How to Remove Ink Stains

The pen is mightier than the sword, but it can also leave mighty stains. And, because stains can come from water-based ink or oil-based ballpoint pen ink, some are easier to remove than others. Whether you're concerned with how to remove ink from clothes like jeans, shirts, or other cottons, you’ll just need a good solvent, like rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or hand sanitizer, as well as your trusted Tide detergent for pretreating and washing. Then, start with the following steps to help tackle stubborn ink stains.

A person removing excess stain from a denim jacket with a paper towel
Step 1

Test for colorfastness

Apply a solvent like rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or hand sanitizer to an inconspicuous area of the garment with a Q-tip, and let it sit for 1-3 minutes. Blot with a paper towel, and if no color comes off on the towel, continue to pre-treat.

Step 1

Test for colorfastness

Apply a solvent like rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or hand sanitizer to an inconspicuous area of the garment with a Q-tip, and let it sit for 1-3 minutes. Blot with a paper towel, and if no color comes off on the towel, continue to pre-treat.

A person rinsing a denim jacket in cold water
Step 2

Remove Excess

Blot excess ink with a paper towel. Place the paper towel underneath the stain, then pour your solvent directly onto the stain. Rinse off with cold water.

Step 2

Remove Excess

Blot excess ink with a paper towel. Place the paper towel underneath the stain, then pour your solvent directly onto the stain. Rinse off with cold water.

A person pretreating a denim jacket with Tide liquid laundry detergent and a toothbrush
Step 3

Pre-Treat

Apply Tide Ultra Stain Release Liquid directly onto the stain. Use either a soft-bristled toothbrush or rub the fabric together gently to spread the detergent into the fibers of the garment, and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Step 3

Pre-Treat

Apply Tide Ultra Stain Release Liquid directly onto the stain. Use either a soft-bristled toothbrush or rub the fabric together gently to spread the detergent into the fibers of the garment, and let it sit for 5 minutes.

A person pouring Tide liquid detergent into the detergent dispenser
Step 4

Dose

Use the cap to ensure you use the right amount of detergent, and pour it into the detergent dispenser if you have an HE machine, or directly into the drum before loading the clothes if you have a non-HE machine.

Step 4

Dose

Use the cap to ensure you use the right amount of detergent, and pour it into the detergent dispenser if you have an HE machine, or directly into the drum before loading the clothes if you have a non-HE machine.

A person placing a denim jacket into the drum of a washing machine
Step 5

Load

Without rinsing off the detergent, place the garment into the washer with any other items. Leaving the detergent on the stain will give your wash that extra boost of cleaning power.

Step 5

Load

Without rinsing off the detergent, place the garment into the washer with any other items. Leaving the detergent on the stain will give your wash that extra boost of cleaning power.

Select the wash cycle and water temperature on your washing machine
Step 6

Wash

Wash on the usual cycle, on the hottest wash temperature indicated. Always check the instructions on the garment’s care label.

Step 6

Wash

Wash on the usual cycle, on the hottest wash temperature indicated. Always check the instructions on the garment’s care label.

A laundry basket full of neatly folded, colored gaments
Step 7

Unload

If the ink stain persists after washing, repeat the previous steps before tossing in the dryer, as drying will set the stain.

Step 7

Unload

If the ink stain persists after washing, repeat the previous steps before tossing in the dryer, as drying will set the stain.

Why Removing Ink from Clothes is Tough

You may find that removing the ballpoint pen stain you got on your blouse can be more difficult than the stain on your pants made by a leaky fountain pen. One of the main stain-removal challenges comes from the fact that not all ink types and fabrics are the same, so some ink spots will be easier to remove than others.

Ballpoint ink: Thick and oily, these stains are a combination of dyes and grease.

Water-based ink: Perhaps the easiest to remove, stains from fountain pens and gel pens are thinner and non-greasy.

Permanent ink: These are the hardest ink stains to remove, and you often need a special, permanent ink remover to tackle.

Whichever type of ink stain you're faced with, you'll have a better chance of removing ink from clothes by following these important steps:

  1. Act quickly and avoid transferring the ink to other items if the ink is still wet. Fresh ink stains are easier to remove before they dry and set into the fabric.

  2. Blot the excess of the stain gently, being careful not to rub it into the fibers.

  3. Apply rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or hand sanitizer to dilute the stain, making it easier to remove during the wash. These solvents help tackle most types of ink stains, but remember to test the stained garment for colorfastness first, as they can also attack fabric dyes and cause further damage.