Take notes: Here's how to remove ink stains from clothes

Move quick!

ink stain on shirt on pink background
(Image credit: Future)

We’ve all been there. You throw that extra gym shirt in a bag filled with miscellaneous items, like lipglosses, gum, and, of course, a pen that you've somehow forgotten about. You remove it from your bag only to discover a huge blue or black stain. Or perhaps you are writing out a to-do list or filling out your planner and all of a sudden you realize there’s ink all over your shirt and pants. 

While these situations are frustrating, you may not need to throw out that shirt after all. Once you've got your laundry symbols and basics down, you have a better chance of saving your clothes. While removing an ink stain doesn’t work 100% of the time, it is certainly worth trying to bring that garment back to life. Grab those laundry room essentials and buckle up — how to remove ink stains from clothes, according to an expert. 

Good to know

Time: Depends on the severity of the stain

Difficulty: Intermediate

Helpful hint: “When it comes to ink, it’s important to work fast," says Wendy Saladyga, senior manager of technical performance at Henkel. "Ink is an extremely tough stain to tackle and it’s not always possible to remove — especially when it sets. To ensure your best chance, work quickly."

Here's what you'll need

How to remove ink stains from clothes

Step 1: Rinse the stain

Start by rinsing the stain. “You will want to segregate the stain as much as possible so that as you rinse the stain, you don’t transfer ink to other parts of the garment," says Saladyga. "Run cool water over the stained area until it runs clear.” 

It’s important to rinse the garment. Avoid putting it in a sink full of water because it could cause the stain to transfer. “Instead, use a paper towel or a clean towel and make it wet with cold water for this step of the process,” she explains. 

Rubbing alcohol — like this top-rated option from Amazon — is another great item to have on hand and can be used to blot and treat an ink stain. Be sure to test the alcohol on a seam first so you can see how the garment's color reacts.

Step 2: Treat with a liquid laundry detergent

Before throwing it in the wash, use your detergent to treat the stain first. "Pour a small amount of a stain-fighting liquid laundry detergent, such as Persil ProClean Stain Fighter (on Walmart) or Purex 4-in-1 plus Oxi (on Amazon), directly onto the ink stain and gently work it into the fabric,” says Saladyga.

Then rinse and repeat these steps if necessary.

Step 3: Use an oxygenated pre-treat product or soak

If the stain is not removed, Saladyga recommends trying to use an oxygenated product (this pick from Amazon is helpful) as a pre-treater or as a soak. “If soaking, make sure the stain stays submerged in the liquid," she adds. "Do not let the stain dry.”

Step 4: Wash the garment in hot water

You'll want your hottest cycle for this one! Saladyga says to double-check the garment's label to see how hot of water it can handle, then throw it in the washing machine. "It is recommended to always check the stained area before transferring to the dryer as the heat from the dryer will cause the stain to be permanent,” she adds. Once the stain is out, put it in the dryer or leave it to air-dry. 


How do you remove dry ink stains?

Dry ink stains can be treated the same way as wet ink stains. The quicker you can tackle the stain the better chance you have of getting it out of your clothes. 

What is the best stain remover for pen ink?

Saladyga tells me the best stain remover for pen ink is rubbing alcohol. Then take the following steps.

  1. Apply rubbing alcohol: Lay the garment on top of a paper towel and apply rubbing alcohol to the stain. Test this on an inner seam first to make sure that it does not damage the color of your clothes.  
  2. Blot the stained area: Replace the paper towel underneath as necessary as you may see some of the stain transfer.  
  3. Wash: When you have removed as much of the stain as possible, apply detergent to the stain and allow it to sit for five to 10 minutes. Then launder according to the care label. 

“As a last resort, you can also bring your ink-stained item to a dry cleaner where they have additional cleaning options,” she suggests. 

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!