How to Remove Water-Based and Permanent Ink Stains

Calligraphy Pen that can Leak and Cause Stains.

How to Remove Pen Ink Stains

I hope I’m not the only one who hates ink stains. It always seems like my pens leak all over the most expensive or beloved things I own at the worst possible time.

The first ink stain I remember had just randomly appeared on one of my absolute favorite silk blouses. Well, it probably wasn’t so random; I was carrying a notepad with a pen attached to it, so I probably inked myself.

I asked for some advice and most people told me to throw the shirt out and buy a new one. That it was a hopeless cause. Was I going to stand for that? No!

That made me even more determined to find a removal method to get my shirt looking new again. After doing some research, I found the answer.

Now, with owning a cleaning business, I’m happy to say I have a lot of practice at removing ink stains and I know the most effective tips to get an ink stain out ASAP.

You’ll probably be surprised to learn (I know I was) that pen stains can be removed from most surfaces. So, before you toss it – try my ink stain removal tips.

The sooner you go after the stain, the more luck you’ll have in the long run.

Water-based vs. Permanent Ink

Now, before we get started, it’s important to realize that there are typically two types of ink: water-based and permanent.

Fortunately, I know how to remove both water-based and permanent ink. Just an FYI: water-based inks are easier to remove because plain water is generally sufficient in washing the stain away. Some examples of water-based inks include:

  • Most highlighters
  • Magic markers
  • Calligraphy ink
  • Ink stamps

Permanent ink stains are much harder to remove, which is why I always recommend acting quickly when you are dealing with permanent ink.

Permanent ink is permanent because it can be made with gelatin, shellac and other binding agents that make it much more difficult to remove.

Your only chance at completely salvaging an item with a permanent ink stain is to make sure the stain doesn’t dry, otherwise you’re looking at quite a bit of effort and elbow grease to get the item looking brand new. Some examples of permanent ink:

  • Standard ink pens
  • Sharpies
  • Permanent markers

Removing Ink Stains from Non-Washable Fabric

I’ll start with the items you might think are surely doomed – non-washable items. Silk, wool, furniture upholstery and carpet would fall into this category.

A pen leaking all over your carpet sounds like a bad day waiting to happen. Well, if this is your reality – don’t despair.


  • Paper towels
  • Clean terry cloth
  • Alcohol-based hairspray

Yep, that’s it!

Carpet/Upholstery Cleaning Process

  1. Saturate the ink stained area with hairspray (any kind is fine, I use the cheapest possible and it works perfectly), hairspray works as a solvent and will loosen and dissolve the ink. Do not allow the hairspray to dry.
  2. Using clean paper towels or a clean terry cloth – dab, blot, dab, blot. Don’t rub, this could cause the ink to set further into the fibers and spread making a bigger mess.
  3. Continue with step 3 and 4 until the stain is lifted and has been removed.

Silk/Wool Cleaning Process

  1. Take a piece of absorbent, clean paper towel and place directly under the stain.
  2. Saturate the ink stain with the hair spray. Do not let the hair spray dry.
  3. Use the dab, blot, dab, blot method using another piece of paper towel.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 if necessary until the stain is gone.

Removing Ink Stains from Washable Fabric

Even the fabrics that most of us would consider “easy to wash” (think cotton, linen and nylon) still require a little bit of extra love and attention to get the ink out.

This is my go-to method on washable items because it truly does work.


  • Hairspray
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon teaspoon dish washing liquid
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar

The Cleaning Process

  1. Spray a bit of hairspray on the stained area. Allow to dry.
  2. Soak the stained part of the fabric in the mixture listed above for thirty minutes to an hour.
  3. When the fabric has finished soaking, rinse with water and let it air dry.
  4. Repeat as needed.
  5. Wash as usual when the stain has been removed.

Do not put the fabric in the dryer unless you’re absolutely positive the ink stain has been removed. The heat from the dryer will set an ink stain and make it permanent.

I’ve actually made this mistake before and ended up with a shirt that had a permanent stain. Lesson learned: if in doubt, repeat the stain removal process!

Removing Ink from Hard Surfaces

It’s obvious that there are many surfaces that can become stained by ink.

Ink stains on hard surfaces like brick, concrete and grout can be removed with water and baking soda.

The Cleaning Process

Option one: for removing ink stains involves water and baking soda.

  1. Mix a one-to-one solution of water and baking soda. Make sure it has a goopy texture.
  2. Use a soft bristled brush to get deep in the surface as this is what will remove the stain.
  3. Let sit for a couple minutes and then rinse the area thoroughly with water.
  4. Let dry.

Option two: for removing ink stains involves water and dish washing soap.

  1. Mix 1 cup of warm water with a few squirts of dish washing soap.
  2. Wipe the area down with the sudsy mixture.
  3. If the stain is stubborn, dip an old toothbrush into the sudsy mixture and gently scrub the ink stain.
  4. Rinse with clean water and let dry.

Tough Ink Stains

I’ve come across a few stains that seem like they’d never be removed.

I actually had permanent marker ink stain my carpet recently and it appeared to be set in. It wouldn’t lift, even with all my tried-and-true home remedies.

My Dad owned a printing shop and he had cases of products like Lift Off and Goop for removing ink from skin and various other items. These seemed to be the choice of many others I’d asked as well.

After trying them myself, I have to say that I’m a believer too! These cleaning products work well on other kinds of stains, like nail polish, permanent marker, correction fluid, etc.

These are not the only cleaning methods you can use to remove ink stains. I’ve listed some of the most common stain removal methods.

Give it a try before you decide to toss your ink stained item out or cover the stain on the carpet with a piece of furniture.