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9 Ways of Removing Ink Stains from Fabric at Home

Ink stains can be extremely persistent and difficult to remove, and it’s possible to ruin your favorite garment in a blink of an eye with just a tiny drop of ink.
My husband is an office worker and he’s always carrying a pen or two in his pockets. Just recently, he sat down with a pen in his back pocket. The catastrophe was unavoidable: he heard the pen cracking, and a blue stain appeared on the gray dress pants he was wearing. Removing the stain from the fabric seemed impossible at first, but with some research and trial and error, we managed to get it out completely without having to take the pants to the dry cleaners.
Here is what we learned about ink stain removal and what you can try to get rid of persistent ink stains (with items you likely already have at home). Keep in mind that marker and ballpoint ink stains are usually easier to get out because they’re made of water-soluble ink whereas classic ink pens might be more challenging to remove.

1. Rubbing Alcohol

ink removal tips  Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol as a stain remover is grossly underrated, but it’s actually often used to remove persistent stains out of materials as gentle as suede, and it’s especially effective at removing stains left by ballpoint pens and permanent markers. We have also discussed additional ways you can use rubbing alcohol in your home here.

Important! Before using on the stain, test on an unnoticeable area of the item of clothing to make sure it won’t cause discoloration of the fabric. Here is how to remove an ink stain using rubbing alcohol:

Step 1. Spread the stained garment on a table with the stain ideally not overlapping with clean fabric. Place a white towel or cloth underneath the stained garment. 

Step 2. Blot the problem area with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. When the stain starts dissolving, it will be absorbed by the towel underneath, and it’s best to move the towel quickly before the fabric can reabsorb the ink.

Step 3. Continue until the stain disappears. You may have to use several cotton balls depending on the severity of the stain.

Step 4. Wash the garment as usual.

2. A Mixture of Vinegar and Cornstarch

ink removal tips A Mixture of Vinegar and Cornstarch

This two-step technique using vinegar and cornstarch is effective at removing persistent ink stains as well as oil from clothing. White vinegar works best for this method, but you can also use apple cider vinegar if that’s what you have on hand. This is what you will need for this Do It Yourself natural stain remover and how to proceed:

Step 1. Soak the stained area with some vinegar and let it sit for a few minutes.

Step 2. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients listed on the image above into a thick paste and spread the mixture onto the stain.

Step 3. Work the paste into the stained fabric and let it sit until completely dry. Once dry, scrape the paste off gently and wash at the highest possible temperature for your type of fabric.

If you're not sure how to remove oily and greasy stains from your clothes and furniture, follow this link.

3. Hairspray

ink removal tips Hairspray
If you don’t have rubbing alcohol at home, most hairsprays, especially the cheapest ones, will usually work as a good replacement because they contain quite a lot of alcohol. After you spray the hairspray directly onto the item of clothing, the stain will be dissolved by the alcohol, and all you will have to do is to blot the stain with a piece of clean white cloth.
Don’t forget to place a clean cloth or towel underneath the garment and move it around to catch any ink residue. Once clean, wash as usual.

4. Warm Water and Detergent

ink removal tips  Warm Water and Detergent

This is one of the most basic, yet very effective tricks that work for removing any stain from even the gentlest of fabrics. All you will need is your usual laundry detergent and some warm water. The method works as follows:

Step 1. Wet the stained part of the fabric with warm water and gently blot it with a dry piece of cloth. It’s best to put a towel underneath the garment to catch any stained water.

Step 2. Apply a little detergent onto the stain and let it seep into the fabric for a few minutes, and then wash it as usual, but on the highest temperature the fabric allows.

Step 3. Once clean, but not dry, check if the stain remained. If so, repeat the process again and don’t dry the garment before the stain is completely removed, as drying will set the stain.

This tip works even for garments that are labeled 'dry clean only', as it's a gentle way to remove a stain. If you're looking for more tips on how to take care of delicate fabrics, we have a very educational article about home cleaning dry-clean only fabrics that you will be able to access through this link.

5. Hand Sanitizer

ink removal tips Hand Sanitizer
Like hairspray, most hand sanitizers contain a lot of alcohol, so even if you’re at work or outside and have nothing on hand to help you get rid of the stain, a hand sanitizer can help you remove ink and oily stains from your garment. To do this trick, all you have to do is to apply some hand sanitizer onto the stain, let it dissolve the stain and then blot with a tissue or cloth.
You can repeat this several times to get the majority of the stain off, and when you get home, throw the garment into the washing machine. You can repeat the process if you find that after washing the stain wasn’t completely gone.

6. Milk

ink removal tips Milk
Believe it or not, an overnight milk soak does wonders for removing ink from any fabric. This is likely because milk has some natural enzymes that help draw out the stain. To try this soak, all you will need is a bowl and just enough milk to keep the entire stain completely submerged overnight. Afterward, simply wash your garment and repeat if need be.

7. Nail Polish Remover

ink removal tips Nail Polish Remover
You're witnessing how nail polish remover works in removing stains every time you use it as intended, and indeed, it’s a powerful solvent (especially if it contains acetone) that can get rid of many stains.
However, because it’s so strong, it’s necessary to patch test it before using it on the stain because it can destroy some fabrics. After patch testing, simply use it as you would rubbing alcohol (described above) and rinse the garment before washing it to wash away the nail polish remover.

8. Salt

ink removal tips Salt
If you’re lucky to catch the stain early, sprinkle some salt over it and dab it with a paper towel or a napkin, and then brush away. The salt will absorb the wet stain and even if you won’t get the entire stain off, it will be much easier to remove after doing this salt trick. This trick also works very well for other persistent stains, such as red wine, for instance.

9. At-Home Ink Remover Mix

ink removal tips At-Home Ink Remover Mix
We left the best for last, as this homemade ink remover can get rid of even the most persistent pen ink stains, in our experience, but it does require some mixing and borax powder. Borax is readily available at the laundry and detergent section of your closest supermarket.
Simply mix all the ingredients we listed in the image above and apply on the ink stain using a paintbrush, layering a towel underneath. After letting the mixture work for around 5 minutes, press a damp cloth or sponge over the stain to remove the mixture and rinse before washing.
These were all the methods we know that work for ink stains, but we also have an excellent homemade recipe for whitening your laundryas well as cool tricks that will help you keep your clothes in excellent shape.
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