How to Remove Ink Stains From Leather: 2 Effective Methods

Ink stain removed from leather clothing with cotton swab

The Spruce / Cristina Tudor

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 25 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to 15

Ink stains can be tough to remove from any fabric, but leather presents unique challenges that require more delicate care. Leather is porous, allowing stains to penetrate deep into the hide, and ink is made of dye and oil, making it particularly stubborn.

However, there are at-home stain removal methods you can use with products you likely already have in your cupboard. Read on to see how to get the best results when getting ink out of leather sofas, chairs, car seats, and more.

Before You Begin

It's important to know what type and grade of leather you are working with to remove ink stains safely. Some leather pieces are not dye stable. Others have protective coatings that can be damaged by stain removal methods.

  • Aniline: Aniline leather is a full-grained hide that has been treated with the chemical aniline. It is prized for the ability to see the pores and imperfections on the hide. Aniline leather is exceptionally soft, but it does not have a protective coating preventing the finish from being stained.
  • Semi-aniline: Processed with a thicker protective coating than aniline, semi-aniline is more resistant to stains, more durable, and less expensive than aniline.
  • Pigmented or Protected: The natural leather is coated with a polymer that contains dye pigments to create the most durable, scuff-resistant, and least susceptible to stains type of leather for furniture.
Stain Type Dye, oil, or resin-based
Detergent Type Rubbing alcohol, leather conditioner
Water Temperature Warm to cool

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 absorbent white cloth
  • 1 sink or large bowl

Materials

  • 1 bottle isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • 1 box cotton swabs
  • 1 container leather conditioner

Instructions

How to Remove Ink Stains From Leather

This ink-removal technique works well on furniture, from sofas and chairs to car seats.

Warning

You should not use these ink stain removal practices on nubuck or suede leather. Call a professional upholstery cleaner or take the garment to a dry cleaner that specializes in their care.

  1. Test the Leather

    Dampen a cotton swab or white cotton cloth with rubbing alcohol. dab the swab on the leather in an inconspicuous area, such as in the interior seam or hem, to be sure the alcohol does not damage or discolor the material. Don’t use a colored cloth because it can transfer dye to light-colored leather.

  2. Dab the Stain

    Dip a fresh cotton swab or white cloth in the alcohol. Working from the outside inward to prevent the stain from spreading, gently dab the stain. Replace the swab or cloth as you see the ink being extracted to avoid re-staining the garment. Continue to blot gently until the ink is gone.

  3. Air-Dry and Condition the Leather

    When there are no more traces of ink, treat the garment with a leather conditioner to help it remain supple and smooth. Allow the treated section of leather to air-dry after or between treatments. If you're treating your car's leather seats, you can open the doors of your car in a closed garage to increase air circulation.

Tip

If the ink doesn't come out after several attempts at cleaning or a consultation with a professional cleaner, consider having a professional dye the leather a darker color to cover the stain and give the item new life. 

Additional Tips for Removing Ink Stains from Leather

  • Don't wait too long to remove the stains. Try to remove the ink while it is still wet.
  • Don't make the problem worse by spreading the ink. Work from the outside edges toward the center.
  • Don't scrub. Many leather goods are thin and scrubbing can create a hole or a loss of color.
  • Don't give up. Older or dried stains will be harder to remove, you might need to repeat the cleaning process several times before the stain disappears.
  • Don't use hairspray. Most hairsprays contain ingredients that can cause spotting on leather.
  • Don't use a colored towel or cloth to treat the stain. The alcohol may cause the dye on the towel to transfer to the leather.
  • You can substitute gin or vodka for rubbing alcohol. Don't use colored liquor!