Oh what a mess ballpoint and fountain pens can make! It doesn’t even have to be a burst leak to do damage, any accidental scribble on fabric is all it takes to produce a stubborn, permanent stain. How to clean that up? As you’ve likely discovered, running a spoiled item through the washing machine won’t be effective.
Here’s a helpful guide providing step-by-step instructions and 10 different, creative solutions to help lift that ink and bring favorite (or even expensive) clothing back to new.
The Good News: The remedies outlined below require only simple, household items–many likely stocked in the home right at this moment. Most are also quick and easy…who has time to waste!
Note: If it’s a plain white garment, most bleach pens should do the trick. Avoid using bleach based products on textiles containing spandex, mohair, wool, silk and leather.
A Few Pointers Before Starting
- First take a dry, clean white rag or folded paper towel and place underneath the shirt layer being worked on before applying any solution. This helps prevent seepage from running through and discoloring the back section of garment underneath.
- Chances are leakage has reached the flip side already so after cleaning the top section, turn your attention to the back as well prior to laundering as usual. Some prefer starting the underside first, then the top.
- Use a soft toothbrush to gently “scrub” the spot a bit with chosen treatment (found below), but don’t brush so hard that permanent damage is done to the fibers. A cotton swab or Q-tip will also help make the job easier.
- Tread carefully with any method chosen, test a small area first to ensure the formula won’t harm the fabric (threads or dye).
- If finding that one method is not providing the desired results and are ready to switch to another, thoroughly wash out the residue (by hand) from the first treatment before moving onto the next.
- If it’s a carpet disaster you’re dealing with, these remedies should be effective too. Just make sure to test fibers and examine closely for deterioration (both thread and color fastness).
10 Ink Stain Removal Tips
*When instructed to rinse or flush (heavier flow w/some power), use a bit of pressure to work the substance into the fibers (using fingers) while running cool water through the fabric (heat will only set the color more stubbornly).
1 TBS Vinegar
1 TBS Milk
1 tsp Borax
1 tsp Lemon Juice
- Mix together all the ingredients then drizzle over spot, leave for approximately 10 minutes. Dampen a sponge, dab at blotch until it’s gone.
- Spray the location until it’s well saturated. Wait half an hour then blot with a sponge that has been soaked in water. You may have to treat with hairspray a couple times.
#3: Fingernail Polish Remover (plain, unscented)
- Begin by testing a small unnoticeable area as this could discolor some fabrics. The method is the same as above.
#4: Toothpaste (Plain paste, not gel, no bleach)
- Just like the white collar trick, toothpaste can unleash magic here too. Apply deeply, let set for a few minutes, flush.
#5: Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol) or Hand Sanitizer
- Saturate with solution, leave for 30 minutes, then try flushing as noted above.
#6: White Vinegar (Regular Household)
- Pour a teaspoon of vinegar directly on top and allow to saturate for about 10 mins. Next add a drop or two of liquid dish detergent onto surface. Rub in gently. Leave to soak for about 5 mins. Rinse.
#7: WD-40 Lubricant/Degreaser
- Spray over area and after a minute or two, flush.
#8: Shaving Cream
- This needs to be the foaming shaving cream, not the gel. Smear a bit of the foam on top, give it half an hour before rinsing.
#9: Ivory Soap (bar)
- Run clothing under cold water so it’s good and wet. Rub the bar into the area (not too roughly or it will damage the fibers), making sure to get a good amount of Ivory into the spot. Set aside for half an hour. Add a couple drops of liquid dish detergent, apply gently, rinse.
- Let the item soak in Buttermilk for 24 hours, rinse (soapy mix incorporating Ivory or liquid hand soap). If some discoloration has lifted, try the procedure again (soaking in buttermilk for 24 hrs).
Results: Success! Next Steps
** If a stain persists but is diminishing…reapply the same treatment that is working until entirely gone (sometimes 2 or 3 attempts are required).
After thoroughly removing the ink, swish the garment vigorously in cool water to completely get rid of any trace of solvents used then launder as you normally would w/favorite detergent.
If seeking advice on how to wash up an inner dryer drum after a pen exploded while drying a load of laundry, this is the page to check for solutions: How To Remove Permanent Marker.