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Anne Klein abstract print silk scarf, GNW Luxe cashmere wool sweater, G-III suede leather skirt, Hermes collier de chien bangle, pendant necklace, Manolo Blahnik booties (all own)

Last week, I answered the question how to remove ink stains from leather. In response to the post, a reader asked how to remove ink pen stains from fabric. This post provides solutions for various situations.

In this post
  1. Ink stain removal from fabric
  2. At work try hand sanitizer to remove ball pen ink pen stains
  3. Salt the fresh spot
  4. Dry cleaning liquid
  5. Easy ballpoint pen oil-based ink stain removal
  6. Baking soda and water
  7. What works for just ink on cotton fabric
  8. Stain and ink streak removal from suede

Ink stain removal from fabric

Unfortunately, it happens again and again. You were in a meeting, and upon leaving you have to schlep not only your coffee mug filled with coffee, but some left-over cookies/goodies plus various hand-outs including the notebook you brought to the meeting. After your pen followed the laws of gravity twice, you are annoyed of its gravity tests. You put your pen into the pocket of your shirt, jeans, dress or blouse, and successfully load the other stuff into your hands and head back to your office. There you answer the piled up emails and voicemails. At the end of the day, you head to the restroom to touch up your makeup. Next you see in the mirror a big fat pen stain! Of course, it’s Murphy’s law that it is your favorite piece or the brand new purchase. Now what?

Of course, you can bring the item to the dry cleaner. However, most dry cleaner refuse to accept stained pieces for cleaning. They tell you that they can’t do anything, and all you can do is to toss the item. It’s ruined!

When that happens, you can as well try one of the following rescue methods. The tricky thing is that the fabric type, the type of color of the fabric, and type of ink can have an impact on the outcome of the stain removal. In all cases, try at an invisible place first to see what the effect of the treatment has on the color and fabric.

Tip: Never use hot water to soak an ink-spilled fabric. The heat will set the color.

At work try hand sanitizer to remove ball pen ink pen stains

When ink is spilled on fabric, act as soon as you notice. Fresh ink is easier to remove than dry ink. The drying process namely sets the stain into the fabric. When you don’t have the material handy because you are at work or on travel, go to the restroom. Blot the ink gently with paper towel so it does not spread and create an even bigger spot. Be careful! Avoid rubbing it into the fabric. Use the hand sanitizer to dilute the stain. Doing so improves the chances to remove water soluble ink during the wash.

Salt the spot

When you are at a restaurant, salt is a great remedy for fresh ink. Add the salt on the spot and dab with a moist paper napkin to lift the stain. Repeat as needed.

Tip: This “salt method” also works for red wine spills.

post logo on how to remove ball pen ink pen stains showing a shirt with ink spot


Pro tip: Pin the flyer to your DIY board so you have it handy when you need to remove ball pen ink pen stains.

Dry cleaning liquid

Many fashionistas have a dry cleaning pen in their bag. These pens are filled with dry cleaning liquid. Blot the spot, then use the dry cleaning pen. Follow the instructions printed on the label. Make sure to blot between applications so the stain doesn’t grow from ink diluted in the dry cleaning liquid. You may also use a cotton ball with dry cleaning fluid to blot the spot. No matter which of these methods you choose, wash the clothing afterwards.

Dryel dry cleaning pens as an alternative to remove ball pen ink pen stains
Six pack of dry cleaning pens c/o Dryel. The pens can be easily carried in your purse to dry-clean immediately when a spill happens on delicate clothes

Easy ballpoint pen oil-based ink stain removal

For oil-based ballpoint pen ink, I had success with the following DIY removal.

  1. You need a suitable alcohol-based solvent like alcohol, hair spray or non-colored nail polish remover, blot paper, absorbent paper or an old color-proof piece of clothes or towel you don’t use anymore.
  2. Place the stained area on the absorbent surface.
  3. Apply the solvent, don’t rub, don’t scrap.
  4. Wait 3-5 minutes for the ink to go into solution before you blot the stain.
  5. Re-apply solvent if needed until ink is removed.
  6. Wash the area with detergent.

Baking soda and water

When the ink isn’t oil-based, you may try using baking soda and water mixture. This paste removes ink stains from most fabrics that you can wash.

  1. Mix baking soda and water in a 2:1 ratio
  2. Soak a cotton ball in this mixture.
  3. Dab it on the spot until the stain fades away.
  4. Wash the item using your regular detergent.

What works for just ink on cotton fabric

When the stain is just ink on a cotton fabric, you can try the following if you like to try saving the piece.

  1. You need hairspray, an old clean towel or clean piece of color-proof clothes, cotton balls.
  2. Place an old towel or piece of color-proof clothes under the ink stain.
  3. Spray the stained area with enough hairspray that the spot is well soaked and the hairspray wouldn’t dry within the next minute or so.
  4. Let the hairspray set for a minute to allow the ink to dissolve in the hairspray.
  5. Then blot the wet spot with a cotton ball. Don’t use pressure when blotting, and don’t rub or scrape! Use a new cotton ball as needed. When you are lucky and the stain is small use a Q-tip instead of a cotton ball. Doing so avoids to spoil/impact the adjacent area of the spot.

Stain and ink streak removal from suede

The suede skirt in the look of the day was a second-hand find with a $20 price tag. Obviously, a pen had touched the skirt when it fell. The previous owner had sold it because she couldn’t find a dry cleaner in town who would clean it. To my best knowledge there is still none in town who cleans suede. They are afraid of color changes. Even when you offer that you sign a waiver not to make them responsible for any color changes, they won’t clean it.


details of silk printed scarf, pendant and studded bangle

style blogger in casual work outfit with red skirt and blue sweater
Outfit details: Anne Klein oblong scarf, GNW Luxe long-sleeves sweater, G-III suede straight skirt, GNW tights, Hermes collier de chien bangle, pendant necklace, gemstone studs and Manolo Blahnik buckle booties



Using a plastic brush and conditioning spray, I cleaned the skirt meanwhile twice. This method also removed the short ball pen ink mark. When a brush fails to work, use sandpaper. It’s amazing that this little trick helped me to recycle this skirt in various looks.

Important note: It’s hopeless that one of these methods works when the stain shows on both sides of the suede.


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Photos of me: G. Kramm

Other photos and design: N. Mölders

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