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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Gel Pen Ink

By Dr. Laundry October 1, 2010

I put my pen in my shirt pocket without closing it. It was a gel refill pen. The cotton seemed to draw the ink out of the pen, and I currently have a pink cotton no-iron shirt with a dime-sized black spot at the bottom of the pocket. I have not dried the shirt in the dryer, but have tried several remedies including Amodex. It removed a little bit of the stain, but it’s still very visible.

Should I try Clorox bleach on it? Or is there some other method I can try?

A. I have a two-step process for dealing with ink stains that I hope will help you, but first you need to determine the colorfastness of the shirt. Many colored dress shirts can be safely bleached; do a quick bleachability test to be sure. Mix 2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup water, apply a drop to a hidden area (hem, inside cuff) and blot dry. No color change means the shirt can be safely bleached, and you would treat the stain as follows:

1. Apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the stain and let it soak in for a few minutes.
2. Wash in the hottest water allowed (check the care label) with detergent and ¾ cup Clorox Regular-Bleach. Allow the shirt to air dry and check for success.

If the shirt doesn’t pass the bleachability test, then you can use Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster:
1. Apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the stain and let it soak in for a few minutes.
2. Apply Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster directly to the stain, wait five minutes, then wash in the hottest water allowed with detergent + Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster. Allow the shirt to air dry and check for success.

The biggest problem with a stain like this is that the ink is super concentrated and may require multiple treatments to get the stain out. Just be sure to continue to air dry the shirt in between treatments until you achieve success. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.