How to Get Ink Out of Clothes

Accidents happen—here's how to reverse them.


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Whether the culprit was a leaky ballpoint pen, a junior Picasso expressing their creative side, or a fumbled Sharpie, ink stains on clothing are rather common occurrences. No matter the cause, ink stains can be tricky to remove. But with some quick action and the right supplies, you can get ink out of clothes—even if it came from a permanent marker.

As with most stains, you'll have the best chance of successful removal if you catch it early. So, follow our steps below to treat ink stains as soon as possible.

Considerations Before You Get Started

While you may have heard the tip about using hairspray to remove ink stains, we wouldn't recommend this. Years ago, when every can of aerosol hairspray had a high alcohol content, it worked pretty well. However, today's hairsprays contain lots of emollients and conditioners and much less alcohol. Using hairspray as a stain remover may leave additional stains and residue behind and be less effective at removing the ink stain in question.

In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer that contains a high alcohol content and no skin softeners. However, we recommend the following methods for getting rid of various types of ink stains from clothing.

What You'll Need

  • Paper towels
  • Isopropyl alcohol, vodka, or gin
  • Cotton swabs
  • Eye dropper (optional)
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Soft-bristled nylon brush (optional)
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Washing machine or large sink
  • Clothes dryer or drying rack

How to Get Out Ballpoint Ink Stains

hands holding stained garment under running water

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Step 1: Prevent Ink Transfer

Place a few layers of paper towels under the ink stain to prevent the ink from transferring to another part of the garment.

Step 2: Blot Away Ink

Blot fresh ink stains with a paper towel. Don't rub, just blot. Rubbing can make the stain larger or push it deeper into the fabric's fibers.

Step 3: Treat the Stain With Isopropyl Alcohol

Dip a cotton swab in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or a clear drinking alcohol, like vodka or gin. Start at the outside edge of the stain and work toward the center by dabbing the stain with the alcohol-soaked swab. Swap the swab out for a new one as the ink is transferred. Use a dry paper towel to help absorb the dissolving ink. If the stain is large, you can use an eye dropper to apply alcohol to the affected area. Just be sure there are towels underneath the stain and blot, blot, blot to soak up extra liquid.

Step 4: Rinse the Fabric

When most of the stain is gone, rinse the area with cold water.

Step 5: Pretreat the Stain

Place a dab of heavy-duty detergent on the stained area and work it into the fabric with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush. Let the detergent work for at least 10 minutes before washing the garment.

Step 6: Wash the Garment

Wash the garment as directed on the care tag.

Step 7: Check the Stained Area

Check the stained area before you toss the item in the dryer. If the stain remains, repeat the stain removal steps. Can't treat it again right away? It's okay to let the fabric air-dry, just avoid the dryer.

Never place an ink-stained garment in the dryer. The high heat can set the ink stain into the fibers of the garment and make it nearly impossible to remove.

How to Get Out Felt Tip Marker Ink Stains

hands soaking garment in laundry tub

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Step 1: Blot Excess Ink

Blot away excess marker ink with a paper towel if the stain is still fresh.

Step 2: Presoak to Remove Stains

Presoak washable clothes in a solution of oxygen-based bleach and warm water. Follow the package directions for how much bleach to use per gallon of water and mix enough solution for the entire garment to be submerged. Soak overnight or for at least 8 hours.

Step 3: Pretreat the Stained Area

Place the presoaked garment on a clean, dry towel. Pretreat the stained area with a dab of heavy-duty laundry detergent. Work it into the stain with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before washing the clothes.

Step 4: Wash the Clothes

Wash the garment as recommended on the care tag.

Step 5: Check the Stained Area

Check to make sure the stain is gone before you toss the clothes in the dryer. If not, repeat the stain removal steps.

How to Get Out Permanent Ink Stains

white shirt soaking in suds

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While not every permanent ink stain is going to disappear completely, don't lose hope if you catch the stain while it's fresh. Use patience and you might be able save the garment.

Step 1: Blot Excess Ink

Blot fresh ink stains with a paper towel.

Step 1: Treat the Stain With Isopropyl Alcohol

Following the corresponding step for removing ballpoint pen ink, treat the stain with alcohol.

Step 2: Presoak Twice

Following the corresponding step for removing felt tip marker stains, presoaked the garment in an oxygen-bleach solution for eight hours. Repeat the soak for a second time with a fresh bleach solution.

Step 3: Wash the Garment

Wash the garment as directed on the care tag using heavy duty detergent.

Step 4: Check the Stained Area

Do not toss the clothes in a dryer until all traces of the ink are gone. Drying clothes with an ink stain in a dryer at high heat will permanently set the stain.

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