How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes and Leather

person writing with a pen next to an ink stain

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 8 hrs 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $2

Ink stains from permanent markers, ball-point pens, and washable markers (that turn out to be not so washable) often can be removed with rubbing alcohol. The same initial treatment works on washable clothes, smooth leather, and faux leather. It should not be used on suede. If you get ink stains on suede or another type of leather that is not smooth, take the garment to a dry cleaner that specializes in suede.

For jeans, shirts, and other washable clothes, you can follow up the alcohol cleaning by soaking the garment in color-safe bleach before washing, then line-dry the garment. Do not dry it in the dryer until you're sure the stain is gone. The dryer's high heat will set the stain for good.

For the best results, try to remove ink while it is still wet, or as soon as possible. Fresh ink stains are easier to remove and usually come out easily, while older stains may require repeat treatments. Leather is porous and the stain can penetrate deep into the hide.

If a leather item is badly stained with permanent ink, consider having the item dyed a darker shade to match the stain. Permanent ink often cannot be removed from leather without damaging the garment. Professional dry cleaners or shoe repair shops can dye leather.

Illustration of ink stains on leather
Illustration: The Spruce / Alex Dos Diaz

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bucket or soaking tub (washable items only)

Materials

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton swabs
  • Oxygen-based bleach (washable items only)

Instructions

  1. Test the Material

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

  2. Dab the Stain

    Re-wet the cotton swab with alcohol, then dab the stain, working from the outside of the stain to the inside to prevent spreading the stain. You should be able to see the ink transfer to the swab. Get a new swab (if you're using a cloth, dampen a clean area of the cloth) as you see ink coming off to prevent re-staining the garment. Keep blotting gently until the ink is gone.

    Do not scrub leather harshly, as this can remove its color and even a layer of the leather itself.

  3. Let the Garment Dry

    Allow the garment to air-dry after or between treatments. Do not put it in the dryer, which can set the stain. Once the ink is removed from leather, treat the garment with leather conditioner to help it remain supple and smooth.

  4. Soak and Wash (Washable Items Only)

    If traces of the ink remain after multiple treatments, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Completely submerge the garment and allow it to soak for at least eight hours.

    Check the stain. If it is gone, launder the garment as usual as directed on the label. If it remains, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stain.

If the Stain Won't Come Out

If the ink just won't come out, consider dyeing the garment a dark color; putting an embellishment like a patch, ribbon, or button over the stain; or allowing your child to create a new design with permanent markers for an individual look. If all else fails, you can always use the garment for play or painting clothes.  

family coloring together
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