How to Get Ink Stains Out of Clothes

How to Remove Ink Stains From Clothes and Other Surfaces

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Ink stains are a common issue for fountain pen users, artists, or anyone who uses a pen. It can ruin your clothes and other surfaces or leave blotches on your skin for long periods. Whether it’s from a leaky pen or an accidental spill, dealing with ink stains can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to rid your clothes, other surfaces like your desk or table, or your skin of ink stains. 

Continue reading to see how to remove ink stains from clothes, surfaces, and your skin. 

How to Avoid Ink Stains

Types of Ink

Before getting into how to remove stains, I want to quickly go over the different types of ink stains there are.

Water-based Ink

Water-based inks are commonly found in standard fountain and gel pens. The ink is thin and non-greasy. Luckily, these are the easiest ink stains to remove. Keep in mind that usually, water-based inks are just a vehicle for dye-based inks. For example, Tombow Dual Brush pens are both water-based and dye-based.

Water-based inks include: Ohto Fude Ball Rollerball, Sakura Gelly Roll, Tombow Dual Brush Pen.

Alcohol-Based and Oil-Based Inks

Alcohol-based and oil-based inks are very similar, both in performance and their chemical make-up. Both inks can contain dye or pigments and are often waterproof or water-resistant. Oil-based inks are often marketed as permanent markers, known for their versaility and durability.

Alcohol and Oil-based inks include: Uni Jetstream Ballpoint, Copic Marker, Sharpie Permanent marker.

Dye-based Ink

Dye ink is made from colorants that completely dissolve in the liquid they are mixed with, typically water. Dyes are the most common type of colorant used in inks because of their wide range of colors and low-price point. Standard ballpoint pens are made with a combination of grease and dyes. This makes the ink oily and thick. These are more difficult to remove and must be pre-treated for proper removal.

Dye-based inks include: Pilot Iroshizuku Take-sumi, Sailor Manyo Koke, Kaweco Inks.

Pigment-Based Inks

An alternative to dye inks are pigment inks. Pigments are small partricles of colored materials such as minerals. The pigments in these inks are too small to see but don’t completely dissolve into the liquid it’s mixed with.

Pigment-based inks include: Sakura Pigma Micron Pen, Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen, Platinum Carbon Ink.

How to Get Ink Stains Out of Clothes

How to Remove Ink Stains from Fabric

Whether it’s your tablecloth, your favorite shirt, or a work uniform, ink stains on fabric can be infuriating. The good news is that depending on the type of ink and fabric, you may be able to get rid of it completely or at least reduce its appearance. Follow these instructions to learn how to get ink stains out of clothing.

Supplies to Use:

Step 1: Place Item on a Safe Surface

As soon as possible, place your item on a non-porous, easy-to-clean surface to ensure it won’t pick up any more stains or stain anything else. This could be a glass, metal, or hard plastic bowl or plate. If the stain is fresh with very wet ink, place paper towels underneath the stain. This will help to absorb the ink and minimize its spreading. Replace the paper towels as necessary.

How to Remove Ink Stains from Clothes

Step 2: Blot the Ink

To help suck up excess ink, dab it with a clean paper towel to continue to help remove as much of the ink as possible.

How to Remove Ink Stains from Clothes

Step 3: Apply a Stain Remover

Now that as much ink as possible has been soaked up, it’s time to apply a stain remover. You can use commercial or homemade options. 

How to Remove Ink Stains from Clothes

Commercial stain remover: If you have OxyClean or Amodex, you should apply it now. I always have OxyClean on hand, and it’s proved useful for basically all stains. Follow the instructions on the package for the best results  

Homemade stain remover: Create a stain-removing solution by combining equal parts color-safe non-chlorine bleach and liquid detergent. If you don’t have color-safe bleach, you can just use the detergent.

To apply the homemade cleaner:

Step 1: Pour a small amount of the solution over the stain, working from the middle of the stain outward. Use just enough to dampen the stained section to avoid the stain spreading. 

Step 2: Dab the stain with clean paper towels, adding more solution if necessary to ensure the stain doesn’t dry.

Step 3: When no more ink comes up from the stain, use a soft toothbrush or your fingers to massage the solution into the fabric.

Step 4: Let sit for 5-10 minutes

Step 4: Machine Wash

After you’ve applied the stain remover following one of the directions above, you can machine wash it with laundry detergent and color-safe bleach. Use the warmest and most vigorous settings on your dryer that are safe for the type of item being washed. 

