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How to Get Ink Stains Out of Your Clothes

Close Up of a Broken Pen Resting on the Men's Red Shirt Stained with Ink
Candus Camera/Shutterstock

Maybe a pen exploded in your gym bag, or your toddler doodled on your freshly cleaned office shirts. Either way, there’s no need to stress. Here are some solutions to get your clothes back in tip-top shape.

Treat Immediately

The quicker you act, the more successful you’ll be in preventing any permanent stains from setting.

Try to address the problem as soon as you can, but don’t fret if the stain sets. Even the most stubborn ink stains can disappear with our tricks.

Blot, Don’t Rub

Always treat ink stains with a blotting action. Avoid rubbing or spreading the ink around; this will only make the problem worse.

Use a microfiber cloth, which is extra absorbent. Don’t use paper towels or tissues, which will crumble and mix with the liquid.

Avoid Heat

Heating the garment can make the stain set in. Don’t put your stained item in the dryer until the stain is completely gone.

Always air-dry if you’re uncertain.

If your garment does get heat-dried while the stain is still present, do a pre-treatment using a high-quality stain stick, followed by a wash cycle. You may have to repeat the pre-treatment and washing routine a few times, but don’t give up. Persistence is key to battling those stubborn stains.

Treating Water-Based Ink

Luckily many pens today are made with water-based inks. These stains are relatively easy to remove with a regular cycle wash, using warm water and normal laundry detergent. You will want to launder the garment separately to avoid the ink staining other items.

If the stain is still lingering, apply a generous dose of stain stick to the affected area, let it sit for ten minutes, and then wash as usual.

You don’t have to wash on high heat—just set the temperature at whatever you’d typically use for that type of material.

Remember to air-dry your garment until the stain is completely gone.

Treating Permanent Ink

The more challenging ink stains come from markers and permanent pens. Water and detergent won’t do much here. Follow these steps to attack those more stubborn stains:

  • Blot: If the stain is fresh, blot it dry with a microfiber cloth.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol: Pour rubbing alcohol over the affected area and gently dab with a microfiber cloth until it’s fully absorbed into the fabric. The rubbing alcohol works by breaking down the oils in markers and pens. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash: Toss your garment into the washing machine while the rubbing alcohol is still wet. Wash at regular temperature with your normal detergent. Don’t add any other clothes into the cycle as this could cause a color transfer.
  • Air-Dry: Always hang your garment out to dry, checking to see if the stain is entirely removed before putting it in the dryer.
  • Repeat: If the stain is still there, repeat the whole process from the beginning. Don’t get discouraged; sometimes it takes a few cycles to get rid of those stubborn stains.

You can also make your own cleaning solution, using the Housewife How-To’s Recipe:

  • 1 t. glycerin
  • 1 T. oxygenated bleach
  • 1 t. liquid dish detergent, such as Dawn Original

Using a microfiber cloth, apply the mixture to both sides of the stain. Leave for five minutes, then do a wash cycle with regular detergent.

Hair Spray vs. Hand Sanitizer

In the past, hairspray was recommended as another option for tackling ink stains, due to its high alcohol content. However, hairspray nowadays doesn’t contain much alcohol so it won’t do much, except make your garments gross and sticky.

A great solution is hand sanitizer, which has plenty of fast-acting alcohol. Keep on hand in your purse, backpack, or tucked in your desk at work. That way when an ink accident occurs, you’ll be ready to tackle it immediately! Just make sure to buy the simplest kind—avoid any fragrances, colorings, or fancy moisturizers.

Having a mishap with ink doesn’t have to result in tears. Treat it as soon as you can, avoid rubbing it in, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your clothes can be restored. And don’t forget that basic hand sanitizer—it can really save the day.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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