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How To Remove Ink From Clothes And Get Ink Stains Out

There are a variety of things that can help you to remove ink stains.

I’ve written extensively about removing many kinds of stains, so I often receive emails and messages from readers asking for advice on tackling stubborn stains. One type of stain readers struggle to try to remove is ink stains, so I took up the challenge to put together a guide on how to remove ink stains from clothes.

It turns out that hand sanitizer is the best way to remove ink from clothes!

Using the same method I used to figure out the best way to get out grass stains and remove blood stains, I tried several stain removers before determining that hand sanitizer worked best. I also found that not only is it possible to get ink out of clothes, but those ink stains aren’t nearly as difficult to remove as many people assume!

To remove ink stains from clothes we tried hair spray, nail polish remover, alcohol, and hand sanitizer.

What Stain Remover Works Best On Pen Ink Stains?

I started by comparing two different solvents that my research suggested might be effective against water-based ink: hairspray and hand sanitizer.

I found that both worked well for ink stain removal, which I attributed to the fact that both formulas share a powerful solvent: ethanol. (Ethanol can also help remove permanent ink stains from permanent markers). This made me wonder whether I could remove an ink stain with rubbing alcohol, given that it contains ethanol as well.

As you can see, different solvents gave us different results when it came to getting ink stains out.

So I decided to do another round of ink removal trials, this time comparing the performance of hairspray, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and nail polish remover on ink stains. To my surprise, hand sanitizer emerged as the clear winner!

I still can’t explain exactly what gives hand sanitizer the edge over the other stain removers I tried, but I can’t argue with the results! The next time I encounter any type of ink stain, whether from a fountain pen or ballpoint pen ink, I’ll reach right for my bottle of hand sanitizer.

Here’s how to remove ink from clothes using hand sanitizer:

To remove ink stains from clothes, you'll need hand sanitizer and an old toothbrush.

How To Remove Ink Stains From Clothes 

You’ll need:

  • Hand sanitizer
  • An old toothbrush
  • Paper towels
To remove ink stains, start by scrubbing hand sanitizer onto the stain.

Directions:

  1. Position the ink stain over a piece of cardboard. (This will help prevent the ink from spreading to another area of the garment.)
  2. Apply enough hand sanitizer to saturate the ink stain completely. 
  3. Use an old toothbrush to work the solvent into the stain, then let it sit for a minute or two.
  4. Blot the stain with a clean white cloth or sturdy paper towel to lift out the ink. (If you don’t see any ink on the cloth or paper towel, repeat steps 1 and 2.)
  5. When the ink is gone, rinse the stained item in cold water, apply your stain remover of choice, and launder in cold water. (Hot water may set the stain.)
  6. If the stain persists after washing, repeat steps 1 through 5 again.
We tested four solvents to remove ink from clothes, and hand sanitizer worked best.

More Ink Stain Removal Tips

  • Don’t dry the stained item until you’re completely satisfied the ink stain is gone! (It may not be entirely impossible to get ink out of clothes that have gone through the dryer, but it may be significantly more difficult.)
  • In addition to clothes, you can also use the method outlined above to remove ink stains from carpet and upholstery. (Keep in mind that small stains are likely to be easier to remove than large ones, and be sure to test your fabric for colorfastness if you’re concerned about fading.)
  • For ink stains on carpet, apply enough hand sanitizer to saturate the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, then blot the stain with clean cloths. Continue until the ink is gone, then blot with cloths dampened with clean water to rinse.

I never would have guessed that it would be so simple to get ink stains out! If you have a question or quandary of your own, my inbox is always open! :-)

Have you ever dealt with ink stains on clothing?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • Genius, pure genius! Thank you Jillee for having the patience to research and try these things out. Where would I be without you? I’d be the lady with a conspicuous blue ink line down her shirt, that’s where I’d be. Thank you for all of your great ideas and advice! I do have a quick question though: I haven’t made your DIY/homemade hand sanitizer yet but when I get around to it, that would also work on ink stains, correct?

  • Thank you! Stumbled across your site and found this super helpful and had some hand sanitizer spray that was made by a distillery at the height of the pandemic which worked wonders and surprisingly took only a couple sprays!

