutes or so to begin breaking down the ink before blotting.

    using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

    Tip

    In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer or hair spray to treat an ink stain. They will not be as effective as plain rubbing alcohol. Look for products that contain as much alcohol as possible. Do not use hair spray or hand sanitizer that contains conditioners or other ingredients that may stain the fabric.

    Vodka and other clear liquors can also be used as an ink remover.

  3. Wash the Jeans

    Rinse the stained area with cold water and apply a dab of heavy-duty detergent (one that contains enzymes to help break down stains like Tide or Persil) directly to the stained area. Work it in with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wash the jeans as usual in warm or cold water with detergent.

    rinsing jeans with tap water
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  4. Check the Stain

    After washing, carefully check the stained area to make sure the ink is completely removed. Do not place the jeans in a hot dryer until the stain is gone. If the stain remains, repeat the stain removal steps.

    If you don't have time to treat the jeans again right away, they can be allowed to air dry—just not dried at a high temperature in the dryer.

    ensuring the stain is gone
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  5. Dry the Jeans

    Once the stain is removed, the jeans can be tossed in the dryer, hung over a drying rack or outdoor clothesline.

    drying jeans
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

Instructions for Removing Felt-tip Marker or Ink From Jeans

Since most felt-tip markers contain colored dyes, they require a slightly different treatment to remove stains.

  1. Blot and Treat

    When felt-tip stains occur, blot with a paper towel and treat with rubbing alcohol just as you would ball-point ink stains.

    blotting jeans with a paper towel
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  2. Presoak Before Washing

    In a large sink or plastic tub, mix a solution of warm water and oxygen bleach following package directions. Submerge the jeans and allow them to soak for eight hours or overnight.

    presoaking jeans
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  3. Pretreat the Stain and Launder

    Use a dab of heavy-duty laundry detergent to pretreat the stained area, rubbing in the detergent with your fingers. Allow the detergent to work for 10 minutes and wash as usual.

    pretreating the stain
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  4. Check the Stain and Dry the Jeans

    After washing, check the stained area to make sure the stain is gone. If not, repeat the stain removal steps. Do not dry the jeans in the dryer at high heat until the stain is completely gone.

    laundering the jeans
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Tips When Nothing Works to Remove the Ink

Permanent ink from a Sharpie is usually impossible to remove completely and old ink stains may be embedded too deep to remove. What then?