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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Ink Stains

By Dr. Laundry February 11, 2010

Q. Do you know what I can do to remove a black ink pen stain from the breast pocket of a black and pink-checked patterned summer (loose fiber) 100% cotton short-sleeved shirt?

A. I would normally recommend Clorox® Regular-Bleach, but the black and pink doesn’t sound like it could handle that approach.

It may be as simple as pre-treating with our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster. It contains hydrogen peroxide, and usually can be safely used on most colors. (Try placing a spot on a seam, let it set 2 minutes, then blot dry; no color change means it should be safe to pretreat the stain.) To treat the stain, apply the Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster to the stain; let it set ~5 minutes, then wash in the warmest water recommended on the garment’s care label with detergent and Clorox 2®. Check for success before drying and retreat the item if the stain persists.

If this is not strong enough, then a little detective work may be needed to find the right solvent to dissolve the ink and transfer it to another fabric. I recommend that you always use gloves to protect your hands and have adequate ventilation whenever solvents are in use. Among my usual candidates are ethanol, paint thinner, Goo Be Gone or TarGo. Use a Q-Tip dipped in the solvent to see which works best; also, use this as an opportunity to insure the solvent won’t remove the color (place a dot on a seam; wait a minute; then blot/dry and check for no color change). Then, place a clean cloth on a counter under the stained area. Use either a pipette or saturated cloth/absorbent pad and apply the selected solvent onto the back of the spot, and try to encourage it to leave and transfer to the other cloth. You might want to start outside and work toward the darker middle to help prevent bleeding/expanding. Keep an eye on the lower cloth as it must frequently be moved to a clean spot/replaced as the ink is transferred to prevent it being reabsorbed onto the shirt.

Keep applying the solvent and changing the lower pad until there is little/no more color transferred. Look around the spot to make sure it hasn’t expanded and doesn’t require additional treatment in those areas.

Then wash immediately in the hot water using detergent and Clorox 2®. Again, check for success after the wash as another treatment might be needed. Consider air drying, as the dryer may set any remaining stain.