  • I have a challenge for you….dry erase marker stains on clothes! My kids use EXPO markers in school and they NEVER, NEVER come out of their clothes. I have tried hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, bleach, vinegar, peroxide, nail polish remover, and many others. None of them ever worked.

  • Is there anything that will remove oil stains on dark polyester material.? Had frying oil splash and it has been washed and dried without the stain coming out.

  • How about ink that has already gone through the dryer? I take the shirt out, & there’s ink at the bottom of the pocket. Me:??? Him: I NEVER put pens in my pocket. Me: ??? Him: Really; I never put pens in my pocket! Me: *sigh* (He apparently never does anything without thinking, either!) Sanitizer almost took it out, but there’s still some at the stitch line. Should I keep trying?

  • Buffalo chicken sauce. On a white cotton shirt……. I’ve tried Dawn, vinegar, and laundry spot remover. It’s still visible. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  • Please note that for germ-killing some hand sanitizers contain triclosan and some contain alcohol. Triclosan (which also appears in antibacterial soaps) is highly toxic to aquatic organisms and other creatures. The Purell sanitizer listing on Amazon contains no product list at all.

  • I have a regular agitator in my washing machine and I used it as a washboard would be used. Lay the wet cloth over the top of the agitator and use the toothbrush or whatever to scrub. The writing or the symbols give you some thing to scrub agains.

  • Hand sanitizer will also take out tree sap if you happen to get it on your new black shirt!! It didn’t discolor at all. It did take some work, but soooo happy I tried it.

    • I would first try Dawn soap. If that doesn’t work, you can try the alcohol next, then the hand sanitizer and/or hairspray. You can also try a magic eraser. Let us know which process worked the best. Try any of these on a small area first!

  • I had no luck with the hand sanitizer, but the nail polish remover worked better for me. I also had to use it to clean the dryer drum as it was tinged blue from the drying pants. Unplug the dryer first, and wipe the cleaning agent out first before using again. It was a real pain as I had to take the dryer door off so I could reach all the way in the back to remove the ink haze.

  • I’ve used the hand sanitizer method before . Our work shirts until recently were white . I put an old washcloth or paper towel underneath so the stain doesn’t bleed through to the other side when using the sanitizer. I’ve had this happen before. I love all the other hints that have been posted.

  • I can see this working for ball point pen ink, but what about roller ball ink? I love roller ball pens until their contents find their way onto fabric. Any thoughts out there?

  • How about removing ink from leather? I once left my leather purse in the floor of a friend’s car (as we were in the field and I didn’t need it), only to discover later that the tip of an uncapped pen had rested against it the whole time and the ink had wicked out into the leather. It was a dark brown purse and the ink was blue, so it still showed enough to be noticeable. Nobody could tell me how to remove the stain so I had to replace the purse.

  • I would suggest the hand sanitizer works better due to the consistency of it not drying as fast, or being removed as fast, as the others. It removes permanent marker from white boards as well.

    • I was also thinking that the gel consistency holds it in place better than a liquid. But except for the nail polish remover, I couldn’t see any of the stains left in the “After” photo.

    • YES, on the white board! I run a Family Resource Center and often use a whiteboard to update our GUESTS on new products that are available. I found a whiteboard that hadn’t been used in a while. The “dry erase” marker that was used would NOT come off, not even with the “official” whiteboard cleaner. I was armed with a glass cleaner, alcohol, fingernail polish remover and hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer WON!!! I also write on our refrigerators and freezers in our pantry portion of our ministry. Hand sanitizer wins again! With the texture on some of the appliances, it did take using the trust old toothbrush to get into the texture.

  • I have always soaked the garment in milk and it works every time…
    Place the pen soiled item in a bowl or bucket and pour on about a pint (less if a small item) leave overnight to soak then wash as normal, no scrubbing needed.

  • Back in the day (the mid-60’s) I had several friends that worked at a grocery store. It seemed like if they had to mess with or change the ribbon on the cash register they would be left with ink everywhere. This is where I learned the hairspray trick. At that time Aqua Net was the inexpensive one they all kept at their stations. Hairspray and blotters did it every time.

