Raines Guide: Removing Ink From Clothing
Typically, there are 3 substances that look like pen that you might see on a garment.
- Tailor’s chalk
- Heat Sensitive Tailor’s Marking Pen
- Actual ink / pen / sharpie
Tailor’s chalk tends to look like soft and a little translucent. It looks like highlighter or pencil to me, it’s frequently yellow, green, pink, blue or white. Usually neon or pastel, rarely actually a truly dark color.
Most of the time, it should just come out, but some of it is really stubborn, especially on thread, weirdly enough.
You can try using a fabric eraser, rubbing the area with a clean cloth scrap, or washing with normal cold water and detergent.
Heat Sensitive Tailor’s Marking Pen
This tends to look like pen or marker. It’s pretty opaque, it’s a bright or dark color (red, purple, navy, black), and it looks liquid-like on the fabric. It’s common to see really blatant horizontal lines or dots, usually in pretty obvious places like marking up a collar or ticking out the distance down a skirt. A lot of times it’s used to mark out measurements, so that trim is applied evenly on a collar or skirt. It can also be used to mark where shirring panels go. If you have a series of parallel lines that aren’t soft and chalk like, or dots that are a set distance apart, this is usually the culprit. Especially if it’s a new item and the lines are so blatant you are thinking “how did they not see this in quality control!?”
If you just got an item in the mail and it’s come from anywhere in the world where it might be cold, like winter, this is the first thing I’d consider.
Try ironing the most inconspicuous mark to see if it comes out, if it does, iron all the marks and then wash on cold/cool with normal detergent. If the marks return, iron them when they return. If you don’t have access to an iron, you can try a hair dryer on low heat. As always, keep the iron moving to avoid scorching your fabric and avoid ironing buttons, lace, sheer fabrics like organdy, tulle, pleather or anything else that feels or appears to be plastic-y. Start with a low temperature and work your way up to hotter temperatures, following the directions for your iron for the type of fabric you have. The care tag should say if your item is polyester or cotton. You can use the google translate app on a smart phone in photo mode if you can’t read the tag.
It shouldn’t take a great amount of heat to make the mark vanish if it’s a heat sensitive ink.
Actual Ink / Sharpie
Actual ink and sharpie are more likely to look like a blot, or a dark line that fades at the tail, because these tend to be accidental markings from a pen dropping onto an item (blot), breaking in a purse (large blotch), or striking an item (dark line that fades out at the end). Removing ink is a gamble because it sometimes won’t come out 100%. If the ink is on the inside of the garment, leave it alone. If a potential larger very faint stain would be worse than the small dark ink spot you have, leave it alone.
Actual ink / sharpie can be removed with rubbing alcohol. You may hear some people suggest hairspray (used to have a high alcohol content, doesn’t these days unless it’s in a metal can), hand sanitizer (frequently also has aloe or other lotion like stuff, can have scents or dyes), or perfume (has scent and possibly dye), but this is just because these liquids all contain alcohol. It’s better to use plain rubbing alcohol, that way you know you aren’t introducing any other potential staining or smelly elements to your garment, and it’s also generally cheaper.
The issue with removing ink, is that it tends to make a ring around the area, so you want to remove as much as possible before saturating a large area.
Start by testing somewhere innocuous (like the inside of a folded over hem, inside a pocket, etc) to make sure the alcohol doesn’t react with the fabric or dye. Put a few drops on and then dab with a white paper towel. If color transfers to the paper towel, this is not a viable option. We also want to test that the garment is water safe in an innocuous area through the same process (just with water).
Take the (dry) garment and put a paper towel (or three) on the inside behind the stain, and make sure no fabric is behind the stain. I put the spot on the side of my bathtub and use the edge of the tub as a table when doing this. Take a qtip and dab alcohol onto the ink and immediately blot with a clean spot on a paper towel. Rotate the paper towel to a clean spot each time you dab so you aren’t dabbing ink back onto the garment. Keep doing this over and over. Dab fresh alcohol onto the ink, and then dab it off. You want to remove as much of the excess as possible this way to avoid it spreading out and making a big ring.
It should progressively get lighter (usually it turns purple or green or some odd color). Work your way to the edges, and keep working on adding small amounts of liquid and dabbing. This is a very labor and time intensive process, but please do not rush as you can create rings that are harder to remove if you add too much solvent (alcohol) before you have removed most of the pigment. When you are down to just a pale stain, you can start to use more alcohol. Still dab it out as much as you can. The final stage is to flood the area with the alcohol and rinse with cold water. Do this over again as many times as needed. If you have created a ring, you will need to do this to remove the rings. It’s tedious, but it should eventually fade to a point where it’s gone, or looks like a very faint shadow.
Finally, wash the garment in cold water and mild detergent to remove any excess alcohol / cleaner and dry. (I recommend hanging or flat drying. Machine heat drying may set any linger stain and you may want to examine it and try more stain removal once it’s dry.)