Remove Ink Stains

Need to remove ink stains? Pens, markers, and bottles of ink are all at risk for accidental spillage, especially for avid pen and ink artists!

First: be aware that there is no “one size fits all” technique for removing ink stains, because the composition of the ink will vary depending on what type of pen or marker caused the stain. A Copic marker stain will differ from a fountain pen ink stain, an Indian ink stain or a gel pen stain, for example. Additionally, ink stains react differently depending on the type of fabric that it’s spilled onto - cotton, rayon, polyester, etc. For that reason, I’ve listed several different methods for ink stain removal on this page. Here we go!

Ink Stain Removal: How to Remove Ink Stains from Fabric

Tip: Always try to remove ink stains right away, before the ink has a chance to dry. Wet ink is far easier to remove than dried ink, but both can take a lot of elbow work.

Here's how to remove ink stains from your clothes or other fabrics:

Tip: Before trying any of the following ink stain removal techniques, always apply a small amount of the cleaning product to an obscure area of the fabric to ensure that the remedy itself doesn’t cause a stain!

  1. Place an absorbent clean white towel, rag, or paper towels under the stained cloth before attempting to remove the ink stain. Whatever you use needs to be white because if it is colored, the color from the towel or rag may bleed into your ink-stained garment… and that would be very counter-productive indeed!

  2. Apply rubbing alcohol into the stain, using another clean rag or a cotton ball. (Cotton balls work well for small stains; Q-tips or cotton buds work well for really small stains.)

  3. Press firmly into the stain with the rag or cotton ball and lift, repeating until the stain starts to come out. Use a firm dabbing motion, not a rubbing motion. As the rag or cotton ball starts to pick up the ink, throw it away and use a fresh rag or cotton ball. That way you won’t risk re-staining your clothing.

  4. After the stain is removed, use cold water to rinse off the rubbing alcohol thoroughly from the garment and from any reusable rags before laundering. If you used cotton balls, you can soak a fresh cotton ball in cold water and press it to the area where you applied the rubbing alcohol, until the rubbing alcohol has been removed.

If that technique doesn't help you remove ink stains, you can try this alternate method for removing ink stains with rubbing alcohol:

  1. Lay the garment with the ink stain facing down on a clean white rag or paper towels.

  2. Apply rubbing alcohol to the back of the stain.

  3. Quickly press paper towels or absorbent tissues against the stained cloth to soak away the stain, replacing the towels or rags on both sides of the stain as frequently as needed.

Rubbing alcohol is the #1 method for DIY ink stain removal. But if rubbing alcohol doesn’t remove your stubborn stain, here are a few more techniques you can try:

  • Remove ink stains using fingernail polish remover, following the same method outlined above.

  • Spray the stain with alcohol-based hair spray, such as Aquanet. Be sure to choose a hairspray without too many fancy additives like oils or conditioners - just make sure it contains a lot of alcohol. Blot using clean rags, tissues or paper towels. Repeat until the stain is removed, then rinse the clothing in cold water and launder as normal.

  • Mix baking soda with water; rub into stain and rinse. Then apply a commercial stain removal product such as stain stick or spray, launder the item, and repeat if necessary.

  • Soak in a solution of lukewarm water and white vinegar (about half and half) for about 30 minutes, gently rubbing the stain with a sponge or an old toothbrush until it goes away.

Whatever you do, don’t soak the stain in hot water, even if you add detergent, because this will embed the ink stain even further into the fabric. It is better to dab and blot the stain using one of the above methods. Also, don’t put the garment into the dryer until you are sure all the ink is gone, because the heat from the dryer will also set the stain into the fabric.

Be patient and persistent when tackling those pesky ink stains – it may take several applications, or several techniques, before the stain comes out.

Water-based ink stains are the easiest to remove if caught early. Permanent ink, on the other hand, is called “permanent” for a reason – it is very difficult to remove. You can try, and depending on the amount of permanent ink that was spilled and the type of cloth, you may be able to remove it… but in many cases, the best you’ll be able to do is lighten it.

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If the stain still doesn’t come out, take it to a professional cleaner who has specialized products and techniques to remove ink stains... or try a commercial ink stain removal products, such as Kiss-Off Stain Remover to remove ink stains. In fact, Kiss-Off Stain Remover is handy to have around if you are an artist, because it can be used to clean ink stains, paint stains, and more. 

Kiss Off Stain Remover

For general studio clean-up, environmentally-friendly cleaning products such as Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner are also handy for removing ink stains, as well as other cleaning uses.

Tip: It's best to wear old clothes when you work with pen and ink or markers. You could also wear an apron or a smock. That way the damage isn't nearly as critical if you get a bit messy.