Skip to content
Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

How to Remove Permanent Marker From Clothes

By Dr. Laundry August 11, 2009

Q. I put a permanent marker in my pocket and the top came off. It bled into the pocket of my pink cotton lab jacket. How can I remove the stain?

A. The key to success is being able to dissolve/solubilize the marker, and preventing it from spreading and bleaching out any other portions of the fabric. So here’s my recommended approach:

  1. A little detective work may be needed to find the right solvent. 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 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 trying 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 marker is transferred to prevent it from being reabsorbed onto the lab coat.
  2. 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 won’t require additional treatment in other areas.
  3. It is likely that the spot will still need to be bleached. I find that a lot of colored items can be bleached. To find out if the lab coat can safely be bleached, I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item.
  4. Want to proceed? I would also consider either Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel (apply; rub in with scrubber tip; wait 3–5 minutes), or doing a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of cool water for 5 minutes) then wash immediately in hot water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.

Check for success after the wash as another treatment might be needed. Consider air drying as dryer may set any remaining stain.