Written by Grove Collaborative

Stain Busters: How to get ink stains out of clothes

Last Updated: October 16, 2020

Don’t throw out your favorite piece of clothing just yet — we’re sharing the best tips for getting ink stains and pen marks out of clothes, naturally.

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Spills happen, but Grove Collaborative has you covered with Stain Busters. Each week, we’ll tell you how to tackle a different tough stain around the home or on your clothes. Red wine, grass stains, ink ... no stubborn stain is a match for our grime-busting guides.

Is there anything more frustrating than staining your favorite shirt or pair of jeans? It’s even worse when you stain it with something like ink. It’s so dark, you might worry it’s beyond saving. But don’t relegate your clothes to the dump when facing an ink blot! Instead, follow our step-by-step guide for restoring your clothes without the ink woes.

What type of stain is an ink stain?

Whether you forgot to take out a pen from your pocket before washing, or you had a toddler eager to decorate their surroundings with art, ink stains are highly common. There are even various types of ink stains. Who knew? Here’s what you might be facing.

  • Dye-based: Most commonly used in ball-point pens, these inks are thick and oily, made by combining dyes with grease. These stains may need to be pre-treated for proper removal.

  • Water-based: These inks are mostly used in fountain and gel pens. This ink is thin, non-greasy and easier to remove. If the stain is fresh, it can be completely washed off with just hot water. A dried stain may need a stain remover.

  • Permanent ink: As the name suggests, permanent ink is designed to be permanent. This makes it the hardest to remove completely, but not impossible. If you're dealing with a permanent marker/Sharpie stain, check out our Stain Busters Guide to Removing Sharpie Stains.

Things you’ll need to clean ink stains

Cleaning an ink stain requires different materials for different types of stains. The type of stained fabric is also a consideration. The items mentioned below are some of the best options for the removal of ink stains on a variety of fabrics.

  • Jar or glass
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Vinegar
  • Toothbrush
  • Paper towels
  • Stain remover
  • Hairspray (alcohol-based): Alcohol-based solvents are by far one of the most effective for removing ink stains. Before buying a hairspray for cleaning purposes, read the label to ensure it is alcohol based, and does not contain perfume, oils, or conditioners, as these things may cause additional stains.
  • Laundry detergent
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Liquid glycerin: Glycerin, most of the time, is made from animal fat or vegetable oil. This makes it excellent for dissolving oil based stains.
  • Hand sanitizer (alcohol-based)
  • Color-safe bleach

Step-by-step instructions to clean ink stains

For linen/polyester/nylon/Spandex/Lycra

Step 1: Test the solvent

Choose the cleaning solution of your choice — preferably alcohol based — and test it on an inconspicuous spot on the fabric to ensure it doesn't cause more damage.

Step 2: Drip alcohol

Place the stained area over the mouth of a jar or glass, and keep the fabric stretched tight to make sure the ink doesn’t spread. Drip alcohol through the stain. It will loosen the ink, which will then be dropped into the jar.

Step 3: Rinse and dry

Once the stain is removed, rinse the stained area well with water. Air dry and check to make sure the stain is really gone.

Step 4: Launder

If the stain is completely removed after drying, launder the item per the instructions given with the fabric.

For wool and silk

Step 1: Blot

For wool or silk fabric, the first step is to blot out as much ink as possible. Dampen your microfiber cloth or blotting paper with cold water, and dab on the stain.

Step 2: Use a cleaning solvent

If the stain does not come off after blotting, apply your alcohol-based cleaner and blot with warm water, or use a mixture of vinegar and water in a 1:1 ratio and scrub the stain. Try using a toothbrush to really get into the fibers.

Step 3: Clean with water and dry

If the stain is lifted, use a cloth dampened with cold water to take off the cleaning agent. Blot dry with a clean paper towel.

For cotton/chenille/corduroy

Step 1: Spray hairspray

Spray alcohol-based hairspray on the stained area, and allow it to loosen the ink.

Step 2: Soak in a cleaning solution

Make a cleaning solution of detergent and vinegar diluted in water, and test it on a corner spot. If it doesn’t damage the fabric, soak the stained area in this solution for about half an hour.

Step 3: Rinse and dry

If the stain is removed after soaking, rinse the fabric with cold water and let it air dry.