  • Since I couldn’t find any aerosol hairspray in my house, I used just hand sanitizer and rubbed lightly with an old toothbrush and it worked beautifully !!!! No hint there was ever any ink on my apron !!! Thank you

  • I recently tagged my favorite pair of pants with dry erase marker and thought about trying hand sanitizer, but didnt because i thought the alcohol would bleach it. Does alcohol bleach fabric? My pants are a medium shade of khaki

  • Funny that I should happen upon your tips on grease stains. I was at an organic cleaners yesterday contemplating whether , or not to have them launder an ink-stained white quilt of my Client’s (which would later reveal to cost $49.99!). This prompted a conversation with the staff person about my thoughts on researching DIY solutions then giving a shot at taking care of the stain myself. Turns out the young lady didn’t even know that DIY was “a thing”. Then she excitedly told me that she did, in fact, know one remedy that her mother had taught her. She’d returned home from a family event riding in a car with a pot on her lap. When she emerged from the car, to her horror, she had a huge orange grease stain on her lap. When she got inside, her mom reacted by telling her to lay the garment in the sun, stain face up, and leave it there all day. Although she thought this a peculiar remedy, she did as her mom instructed. The next day to her delight she found the sun had bleached the stain right out! I’ve yet to substantiate this claim myself, but I shall definitely employ this technique the next time I find myself with a nasty grease stain! Now, I’m off to test out your ink removal treatment from a white quilt. I use neither hairspray, nor hand sanitizer, so will be employing straight rubbing alcohol.

  • Wow- just tried this on a white linen Hugo boss blazer with a little black sharpie stain- after a couple rounds of hand sanirizer -alternating with warm water and laundry soap- stain is gone. I thought it was a throw away! Took a bit of patience- but wow!

  • I got either gel ink or makeup out of a blouse with a vinegar/dawn solution and gently scrubbed with a soft tooth brush…the shirt hadn’t been laundered yet so it was easy peasy but will definitely try the alcohol next time one of my kids washes their ink pen with their school clothes.

  • this is great. i’m currently wearing a top with an old ink stain so a timely post. i just figured the ink was there for life but will try out one of these methods.

  • Why not simply use rubbing alcohol, which is the basic working ingredient common to the hand sanitizer & hairspray. Besides, it’s much cheaper than those two, right?!

  • I always used the cheapest aerosol hairspray I could find. It always worked. Also, I would guess on a hard surface (like a handbag) that a magic eraser would work, especially with a bit of hand sanitizer to “soften” the ink a bit.

  • When I worked at a printer years ago, we used to remove ink from photographs with Armor All. It easily removed ink without any damage to the glossy surface of photos. Wonder if it might work on leather too?

  • I worked for a while in a Beauty Salon and the girls used to treat their clothes with hairspray to remove hair color from their clothes. So the hairspray and hand sanitizer makes perfect sense to me. I’ve used shout to remove ink from clothes and it worked too.

  • As a former nurse I learned the secret many years ago. And sometimes it will remove most of the stain even after going through the dryer. Found your site about six weeks ago and shared with many. Keep up your great work.

  • What about an ink stain that has already been washed and dried? My son’s khaki work shorts have a stain that I discovered after it had been dried. We will try it and see. Thanks

  • Thank you all! I have never been so well-informed about household matters, as now – I just love the “Interweb” :-) By the way: I just the other day thought that I had ruined my new, most favourite pants (expensive Rosner, light grey, comfy as the come) as I dropped my Pilot G-2 ballpoint ink pen – the red one! – on to my lap and caught it by reflex between my legs. Bad thing to do! I got two marks, one on each inner thigh of the pants, which I still think that I can see after trying to remove it carefully. But now I will try this handsanitizer trick and see if I can get them perfectly clean again. I am so glad that you just posted this hack right now. I call that a true synchronicity!

  • AquaNet aerosol hairspray was our go-to ink-remover back in the 60s. It was tough stuff- it was actually called lacquer. Nice to know the trick still works!

    I love your blog and your awesome tips!

  • I’ve known for more than 25 years that non-aerosol hairspray gets out ball point pen ink and even ink from office stamp pads. Good to know it also gets out gel roller pen ink as well. But I didn’t know about the hand sanitizer at all. Thanks for those tips! :)

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