Step 5: Inspect the Stain

After washing, inspect the stain. If it’s been removed, you can dry it as usual and put it away. If the stain is still visible, you can try a new solution to treat the stain. It’s essential that you don’t let the stain dry, or it’ll be nearly impossible to get it out. 

Step 6: Retreat if Necessary

Combine equal parts ammonia and isopropyl alcohol. This is much harsher and not safe for all fabrics, but it can be used for very stubborn stains. Be sure to test the solution on an inconspicuous place to ensure it doesn’t ruin the fabric. Repeat the treating steps as described above.


  • Try to remove the stain as quickly as possible. The longer it sits, the more likely it is to stain permanently.
  • Don’t let the stain dry, especially in the dryer. This will further set the stain. 

How to Remove Ink Stains from Hard Surfaces

The good news is most inks, especially standard fountain pen inks, are easy to remove from hard, nonporous surfaces like tables and counters. All you need is a damp paper towel and a gentle cleaning agent like Windex. 

For other materials like unfinished wood or stone, removing the ink once it’s been absorbed into it can be almost impossible. So I recommend not being around these materials when you’re doing risky things like filling your fountain pens.

For stubborn stains, you can try other cleaning agents like:

**It’s important to never combine cleaning agents with bleach, especially ammonia as they can become toxic. 

Try each cleaning product on an inconspicuous location to ensure it won’t discolor the material. Use only one agent at a time, and clean the surface completely before moving on to the next agent. 

How to Remove Ink Stains from Skin

How to Remove Ink Stains from Skin

Though I think ink stains on skin are a sort of badge of honor for fountain pen users or artists, I know there are times when having ink stains is not ideal. 

The best way to get ink off of skin is to use a mild abrasive cleaner like pumice soap. You can also just use dish soap and an exfoliating washcloth.

Tips for Avoiding Ink Stains

Not to sound annoying, but the best way to get stains out is to avoid them in the first place. So here are some tips for avoiding stains.

Don’t Leave Ink Bottles Open

When you’re not actively using an ink bottle, it’s best to keep it capped. It’s easy to bump a table or knock over a bottle while reaching for something. It’s best to just cap the bottle and not have any surprise accidents.

Use Inks That Are Easy to Clean

Another great option is to choose inks that are easy to clean in case there is a spill. Typically, ordinary ballpoint ink is usually the easiest to clean. Gel ink and ballpoint inks, especially those that are waterproof, like the Zebra Sarasa Mark On or fraud-resistant like Noodler’s Bad Black Moccasin, are harder to clean. 

For fountain pens, the easiest inks to clean, at least from fabric, are referred to as “washable blues.” This includes LAMY Blue, Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue, and Waterman Serenity Blue. These are preferred choices for schools around Europe for their specially-formulated, easy-to-clean ink. 

For more links that are relatively easy to clean, see our post on the Best Water-Soluble Fountain Pen Inks.

Be Careful When Uncapping Pens After Travel

Temperature or pressure changes and jostling can all cause ink to leak from a pen. Pens with wet inks, like fountain pens or rollerball pens, are susceptible to leaks even in the best conditions. If you do travel with a pen, be careful when uncapping it, as ink may have leaked into the cap. Uncap it over a sink or garbage, keeping the open end of the cap upright.

If you’re traveling with a retractable pen, consider removing the ink before travel (this is what I always do with fountain pens), or store them in an airtight container so that if they do leak mid-travel, they can’t get on any other items.

Be Careful with Retractable Pens

A common cause of ink stains is a retractable pen that’s left extended. Double-check that the pen is retracted before putting it in a pocket or pen case. If you always put your pens in your pockets, consider buying pens with caps, or carry them a different way.

Don’t Leave Pens in Clothes Pockets at Home

Speaking of putting pens in pockets, if you commonly keep pens in your pockets, make it a habit of removing them when you get home. When left in, it’s easy to be thrown in the wash with the clothes. From personal experience, this never turns out well. Best case scenario, you have a large stain on the piece of clothing it was left in. Worst case, all clothes have ink on them, and the inside of your washer is stained. 

Ink stains can be a hassle to deal with. Whether it’s on clothes, surfaces, or skin, the key is to act fast and avoid spreading the stain further. From using household items like vinegar and baking soda to commercial products like rubbing alcohol and laundry detergents, there are many options available that can effectively remove ink stains. By following these simple tips and tricks, you can save your favorite clothes from getting ruined by an accidental ink spill.

Do you have any tips and tricks for getting ink stains out of clothes or skin? If you do, leave them in the comments below so we can help others who may find themselves in a sticky or inky situation. 

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