Step 4: Dab with alcohol

If the stain persists after soaking, dab it with a cloth dampened with alcohol until the stain lifts. Clean with a wet cloth and air dry.

For leather and velvet

The best option for fabrics like leather and velvet is to use a cleaning product especially designed for them and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Grove Tip

Don't wait to attack a stain

To remove ink stains, you have to act quickly. Fresh stains are so much easier to remove because they haven’t had time to settle and absorb into the fabric fibers.

Ink stain removal tips & tricks

How do you remove ink after it has dried?

You can remove ink after it has dried (or after you’ve washed your clothes), but the stain will be much more difficult to remove and you might not be able to get rid of it completely. Put down a towel you don’t mind getting stained, and place the stained garment on top of it. Treat the stain with rubbing alcohol or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or hair spray and let sit for at least 10 minutes before blotting and rinsing with cold water — you should see the ink transfer to the towel underneath. If a stain lingers, apply liquid glycerin to any remaining ink with a cotton swab, followed by a solution of diluted laundry detergent. Lather the stain, then rinse again with cold water. You may need to repeat the process multiple times for really set in stains.

Does vodka remove ink stains?

Surprisingly, it might just work. It’s a clear alcohol with no additives, so it doesn’t hurt to give it a shot, especially if you don’t have any other options in the house and you need to tackle a stain, stat.

Does pen ink come out in the wash?

The bad news — pen ink doesn’t usually come out in the wash alone. In fact, it can spread to other items, especially if you accidentally wash a pen with your load of laundry. The good news — you can get the pen ink out of clothing if you’re willing to do the work and have a little patience, too. Pretreat with an alcohol-based option from the list of effective stain treaters before washing.

Can you remove ink stains with toothpaste?

It might not be quite as effective, but you can remove ink stains with toothpaste in a pinch — aren’t you glad you can use something (like toothpaste) that you always have at home to get rid of an ink stain? Here’s how to get it done:

  • Cover the ink stain with toothpaste and let it sit for a few minutes
  • Next, run the area under cold water while you rub the toothpaste into the fabric
  • Keep repeating these two steps until you notice the pen ink has come out

How do you remove ink stains from jeans?

Ink stains on jeans can be the worst, as many times your favorite pair of jeans can be pretty pricey or just plain hard to replace. Follow our lead on how to remove ink stains from jeans with these simple steps:

  1. Fill a pot or bucket with 91-percent (or higher) rubbing alcohol
  2. Add some milk to the alcohol, making a handy cleaning concoction
  3. Submerge your ink-stained jeans (the portion with the stain) into your solution, and then pull it out
  4. Add salt liberally to the stained part of your jeans
  5. Lightly pour some of the milk-and-alcohol solution onto the salted stain, rub your fingers over the stain with the solution, and scrub hard with your fingers
  6. Keep adding solution and scrubbing until you see the stain has been removed. (Keep in mind, you might need to also do a few rounds of salt before the stain comes out all the way.)

How do you remove ink stains from furniture and carpet?

Getting ink stains on carpet or furniture is the mother of all household dilemmas, but there’s a way to salvage your furniture and carpet without throwing in the towel. Check out the how-to process for removing ink from both furniture and carpet below.

How to remove ink stains from carpet in three easy steps:

  1. Start by mixing one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid with warm water
  2. Use a cloth to dab into your soapy mixture and then dab your towel onto the ink stain on your carpet
  3. Keep repeating step two until you notice your stain is gone for good
  4. If needed, apply an alcohol-based stain remover like rubbing alcohol, but be sure to test in an inconspicuous area first.

How to remove ink stains from furniture:

  1. Use a clean, white cloth and dampen it with rubbing alcohol
  2. Dab the ink stain on your sofa with your cloth
  3. Combine equal parts liquid soap, liquid dishwashing detergent, and water, and mix up a cleaning concoction
  4. Use a new cloth to dab the stain with your solution you’ve just made
  5. If your cleaning solution isn’t working on its own, just add two to three drops of ammonia to your solution
  6. After you see that the ink has been completely removed through this process, use water to rinse the cleaners off your furniture
  7. Get yet another cloth and blot the water out of your furniture, trying to get the furniture as dry as possible
  8. Lastly, let your furniture air dry, but avoid any use until it completely dries out

Ink-removing products

Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered with our buying and cleaning guides. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to take on stains, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials for the cleaning tools to tackle the job.

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