How to remove an ink stain from cotton & polyester

Written by j. lang wood
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How to remove an ink stain from cotton & polyester
Ink stains can be difficult to remove. (pen image by AGphotographer from

It happens to everyone sooner or later. Either a pen breaks and stains a favourite garment, or it accidentally gets into the dryer and stains a number of items. You don't have to discard the garment, however, if you take a little time to treat the stain. Keep laundry pre-treatment spray on hand for such situations, as well as bleach, vinegar, ammonia, rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover and hairspray. These products all help remove ink stains from cotton and polyester fabrics.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Laundry pre-treatment spray
  • Washing powder
  • Cotton balls
  • Clean cloths or paper towels
  • Hairspray
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Acetone nail polish remover

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  1. 1

    Sponge the stain carefully with water to remove as much as possible. This may not remove much if it is permanent ink, but some inks will dissolve to some extent in water

  2. 2

    Allow the stain to air dry.

  3. 3

    Set the stain face down on a clean cloth or paper towels and spray it with a pump hairspray. Do not use aerosol hairspray.

  4. 4

    Dab the stain with a washcloth to remove the ink. You may have to repeat this process several times. Use a clean area of cloth each time to avoid transferring the ink back into the garment. Remove as much ink as possible using this method. It may take many applications.

  5. 5

    Spray the remaining stain with laundry pre-treatment spray.

  6. 6

    Wash in warm water.

  7. 7

    Allow to air dry.

  8. 8

    Dab any remaining stain with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Use a new cotton ball for each pass to reduce transference.

  9. 9

    Apply a small amount of acetone nail polish remover to resistant stains. Dab carefully with clean cloth.

  10. 10

    Spray on laundry pre-treatment again.

  11. 11

    Wash in warm water

  12. 12

    Air dry to make sure stain is gone. Do not machine-dry the article of clothing if any stain remains, as the heat will set the stain.

Tips and warnings

  • Make your own pre-treatment spray by mixing the following:
  • ½ cup washing powder
  • ½ cup ammonia
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • Mix thoroughly in a spray bottle and apply to stains before laundering.
  • Ink from permanent markers and other felt pens may be very difficult to remove. Ammonia may work better on these inks than other removal products.
  • Dry-cleaning solvent such as perchloroethylene or trichoroethylene can also be used to remove ink stains. Wash with heavy-duty detergent after applying these solvents.
  • Bleach may remove ink stains on white fabrics, but may cause permanent bleaching out of colours.
  • Do not use ammonia on natural fibres.

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