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How to remove pen ink marks from leather

Updated April 17, 2017

Something as simple as a pen stroke can mar the appearance of an expensive leather sofa, jacket or seat of a car. While traces of pen ink may look impossible to remove from your favourite leather piece, the process is actually fairly simple. If you are careful and do a test swatch to ensure that you will not damage the surface of your leather, you can remove pen-ink marks quickly and inexpensively with little more than a cotton swab and a drop of rubbing alcohol.

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  1. Blot up the ink with a damp cloth as soon as possible. The best way to ensure that a pen mark won't stain your leather is to get rid of it while the ink is still wet and has yet to absorb into the leather. If you notice the pen mark after the ink has dried, move on to the next step.

  2. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol or hairspray. Find a spot of leather that is inconspicuous, either on the bottom side of the sofa or seat or on the inside of the jacket. Rub the swab onto the inconspicuous spot to test that the alcohol or hairspray does not damage the finish of the leather. If the leather is damaged, try using a different substance such as a leather shoe cleaner.

  3. Dip a new cotton swab into the alcohol, hairspray or shoe cleaner and rub it gently on the pen mark. The ink stain should lift immediately. Use a tissue to wipe off excess alcohol and any remaining ink.

  4. Dry the newly clean spot using a soft cloth. If there are any traces of pen ink left, dip a cotton swab in nail-polish remover and lift the rest of the ink. Dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.

  5. Rub leather conditioner or saddle soap onto the clean spot. This will return the moisture balance to your leather and keep your piece looking fresh and supple.

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Things You'll Need

  • Soft cloth
  • Rubbing alcohol, hairspray or leather shoe cleaner
  • Cotton swab
  • Tissue
  • Nail-polish remover
  • Leather conditioner or saddle soap

About the Author

As a professional journalist since 1998, Lisbeth Booth has worked as a writer and an editor at several magazines. Her career has focused on music and film criticism but she has also written about lifestyle topics such as parenting and home design. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Calgary.

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