This Is the Best Way to Get Ink out of Clothes (It Just Takes 4 Steps!)

published Jan 21, 2024
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Dirty pen ink  stain on fabric from accident in daily life. Concept of cleaning stains on clothes or cleaning the house. Selected focus
Credit: C.Aphirak/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever accidentally left the cap off a marker or pen, you probably know how hard it is to get ink out of fabrics — especially if you put said uncapped tool into a pocket and got ink on your clothes. Like all stains-to-be, it helps to act as quickly as possible. I spoke to cleaning expert Ryan Knoll, owner of Tidy Casa, to get the best advice for removing ink from clothing. 

Quick Overview

How to Get Ink out of Clothes

  • Step 1: Pretreat the spot.
  • Step 2: Choose the right solvent to use.
  • Step 3: Apply the solvent.
  • Step 4: Rinse and repeat, as needed.

Here’s what you need and what you should do to get ink out of clothes.

What You’ll Need

  • Clean cloth
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Isopropyl alcohol or acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Cotton balls (optional)

How to Get Ink out of Clothes

Follow these four steps to remove ink stains.

Step 1: Pretreat the spot.

Grab a clean cloth and blot the stain gently. You don’t want the ink to set, so the sooner you do this, the better! Knoll says not to rub the cloth around, because it can spread the ink and cause it to be more embedded into the fabric.

Step 2: Choose the right solvent.

The treatment you use for ink on your clothes changes depending on the ink. For water-based ink, use soap and water. For permanent or oil-based ink, use isopropyl alcohol or acetone-based nail polish remover.

“Most of us won’t know what type of ink the pen that spilled uses, so the thing to remember is that ballpoint pens (the most common) use oil-based/permanent ink,” Knoll says. “Rollerball pens use a water-based ink.”

If you’ve spilled ink from an ink pot, check the bottle or the manufacturer’s website to see what type of ink it was.

Step 3: Apply the solvent.

As mentioned before, don’t rub anything into the ink! Put the solvent you’re using onto a clean cotton ball or cloth, and dab it onto the spot. Knoll reminds us to be patient with this — removing ink spots can take a lot of work. Just keep dabbing.

Step 4: Rinse and repeat.

After you’ve dabbed your heart out, rinse the garment in cold water. The spot might not come out with the first attempt, so be prepared to hop back a step and add more solvent. Continue until the ink is out of your clothes, or as close to gone as you can get it.

Knoll says you can also try washing the clothes in your washing machine if you don’t have time to try the solvent rinse and repeat. Just add the solvent onto the garment, toss it in the wash in cold water, and see how it goes. 

What Not to Do

There’s one important thing to remember when you’re trying to remove an ink spot: Avoid high heat at all costs. That will cause the ink to set right away, and then you’ll have an even harder time getting it out. If you wash your clothing in the machine, don’t use hot water, and don’t put it in the dryer until the stain is completely gone. And if you’re hand-washing, always use cool or cold water — especially when you’re first treating a fresh ink spot.