How to Get Ink Stains Out of Fabric

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No matter how hard you try, there will always be times when ink will leak on clothing or fabric of some type and unfortunately, those are the most difficult stains to remove. Well, don’t panic just yet! There may be a ‘home remedy’ that you can use that is effective at least 90% of the time. However, there is one word of caution here! Don’t wash and dry anything until you have followed one of the following ink removing tips or that stain will be set forever!

We flip our Bic before putting it back in our shirt pockets and put the cover back on those markers before placing them back in our bags, but often to no avail. Sometimes it seems like a conspiracy between the pen manufacturers and the clothing industry to ruin our clothes so we need to go out to buy new items all the time. For conspiracy theorists like myself, I like to think that it is never my fault, but the sad fact of the matter is, it often is just that. Here’s tip # 1 for getting ink stains out of fabric – don’t let it get there in the first place! Never carry a pen in your pocket because accidents will happen. (Murphy’s Law)

Hairspray and Oxy Clean

The good old fashioned hairspray technique works well with smaller stains but most often does little for those large blobs if the ink has saturated more than a few tiny spots. The first thing to do is get somewhere immediately where you can remove the article of clothing if that’s where the stain is. (Body heat will dry it, often causing it to ‘set.’) Generously spray the ink spots and allow it to stand a few minutes. Next blot some Oxy Clean on the area being extremely careful not to rub it in.

After this step you should also allow a few moments for the oxidizing bubbles to lift the stain even further before laundering. You will find people who say to use warm water but don’t! Warmth will set the stain. Launder in cool or cold water and repeat the process if necessary prior to drying the item. Remember – heat sets the stain!

WD-40 or Spray Carpet Cleaner for Large Areas

While these may not be the ideal treatments for delicate fabric, if you want to know how to get ink stains out of fabric in large areas, you need an industrial strength solvent. WD-40 is an extremely potent blend of solvents such as mineral spirits, liquefied petroleum and mineral oil with some inert ingredients (10%) thrown into the blend. It is not only a simple lubricator like everyone assumes but great at cleaning grease, grime, dirt, paint and yes, even ink!

In fact there is now a handy little pen that you can keep handy in your purse or glove box for those tiny ink splotches that you encounter hours before you know you will be returning home. And those little pens aren’t supposed to have the odor that the spray would provide. And when all else fails, try some spray-on carpet cleaner that also is formulated with powerful solvents. The key is to treat the area before it gets a chance to set completely if at all possible!

Three Household “Staples” for Ink Removal

There isn’t a household on earth (at least there shouldn’t be!) that doesn’t have baking soda, lemon and milk on hand at all times. In fact, even when eating out at a restaurant and noticing an ink stain, you could ask for these items and chances are they will be at your table long before an ink stain has time to dry! The first method is simply to make a paste of lemon and baking soda, being careful to place a towel or napkin under the garment, and then applying the paste to the spot. Let it sit approximately a half hour, rinse and then you can launder as usual.

The second method is commonly referred to as the “Milky Way,” but no, not a candy bar or constellation of stars in the sky! For treating stains with milk you would need to be at home because you need to take off the garment for the treatment. Place a bit of milk in a bowl, soak the part with the ink stain in the milk until you see the milk discolored by ink, remove the garment and dump the milk. Start over again and repeat this until you see no more ink in the milk. Launder as usual. What is the magic? Elementary my dear Watson – enzymes!

Some Words of Caution

Unfortunately, there is no one ‘fix’ that will work with all types of fabric and in all locations. Please keep in mind that some of the products recommended should not be used in closed spaces or on delicate synthetic fabrics. Before choosing a method of removing ink stains from fabric, consider the following:

  • Only use industrial solvents in well ventilated areas
  • Never use alcohol based products on triacetate, acetate or rayon
  • Never use the clothes dryer before the entire stain is removed
  • Body heat sets the stain – remove clothing as soon as you notice the stain
  • Avoid rubbing the stain removal treatment into the fabric – it rubs the ink in as well
  • Use cool to cold water to flush the cleaning treatment away and also for laundering
  • Water based ink is easier to remove than permanent ink – check the pen

You will often read advice that tells you to launder in warm water. Don’t do it! Warm water is great for removing grease but will unfortunately set the ink stain even deeper. Of course if you have removed the entire stain then there is no reason why you shouldn’t launder as normal. However, if there is the tiniest bit of stain remaining, you don’t stand a prayer of getting it out if you use warm to hot water. And remember, if one technique doesn’t work, try another – just do so before you launder the garment. Good Luck!

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Jamey Wagner

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