Got Ink on Your Clothes? Our Cleaning Expert Has the Fix

If you’ve ever accidentally grazed your sleeve on a piece of paper that was still wet with ink or just saw a smudge after You wash and dry your clothes, you know how difficult it is to remove ink stains from clothes. Luckily, in The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab we have tested dozens of commercial stain removers and DIY stain removal methods for many of the most common household stains, so we know what to do to get clothes back in top shape.

Different ink stains require different treatments, so make sure you follow the proper how-to guide depending on whether you’re trying to remove ballpoint pen, marker, or permanent marker ink. All of these methods should only be used on washable fabrics and should first be tested on a small, hidden corner of your garment to make sure it hasn’t caused damage. Two of our recommended methods use rubbing alcohol as the main ingredient. Because it is flammable, always use it away from open flames and wash all clothing thoroughly after cleaning ink stains with rubbing alcohol. Never try to remove ink stains from dry-clean clothing at home.

How to Remove Pen Ink

Good news: Fresh ballpoint pen ink is the easiest type of ink to remove from washable clothing like cotton blouses and denim jeans. As with any stain, the sooner you clean it, the easier it will be to remove.

What do you need:

  1. Flush the stain with rubbing alcohol. If the stain is small, place a paper towel under the stain and use a dropper to apply rubbing alcohol to the stain. For larger spots, pour the rubbing alcohol into a small dish, dip the stained area and soak for 15 minutes.
  2. Dry the stain with a clean paper towel. Continue wiping and drying the stain until no more ink is coming from the cloth.
  3. Rinse and apply stain remover before washing. Rinse in cold water, apply stain remover before washing, and wash the item on the hottest setting with fabric-safe bleach — choose a color-safe formula for colored clothes.
  4. Check if the ink stain is completely removed. If the stain is still there, repeat the above steps one more time or until the ink is gone. Put the item in the dryer only after the ink has completely disappeared.

How to Remove Felt-Tip Pen Ink

Removing felt-tip ink is a little more time consuming — but not impossible, as long as you follow this guide.

What do you need:

  • Hot water
  • Ammonia
  • Stain remover laundry detergent
  1. Rinse the stain under cold water. Remove as much ink as you can.
  2. Soak the garment in a mixture of hot water, bleach-free detergent and ammonia. Fill a basin with hot water and add a bleach-free liquid detergent, such as one of the detergents we have tested in our Lab. The amount you use to hand wash a blouse should be enough, plus a few splashes of ammonia. Stir the solution and soak the clothing. Rub the stain with your finger, and let it soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Let stubborn stains soak in overnight, scrubbing often. To help out, mix in a fresh solution or add a little more ammonia.
  3. Rinse and wash clothes as usual. When the stain is removed or lightened as much as possible, rinse the garment, rub in a little more liquid detergent and wash as usual. As with any stain, dry the garment until you are sure the stain is completely gone. Putting it in a hot dryer will harden the stain, making it even more difficult to remove.

How to Remove Permanent Marker

Permanent ink removal is not always possible. As well as being formulated to last forever, the success of removing these stains really depends on the ingredients, the color of the ink, and how long the stain is allowed to set. The steps below may work on some new permanent ink stains, but if that doesn’t work, try a special stain remover for permanent ink such as Carbona Stain Devils #3 or Amodex Ink & Stain Remover. As a last resort, if your clothing is bleach-safe, try using bleach to remove the stain.

What do you need:

  1. The sponge rubs the alcohol into the stain. Place an old towel or paper towel under the permanent ink stain. Pour the rubbing alcohol onto another paper towel and use it to wipe and directly on the stain. If the towel under the stain becomes too dirty, remove it and replace it with a clean one and continue wiping until no more ink is coming from the clothing.
  2. Rinse clothes. Rinse clothes thoroughly in cold water. If the stain hasn’t completely disappeared, you can try the steps above again or try an inkblot remover.
  3. Wash clothes as usual. If the stain is gone, wash the garment as usual and dry it until you are sure all the stain is gone.

How to Remove Ink from Skin

If your pen accidentally touches your wallet, don’t worry. Simply dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently rub the stain to remove the marks. If your purse has a shiny patina or glossy finish, it may have been covered in a leather protector and should be easier to care for. If rubbing alcohol doesn’t do the trick, try a commercial product specifically designed to clean leather, such as Good Housekeeping Seal star Weiman Leather Cleaner & Conditioner. If that doesn’t work or your wallet is made of unfinished leather, take it to a dry cleaner who specializes in treating leather. To make marks, such as ink, easier to remove the next time, apply a leather protectant, such as GH Seal star Furniture Clinic Leather Protection Cream, to wallets, sofas, and other finished leather items.

Can you get ink out of clothes after drying?

If you notice too late that a shirt you just folded from the dryer has an ink stain that you forgot to remove or you left a fresh stain on for too long, you probably won’t really be out of luck. You can try the methods above first, but if that doesn’t work, switch to a stronger commercial stain remover. These products often contain ingredients to target all types of inks. Be sure to follow the label directions when using it and test it in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it is safe for the fabric you are treating. Another option is Shout Advanced Action Gel, which even works to remove stains that have gone through the dryer.

Can you use any other DIY method to get ink out of clothes?

Over the years, hairspray has earned a reputation for removing ink stains due to the alcohol in its formula. However, many of today’s sprays contain less alcohol, so they aren’t as effective on ink stains as older formulas, plus you still have to deal with removing sticky hairspray residue. Other DIY methods you may find effective deinking include vinegar, toothpaste, and even hand sanitizer. While the alcohol in hand sanitizer may be a bit detracting (as with most other DIY methods that contain alcohol), we’ve never found any of these alternatives to be as effective. If you really want to use ink, stick with the options above.

Does rubbing alcohol damage clothes?

A small amount of rubbing alcohol shouldn’t damage most fabrics. As with any store-bought or DIY stain remover, you should test it on a small, inconspicuous spot before using it on a visible part of any clothing.

Headshot of Lauren Smith McDonough

Senior Editor

Lauren is a senior editor at Hearst. She was previously senior editor at and home editor at and Book clubs, ramen, and his jean jacket are some of his favorite things.

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