Ink stains – especially if it’s caused by a permanent marker – are one of those challenging stains that we struggle to remove. However it’s best to determine the type of ink you are trying to remove first:

  • Ballpoint pen ink: This stain can come out with lots of persistence. Try blotting the stain with methylated spirits and a white towel, dabbing gently until the stain transfers onto the white towel. Some people also swear by using hairspray or even washing the garment in milk.
  • Permanent ink: Not much chance of removing this – but you can try a super harsh chemical product like nail polish remover provided you are prepared to risk damaging the garment! Other products that may work include anti-bacterial hand gel or even toothpaste (for hard surfaces rather than fabrics). Given that permanent markers are meant to be permanent, the best you can hope for is to lighten the stain.
  • Fountain pen ink: It’s used rarely these days, but traditional liquid inks are water-based and can be removed if treated quickly. Soak in cold water and then blot with a white towel to remove the stain.
  • Non-permanent ink: Most will be marked as “washable” and stains from these type of ink can be removed. As with most ink, first try soaking in water and blotting the stain out. If that doesn’t work, a bit of white spirits should get it out.



Options for removing ink stains from clothes or fabric

You need to determine the type of ink stain first (see above) and tackle it with the most appropriate method for the fabric.


  • For pen stains on most fabrics, try blotting with a cotton ball and methylated spirits or white spirit first. The rule is not to use alcohol solutions on rayon, acetate or triacetate fabrics.
  • You can also try blotting the stain with a mix of half a cup of warm water, a smidge of detergent and a few drops of ammonia.
  • After rinsing the ammonia completely under water, you could try a weak solution of chlorine bleach (10 parts water to one part of bleach) on whites. This won’t work for coloured clothes, though you can try it if you think that a bleached piece of clothing might be better than a stained item of clothing.

Removing ink stains from unwashable fabrics

If the care label says the clothing is not washable, the easiest thing is to take the item straight to the drycleaners. You can try blotting the stain with a towel and some dry-cleaning fluid available from hardware stores or supermarkets, Blot from inside the clothing to push the stain outwards.

Removing ink stains from carpet or furniture

  • Scrape off as much ink as possible with paper towel. Then you can try this method once you have tested the carpet or furniture material for colourfastedness.
  • Mix a quarter of a teaspoon of mild detergent with a cup of water (try to avoid using a detergent that contains optical brighteners or it can discolor fabrics and carpets over the long term). Blot from the outside of the stain into the center with white towels or paper towels to see how much of the stain transfers on to the towel.


Stain remover notes

  • The quicker you deal with a stain, the more likely you are to remove it.
  • Unless it’s a fat stain, cold water is best for rinsing a stain, so as not to set it and make it harder to remove later.
  • Before using a cleaning solution, test on an inconspicuous section, such as the inside of a sleeve, to check it won’t ruin the fabric.
  • Always rinse out one cleaning solution before trying another to remove a stain as certain chemicals are not supposed to be mixed.
  • Read the care instructions on the item of clothing before attempting vigorous stain removal. Some clothing may be too delicate to attempt stain removal and are better taken straight to the drycleaners.
  • Don’t rub fabric harshly to remove stains as this can abrade fibers and cause fading.
  • The white towel blotting method is often recommended for stain removal. Simply fold a clean white towel and, once you have treated the stain with water, gently dab it with the towel and check to see how much of the stain has transferred to the white towel.
  • If using commercial stain removers and detergents, always follow the product label to understand the proper use and safety precautions you may need to take.

It’s always easier to treat a stain on a washable fabric.