How to Remove Ink from Clothes and Other Fabrics Guide

Ink on Clothes

Ink on your clothes can be a challenge to remove whether a pen leaked in your shirt pocket or you accidently touched your pants and now have marks. Removing ink from fabric is not all that difficult but will take some time.

I’m not an advocate for using hair spray because some will leave stains. The only way sometimes to removing ink from clothing is taking it to the dry cleaners.

If possible, determine the type of ink you were using. Hopefully, it was water-based and easier to remove. Most markers use the washable type ink.

If you’ve gotten permanent highlighter and maker type stains on your clothes, sofa, or car seat fabric cushion, you will have a harder time removing it. Ballpoint pen ink is middle-of-the road and can be the most stubborn to remove depending on the ink.

Try to determine by locating the pen or maker and read the label for the type ink it has. That will help you immensely with the method to use for getting the stain out.

One more thing, do not wash and dry your clothing first. It will probably not work well now to remove ink stains. Dryer heat sets the stain in. I’ve accidently washed and dried a T-shirt that I had spilled greasy food on and the stain never came out with any chemical or natural method I tried.

Do not use paper towels with these methods; they fray, and fibers get into the fabric. Use a clean cotton cloth.

If you have huge stains on your carpeting, you might need a machine for getting it out.

Types of Ink

Water-Based Ink

Water-based markerThe customary way to remove water-based ink stain is to lay the single layer of fabric on a clean preferably white towel. You do not need to use both sides of the garment to keep the stain from transferring to the non-stained fabric side.

The typical way to clean is with water and laundry detergent. First apply a dab of water to the stain and blot with your clean dry cotton cloth. The stain should now appear on your cotton cloth. Now put liquid laundry detergent—not dishwashing detergent—on the ink stain and let it sit 10- to 15-minutes.

Wash in your clothes washer with hot water for your fabric type. Do not put into the clothes dryer until you check it. If the stain is still there, do again the cleaning process above. If you don’t do it now, it will be impossible to clean the stain off later.

Sometimes a prewash treatment such as Shout® is good for removing stains. Spray it on your fabric, use an old soft toothbrush to move it around with a circulation motion and blot as you go.

Permanent or Ballpoint Ink

Rubbing alcohol is one method to remove permanent ink stains. This type stain is the most difficult to remove. Whether you use an old-fashioned fountain pen or a marker, you might get the stain to fade but not completely go away.

If your fabric can use bleach, use it after you do this tip first. Clorox 2® laundry stain remover and color booster is a good product to use after you try the alcohol first to remove most or all of the ink.

Ballpoint marker


Get yourself a towel, preferably white, and put the fabric stain on top of it. Blot with rubbing alcohol and the ink stain will transfer to the towel. Move your garment to another clean location on the towel and blot again with alcohol using a soft cloth. Continue this process until the stain is gone or almost gone. Rinse the stained area completely free of the rubbing alcohol. Multiple rinses may be necessary.

Wash with detergent and bleach as you normally do. Check after it’s washed before putting into the dryer that will set the stain forever.

Ballpoint markerDo the same thing before washing your garment if your stain is from ballpoint ink blotting with alcohol. After blotting to remove most or all of the ink, add liquid laundry detergent and let it sit 10- to 15-minutes. Use an old toothbrush in circular patterns to rub in. Then wash as usual in very hot water with laundry detergent.

Products for Stain Removal

Stain Removal

Nail Polish Remover

For removing permanent type ink, nail polish remover that has acetone for removing colored nail polish will probably do the trick, but it can harm the fabric. Therefore, apply it to an inner seam area first and see if it damages the fabric. Use it the same way as rubbing alcohol discussed above. Rinse and wash as normal.


Use the cheapest brand possible that will have the most alcohol in its contents. As discussed above using alcohol, hairspray will help to remove the ink stain. Put you garment on a clean white towel and spray the ink stain completely with hairspray and blot with a clean dry cotton cloth. Clean as usual in your clothes washer and check it before putting into the dryer.


When you first notice the ink stain and it is not dry, get your salt shaker and shake salt to completely cover the spot. Wet a cotton wash cloth and rub into the stain or with an old toothbrush and then brush the salt off. Do this until the stain is gone then launder the garment in very hot water.

Vinegar and Cornstarch

Do this in two steps. First put clear distilled vinegar on the stain. Now make a paste of 2 tablespoons vinegar and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and rub into the stain. Let this paste dry completely then rub off with a toothbrush. Repeat if necessary then wash as usual.

Lemon Juice and Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartarCream of tartar is used when baking meringues or angel food cakes and I love it for a high lift on pie meringue. It is sold in the spice section of grocery stores or on

Put 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar with about 2 tablespoons of juice from a fresh lemon (strained) into a bowl to make a paste. Spread the paste on the ink stain and let it sit overnight. Rinse and repeat if necessary then launder as normal in your clothes washer.


Milk proteins react with dyes (in ink) and it just might work for you. Fill a container with enough milk to cover the stain and soak all night. Brush with circular motions until the stain is gone then launder the garment as you normally do the next day.

Final Thoughts for Removing Ink from Clothes

Most people don’t put their pens in their shirt pockets anymore. However, if you do, the above ideas to remove ink stains will probably work for you.

When you spill food on your beautiful sofa cushion fabric, first use cool water with a drop of detergent on the spot first blotting that with a dry cotton cloth. At this time, do not rub because it will push the stain further into the fibers of the fabric.

For me, this has worked like a charm many times. Put water on the cotton cloth when the stain is gone to remove the solution doing a few times. Blot for a final time to help the spot dry or use a hair dryer.

If nothing works for you, take your garment to the dry cleaners. They have chemicals for removing ink stains. Leave a comment and let me know what worked for you for how to remove ink stains. Best of luck!


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