Everyday Living March 9th, 2020

At-Home Ways To Remove Ink On Clothes

If you have a toddler, then you know that handing them a pen isn't the brightest idea. Scratch that … it’s a recipe for disaster.

I learned this fun fact while babysitting my 3-year-old niece last weekend. She had a piece of paper and asked for a pen. Logical, right? I assumed she would draw the stick figure family that she doodles almost every day. What could go wrong?


The answer: everything! During the one second I turned my back, she already had a collection of ink scribbles on the paper, herself and her clothes. Obviously, this was not what I was expecting.

Since I was sure my sister wouldn’t be the happiest camper finding my niece’s new clothes covered in inkblots, the only thing left to do was to get rid of the evidence. So, I acted fast and got to work on those smudges before they set into the fabric.

By the time my sister came home, my niece was smiling and, most importantly, she was spotless from head to toe, including her clothes. Phew! My sister didn’t suspect a thing.

Well, until my niece blurted, “Mommy! I color on clothes today!” Talk about a face-palm moment.

However, my sister wasn’t upset, and it was all because my niece’s clothes were as clean as the day they were purchased. Just like my niece’s clothes, you can keep yours free of those tricky pen stains. Here’s your guide to getting rid of the evidence … I mean removing pen stains.

Determine the type of ink

It’s a no-brainer that pen stains are not created equally. Inks are made of different pigments, dyes, solvents and lubricants. Making them some of the toughest smudges to get out and a pain in the neck. Which is why it’s crucial to determine the type of ink you’re dealing with right away. The three most common offenders are:

Oil-based ink: Commonly found in ballpoint pens; oil-based ink is fast-drying and tough to remove.

Water-based ink: Water-based inks are easy to remove and are used in most washable markers and roller-ball pens.

Highly-pigmented ink: This type of ink is difficult to remove because of the large quantities of dyes and pigments used in the ink’s solution.

Let’s start with one of the most tedious stains to remove: oil-based ink.


Oil-based stains

Although a bit time consuming, it's not impossible to remove oil-based stains. Stay the course and your shirt or pant will come out looking like new.



Step 1:

Find a fabric-friendly solvent. What’s the key ingredient to removing stubborn oil-based pen stains? Ethanol. This can be found in many household products, such as rubbing alcohol, aerosol hairspray and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Step 2:

Place the garment over an absorbant surface. Putting a soft surface, similar to a towel, under the stain will prevent the ink from spreading around the garment as you scrub it. Make sure that only one layer of the garment’s fabric lays against the absorbent material. This will prevent the ink from seeping into the opposite layer of the garment.

Step 3:

Apply the solvent. If rubbing alcohol is your weapon of choice, soak a cotton ball in it and dab it on the stain. If you went with hand sanitizer, squirt a decent amount onto the stain and gently rub it into the fabric. Lastly, if hairspray is the lucky winner, spray it onto the stain until the material is saturated.

Step 4:

Let it sit. Depending on the age of the ink, the solvent may need time to break down the ink’s oils. Let the solution sit for 3-5 minutes, while continuously applying it to the stain to keep it damp.

Step 5:

Blot the stain. Blotting the stain with a clean, dry cloth presses the ink out of the garment and into the absorptive surface. Blot the stain until the solvent removes the stain.

Step 6:

Repeat, if needed. Those oil-based pen stains are determined little suckers, so if the stain wasn’t completely removed, move the garment to a clean part of the adsorbent surface and repeat steps 3-5 until the stain is 90-100% removed.

Step 7:

Apply detergent. To get the last remaining remnants of the pen stain, rub a small amount of detergent into the fabric and let it soak. Finally, rinse the material with warm water.


Water-based stains

Removing water-based pen stains is like a walk in the park. You just need water, vinegar, a large bowl and your washing machine.



Step 1:

Soak the garment. As strange as it sounds, whole milk and vinegar act as a magic eraser for water-based pen stains. Just fill a large bowl with two parts whole milk and one part vinegar and toss in the garment.

Step 2:

Hang it to dry. Once the garment has soaked in the milk and vinegar mixture overnight, hang it up and let it air dry.

Step 3:

Wash it. Can’t have your favorite shirt smelling like milk and vinegar, right? After the garment has dried, put it in the washer to get rid of the smell and to remove any remains of the pen stain.


Highly-pigmented ink

Highly-pigmented ink is the most difficult stain to remove. The faster you get to the stain, the better your chances are of getting rid of it.



Step 1:

Hand wash the stain. Start by pulling out the big guns; reach for the soap or detergent. After placing the garment over an absorbent surface, add a small amount of soap or detergent to the stain. Rinse with warm water, then blot the ink with a napkin or paper towel.

Step 2:

Treat the stain with ammonia. Dissolve one teaspoon of household ammonia in warm water. Next, soak the garment in the mixture for one hour. Rinse thoroughly while scrubbing the stain with a soft brush. Repeat this step until the stain is nearly gone.

Step 3:

Treat it with an alcohol and vinegar solution. If the ink stain still refuses to come out, mix one cup of vinegar with a cup of rubbing alcohol. Then place the garment over an absorbent material and apply the solution to the pen stain until the fabric is saturated.

Step 4:

Allow the solution to soak. Allow the solution to the area for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour table salt over the ink. Allow the salt to sit for 10 minutes. Then scrub with a soft brush and rinse with warm water. Repeat this process until the stain is gone.

From ink-stained to spot-free, you can successfully remove those blotches from your clothes quickly and successfully. While I may never trust my niece with a pen again, I’ll be prepared for the day she gets her tiny hands on one in the future.


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