How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes

Ink pens and markers are tricky things. Often you can’t find them when you need them, but they certainly make their presence known when they leave a stain.

Whether the pen in your shirt pocket leaked all over your new dress shirt or your child got permanent marker on his or her favorite jeans, or shirt, don’t panic because you’re not sure how to remove ink from fabric. And don’t rush to the laundry room, either, because washing clothes before you’ve treated stubborn stains like grass or ink can make things worse.

Your first order of business before you choose how to remove ink from clothes is to see what kind of ink caused the stain. Why does that matter? Because there are different kinds of ink, which means there are different methods for how to remove ink stains. Let’s start with a quick overview of the inks that can cause stains on clothes:

Water-based ink is found in washable markers, some roller-ball pens, and drawing pens. Being water-based, this type of ink is usually fairly easy to get out of fabric and clothes.

Oil-based ink is probably the most common type of ink and is usually found in traditional ballpoint pens. This ink dries fast and is intended to be pretty permanent, so removing one of these ink stains can be a challenge.

Alcohol-based ink is used in permanent markers; as the name implies, the ink is designed to be permanent. You can imagine how difficult getting permanent ink stains out of clothes can be!

To protect the fabric, check the care label before you attempt to remove ink from clothes. And just like with grease and other stubborn stains, always use the mildest stain removal methods first, and don’t be afraid to turn to a dry cleaner if things start to get out of hand!

Lastly, no matter what kind of stain you’re trying to get rid of, always let the clothing air dry. The last thing you want is to work hard on a stain, only to find it permanently set by the heat from your clothes dryer. If the ink stain still needs work after the clothing dries, you can just treat the stain over and wash the clothes again.

Now, let’s learn how to remove ink from clothes!

How to Get Ink Out of a Shirt

Learning how to remove ink stains on a cotton or synthetic shirt isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, even if the shirt is white. But because different inks require different stain removal methods, it helps to know what kind of ink you’re dealing with before you dive in.

Removing Oil-Based Ink Stains

  • Lay the shirt on a flat surface and use an old towel as backing to prevent the ink stain from spreading.
  • Saturate the stained area with rubbing alcohol and let it sit for five minutes.
  • Use a clean, dry microfiber cloth and begin blotting up the ink.
  • Move to clean parts of your cloth as needed and keep the ink stain wet with rubbing alcohol.
  • Rub a little clothes detergent into the wet stain and wash the shirt like you normally would.

Removing Water-Based Ink Stains

  • Pour milk into a large casserole dish.
  • Place the stained area of the shirt face-down into the milk and use a saucer to keep it submerged.
  • Let the ink stain soak for about an hour.
  • Grab an old toothbrush and scrub the stain lightly to further loosen the ink from the fibers.
  • Rinse the shirt in your sink using warm water.
  • Rub a few drops of dish detergent into the stain and wash your shirt as usual.

Removing Alcohol-Based Ink Stains

  • For your first (and hopefully last) permanent marker removal attempt, use the steps for oil-based ink stains outlined above.
  • If the first method doesn’t get the ink out of your shirt, grab some hairspray.
  • Soak the entire area where the stain is, let the hairspray sink in, and saturate the area again.
  • Fold a microfiber cloth twice and mash it down onto the stained area—but don’t rub!
  • Use something heavy to keep the cloth pressed down firmly and give it five minutes.
  • Rinse the shirt in warm water, rub some detergent into the stain, and wash the shirt in the washer.

Removing Ink Stains After a Shirt Has Been Dried

Like way too many other stains, you may not even notice an ink stain until your shirt has gone through the normal wash and dry cycles. At this point, that ink stain may look like it’s going to cling to that shirt forever, but we know differently. Yes, stains set by heat are difficult to remove, but it’s not impossible.

The mildest approach for removing a set-in ink stain is to go all natural. Saturate the stained area with lemon juice and lay the shirt in the sun for a couple of hours. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to use more firepower. It’s not as eco-friendly, but your only hope may be to use color-safe bleach and wash the shirt on the hottest temperature setting.

How to Get Ink Out of Jeans

We do love our blue jeans, and most of us have a favorite pair that fit and look just right. But what happens when an ink pen stain gets on your beloved jeans? Do you just hope the color of the ink will match after a good wash? Or do you panic and start rubbing the stain with a cleaning cloth? Neither. Take the guesswork out of the equation and use these field-tested tips for how to get ink out of jeans.

If you’re wearing your jeans when the ink stain happens, grab some paper towels and start blotting. Resist the urge to rub or scrub; this will only imbed the ink deeper into the fiber of your jeans. Gently blot the ink stain from the outside in to prevent the stain from spreading. Sure, you’ll probably get some ink on your leg, but it’s all about damage control at this point. Once you’ve blotted up most of the ink, move on to the next steps for how to get ink stains out of jeans.

  • Lay the jeans on a flat surface and use an old cloth as backing to prevent the ink stain from getting worse.
  • Cover the stain with table salt and let it soak up the ink for about a minute.
  • Brush off the salt and repeat until no more ink is absorbed into the salt.
  • Soak some cotton balls with rubbing alcohol and dab the stain working from the outside in.
  • Use dry cotton balls to blot up the remaining ink.
  • Rinse the ink stain with cold water, rub some detergent into the stain, and wash your jeans using cold water.
  • When they’re done washing, let the jeans air dry and make sure the stain is gone.
  • If the stain is still visible, soak the stain with rubbing alcohol, let it sit five minutes, and wash the jeans again.

If you still have an ink stain on your jeans after trying the method above, there may still be a solution. Fill your bathtub with enough cold water to submerge the jeans. Mix in a cup of oxygenated bleach and let the jeans soak overnight. Then throw them in the washer and cross your fingers.

We hope our tips for how to remove ink from clothes can help you out the next time you have an ink stain emergency. For help with all kinds of stains on clothes, upholstery, carpet, and just about anything else in your home, check out our other stain removal guides. Count on The Maids to make your life easier with professional housekeeping tips and affordable residential cleaning services. Why not get a free estimate and find out how you can enjoy a cleaner home week after week?


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