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How to Get Ink Stains Out of Clothes, After Drying or Fresh

Businessman with an ink stained shirt

Removing pen, ballpoint or felt-tip ink stains from material like canvas and cotton is possible even after drying. With hand sanitizer and fabric treatment, you can remove stubborn stains.

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Because ink is designed to stay on whatever surface you apply it to, when pen marks stain clothing and fabric, machine washing won’t be enough to get the stain out.

Instead, you need to use a special stain pretreating technique prior to machine washing, starting with clear alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel. The alcohol and thickening agents in the hand sanitizer help it soak into your fabric and begin to dissolve the ink stain. Then you pretreat again with Liquid Clorox 2® for Colors, which is appropriate for nearly all machine washable items, including jeans and colored clothes.

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This technique is effective on a variety of different types of ink, from pen ink to highlighter and marker stains. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see just how easy it is to get ink stains out all the way, even if they’ve been dried through a hot dryer.

What you need

Steps to remove ink stains from colored clothes & white items with spandex

  1. 1

    Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

    Tip

    If the ink is fresh, blot it with a paper towel first, to remove excess ink.

    hand sanitizer
  2. 2

    Apply Liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to the stain

    Use the cap to apply the Clorox 2® product directly to the stain and gently rub it in. Allow the Clorox 2® product to stay on your fabric for 10 minutes. Set a timer so you don’t lose track of the time and leave it on any longer. Do not let the product dry on your clothing.

    Tip

    Do not let Clorox 2® dry out on the fabric. Use a timer to monitor the pretreating time.

    clorox 2 liquid pouring from bottle
  3. 3

    Machine wash

    After 10 minutes, pretreating is complete and it’s time to machine wash your clothes. Select the hottest water possible, and add a little more Clorox 2® along with your regular laundry detergent.  

  4. 4

    Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success. 

    open window with curtains

You can always repeat the two pretreatment steps to get a super concentrated ink stain all the way out.

Tip

For items labeled “machine wash cold” consider using a “warm” wash temperature to improve your chances of getting the stain out.

Steps to remove ink stains from white bleach-safe clothes

  1. 1

    Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing. 

    Tip

    If the ink is fresh, blot it with a paper towel first, to remove excess ink.

    hand sanitizer
  2. 2

    Soak clothing in water & Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach

    Mix ¼ cup of Clorox® Bleach per gallon of water. Fully submerge the clothing in the bleach and water solution for 5 minutes. When soaking is complete, pour off the bleach and water solution and you are ready to machine wash the item. 

    Tip

    Always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather and spandex.

  3. 3

    Machine wash

    Wash according to the instructions on the care label, add your favorite detergent and pour 1/3 cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach into the bleach dispenser. 

  4. 4

    Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success. 

    open window with curtains
  5. You can always repeat the two pretreatment steps to get a super concentrated ink stain all the way out.

    Tip

    For items labeled “machine wash cold” consider using a “warm” wash temperature to improve your chances of getting the stain out.

    Frequently asked questions

    Can I get permanent marker out of my clothes?

    Permanent markers are designed to be just that, permanent. Even so, if you repeat the two-step pretreatment method including hand sanitizer and machine wash a few times, there’s a chance you will successfully get rid of the marker stain! For more detailed steps, check out How to Get Marker Out of Fabric and Clothes. 

    Can I use full-strength Clorox® Bleach on ink stains?

    No. Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach should always be diluted with water first before allowing it to contact any soft or hard surface. Don’t give in to the temptation to apply full strength bleach to ink stains — in time the area that was exposed to undiluted bleach could end up with a hole.

    Instead, if you have an ink stain on a bleach-safe item you can always pretreat it with a bleach and water solution made with ¼ cup bleach added to ¾ cup water. Apply the bleach and water solution to the stain and then immediately machine wash the item using detergent and ⅓ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach. Remember to pretreat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer first before applying the bleach and water solution!

    Can hand sanitizer stain clothes?

    Alcohol-based hand sanitizer (the ingredient list will say ethyl alcohol, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol) should not stain clothes. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers may include ingredients that do permanently stain or lighten clothes and should be avoided for pretreating. It’s another reason why we only recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizer for pretreating ink stains.  

    Can I get ink out of clothes after drying?

    Ink stains that have been through a hot dryer will be more difficult to remove, but not impossible. You may need to repeat the steps a few times for complete removal.