How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes

Updated October 22, 2019
ink stain on man's shirt

Learning how to remove different types of ink stains from clothing and other items will help you save a substantial amount of time and money. Fortunately, the task is not that difficult once you get the hang of it. Just remember it's important to pretreat and dab, dab, dab.

Instructions to Remove Different Ink Stains on Clothes

Ink stains are quite common, but that doesn't make them a cinch to remove. What's more, there are a variety of inks on the market and each poses a different challenge to remove from clothing. The good news is that these days you don't have to trash your beloved jeans just because they have a stubborn ink stain. Simply follow these steps on how to remove ink stains from clothing:

Ballpoint Ink

Ballpoint ink stains can strike everything from shirts to skirts. However, they can be removed with alcohol-based solvents. What you'll need:

  • Clean towels
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Detergent
  • Hairspray

Now that you have your materials to fight that dreaded ballpoint pen breakage, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Place the stained clothing item over a dry white towel.
  2. Apply some rubbing alcohol or hairspray over the stain and blot the stain with another clean towel until the stain begins to fade.
  3. Rinse the garment with clean water to remove all traces of the rubbing alcohol or hairspray.
  4. Apply liquid detergent to the formerly stained area and allow it to absorb for about five minutes.
  5. Wash the garment in warm water.
Washing garment in warm soapy water

Permanent Ink

Ink from permanent markers is extremely difficult to remove from clothing. However, if you act quickly, there is a very good chance that you can salvage a shirt stained with permanent ink. What you need:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dry-cleaning solvent
  • Detergent
  • Ammonia
  • Dish soap

Since permanent marks can be very difficult to remove, you might need to get radical with your treating method. To clean permanent marker, use these steps:

  1. Place the stained side of the garment on absorbent towels and saturate the stained area with rubbing alcohol.
  2. Once the stain is wet, blot it with clean towels being careful not to spread the stain to the rest of the fabric.
  3. Continue blotting until the towels won't absorb any more of the ink.
  4. Let the clothing item dry and then carefully sponge the permanent ink stain with a dry-cleaning solvent. If the solvent lifts the stain, move to step 8.
  5. If not, combine ½ teaspoon of dish soap, 1 tablespoon of ammonia and 1 quart of water.
  6. Soak the stained area in the solution for 30 minutes, monitoring progress.
  7. Once the stain fades, rinse the fabric.
  8. Rub the area with detergent and launder the garment by itself. This helps the detergent circulate better so you don't end up trying to remove a detergent stain too.

Water-Based Ink

Water-based ink is found in gel and fountain pens. However, unlike ballpoint pen ink, which is oil-based and very thick, gel ink is water-based and much thinner. Given the make up of gel ink stains, you will have more success in removing the unwanted marks by using water-based cleaning agents. To clean, you'll need:

  • Towels
  • Liquid laundry detergent

To remove water-based ink stains from clothing simply:

  1. Place the stained garment on top of a clean white towel.
  2. Apply water and blot using another clean white towel.
  3. When the stain starts to fade, apply liquid laundry to the fabric and let sit for about five minutes.
  4. Wash the stained fabric in warm water.
  5. If the stain is not completely gone, repeat the first two steps a few more times until the ink stain disappears.
cleaning stain on shirt

Think About Fabrics

Each different fabric might have a different method for removing ink. For example:

  • Hairspray and alcohol can work well for getting ink out of wool and polyester.
  • A dry-cleaning agent and white vinegar might work better for suede.
  • Ink on silk will take a gentle touch and lots of blotting and pressing.

Removing Set-in Ink Stains

Imagine that a pen exploded in the washer and no one noticed until they are pulling the clothes out of the dryer. You might think that all those clothes with set-in ink stains need to be chucked, but think again.


  • Nail polish remover or acetone
  • Laundry detergent
  • Cotton ball or towel


  1. Soak a cotton ball or towel in nail polish remover and wet the stain.
  2. Dab the stain pulling up as much ink as possible.
  3. Use a drop or two of laundry detergent and slowly work it into the stain with your fingers.
  4. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
  5. Launder as usual.

Pre-treating Is Important

Regardless of the type of ink, quick action is required. You should pretreat your clothes immediately, and thankfully there are lots of ways available even if you aren't at home.

  • If you are away from home when ink stains strike, look around for ink absorbents, such as talcum powder. Pouring baby powder on wet ink stain will help reduce the extent to which it spreads.
  • If you can't remove the article right away, at least keep the inked area wet. Dry stains are harder to get out.
  • Use a towel or paper towel to dab at the ink trying to blot up as much as possible. It is important not to rub. Not only will it spread the stain, but it will set it into the fibers.
  • If you have a pre-treater stick like Spray 'N Wash or Tide to Go on hand, use it.
  • In a pinch, squeeze a little tooth paste onto the stain. Rinse and repeat as necessary to loosen the stain.

While it might not remove all the stain, these options will at least help to keep the stain from setting until you can get home.

Commercial Cleaners

If you swear by commercial cleaners, you could try to remove ink stains from clothing by hitting up your local discount store. Products such as Goo Gone (or homemade goo gone), Shout, and OxiClean stain fighters are known for removing stubborn ink stains from garments. However, if the stain is particularly challenging, then you might consider using double the amount of stain remover than is recommended on the back of the container. Also, before using any type of commercial stain remover, test it out on a swatch of fabric first.

Ink Be Gone

Spilling ink on your clothes or pulling them out of the wash and noticing a stain is a groan worthy moment. While it might be inconvenient, all hope is definitely not lost for your favorite blouse. Just give a few of these methods a try before tossing it into the wash. Next, get tips on removing color bleeding from clothes, another common laundry mishap.

How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes