Ballpoint Pen Marked Shirt? 10 Ways To Dab Out Ink Blotches

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.

Fountain Pen, Shirt & DressHere’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).

Recipe #1

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.

#2: Hairspray

  • 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.

#10: Buttermilk

  • 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.

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    • Stephanie

    Resolve Carpet Cleaner:
    My 2 yr old daughter drew on her comforter the day after we bought it. I tried all kinds of products to remove the marker. As a last resort, I used Resolve Carpet Cleaner and it lightened up on the first application and on the second was gone!!! 🙂

    • Ken

    I have a painted(or plastisized) kitchen cupboard that has a persistent lavender smell… how do I remove it?

    • Bren

    This post was a great help! I threw an uncapped black pen in my brand new large-sized COACH bag without thinking, and before I knew it there was black ink all over the cream-colored satin lining. Your suggestion of using nail polish remover worked beautifully!! All i had (and used) was the non-acetone kind; and it got it all out without staining the satin. Thank you so much for your great posting!!!

      • Jade

      I used shaving cream and it sorta worked… Did not get it all out though…

    • aj

    Any ideas on how to get toner out of clothing? It was a puff of the dry toner powder for our copier…on my new shirt…tried so many things with none of them helping.
    Any help appreciated!

      • Rhonette

      Years ago I worked in a copier repair shop. Unfortunately, the only way to remove toner is by vacuuming it out. If you have tried to remove it by other methods, your garment is most likely permanently stained now. Toner is strange stuff and rubbing it makes it worse. Hope this helps in the future.

        • Mariann

        Vacuum then launder worked for me.

    • Joe

    I have tried almost all of the different tips for removing ink from a t-shirt and the only one that had a noticeable effect was the rubbing alcohol. It took most of the stain out. Thanks

    • georgeann stroz

    I need help!
    whrn I opened my dryer I saw the cloths full of Ink stains and dry what am I to do! Please help!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Angie

      I had the exact same thing hsppen to me, I tried the rubbing alcohol, it did remove a small amount of the stain, but there is still alot of spots. I also tried washing it in Clorox 2 for colors, with no luck. I am going to try other mothods, if I find one that works I’ll let you know. If you come across anything please let me know.

    • Julie

    How do you get Sharpee off the inside of the NEW dryer?

      • Cara

      Put some nail polish remover on a cotton pad and it should wipe right out! It worked for me!

      • lynn

      rubbing acohol should do the trick

    • Marlene

    I love your daily tips! I need help my husband is a auto mechanic. I need to know the best way to do his laundry, He gets gear and transmission oil on his clothes- how do I get this out of his work clothes?
    Thank you for any tips>

      • amynrichie

      My dad who is a farmer/mechanic swears by the addition of Simple Green to the laundry OR a very small amount of Dawn dish soap. They have a regular top loader washing machine, I wouldn’t put the dawn dish soap in a high efficiency front loader.

        • Becky

        I got a safety vest sprayed with liquid stamp ink on the job, that work uses for stamping lumber. This ones polyester and has a zipper rather than the velcro. Got sprayed literally 2 days ago, so not too old, but prepared to accept that it may never come out.

        Totally curious if anyone has any ideas on how to lift such a stain. I tried soaking in resolve, tried hairspray (but it didn’t lift it out enough), and soaking it in dawn: vinegar water solution… most of the searches show how to get pen ink stains out that are just a spot/section, whereas this is speckled all over.

        Hasn’t been thrown in the dryer yet. I’m just curious if anyone has any old school tricks for getting printer/stamp ink out of clothes as I’m trying to make a reference notebook of good cleaning hacks.

        P. S. I didn’t have rubbing alcohol on hand to test, or it’d have been the first thing I tried.

    • Happy

    I used the rubbing alcohol to get blue ink out of the inside green lining of a new Coach bag. Worked GREAT. Just a bit of rubbing, with a cotton ball soaked with 90% rubbing alcohol and it came right up! the cotton ball was blue when I was done. Put the bag out in the sun to dry and it looks perfect again. THANKS!!

      • Greatful!

      Thank you for this tip. This is the exact problem I was looking to cure. The cap came off an ink pen and left a line of ink on the lavender satin liner of a Coach bag.

    • jaci

    How do you remove dark blue jean dye from grey leather car seats and the dryer. Both the car and the dryer are new. I did not expect the dye from the Ralph Lauren jeans to rub onto everything. Help?

      • granny

      did you wash them prior to wearing? most jeans have plenty of dye in them and sometimes need to be washed a few times before wearing. washing with vinegar or salt in the rinse water can help set the dye.

    • Jennifer

    How do you get permanent marker out of clothes? Tried vinegar did not work…help!

    • Linda

    Wet wipes have worked very well for me on ink stains, tomato sauce, mustard. Some stains you have to work at but they are very effective. I try to keep some of the packets in my purse for emergencies.

    • Jody Mullins

    On hard surfaces use a magic eraser

    • steve

    How do you get red ink out of a blue north face jacket if the ink has dried?

    • Jess

    My daughter was sorting out her pencil case for going back to school and then one of the spare ink cartridges for her ink pen leaked onto her duvet cover!!!!! We don’t really know what to do and need help. It’s not a very big stain , about the same shape as a 1p coin but there is 3 little blobs of it , again they are all the same shape as a 1p coin. Help please???????

      • meghan

      I used the bar of soap trick it worked miracles. my pencil case looks good as new!

    • Debi Pratt

    I have a simple ink stain on the suede leather visor of my car. What should I try?

    • Dana

    I had chapstick in my pocket that went through washer and dryer, how do i remove stains?

    • Maybell W.

    I had a ink stain in a hot pink uniform. I used rubbing alcohol and let stand for 30 minutes, and then washed it with dawn dish washing solution and all the ink was gone.

    • Suzanne Rose

    I had baby clothes which had mold on them from the drool/formula/baby food residue. I tried everything on them and was just going to discard them. My friend suggested I try bleach on them as a last resort, since I was going to toss them anyway, and had nothing to lose. Lo and behold, it worked. Now I will spot dab bleach on stubborn stains with my fingers, watch it closely, and rinse it out right away as soon as the stain disappears, and launder it. Sometimes for a large area I will set it in the sunlight, even for days at a time. It is not a method I would recommend for expensive clothes, but for everyday things it seems to work.

    • Amy

    I put my chef whites through the wash without realising there was still a black pen in the pocket and there is now black ink all over them. Any recommendations?

    • Riam

    I went to school and a sat on a chair without knowing their is ink on it
    How can I remove it?

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