Removing Ink Stains

Ink stains on garments may occur at home, in the office, at school or at an art studio. Ink stains sometimes occur when a leaking pen is carried in the pocket. Ink stains are classified as dryside or wetside depending on the solvent or substance in which the pigment dye is dissolved or disbursed. Dryside inks are pigments disbursed in an oil, wax or grease base. Sometimes a binder is added for permanence. Examples of dryside inks are marking ink, printing ink, ball point ink, India ink, carbon paper, stamp pad and inks used in some felt tip magic marker pens. Wetside inks are dyes dissolved in water and to which a setting agent such as gallic acid is added. Examples of wetside inks are some felt tip and magic marker pens. The ingredients of both dryside and wetside inks which have been described are not complete since there are many variations. They have been described merely to indicate the basis for classification in subsequent stain removal. Inks are formulated for their permanence in use and stains from so called washables are difficult to remove. Success in ink stain removal depends on how long the ink stain has been in the fabric, the fastness of fabric color and the tenacity of the staining pigment or dye to the fabric.



Ink stains can be identified by the intensity of the color and the location of the stain, especially in the pocket area from a leaky pen. India inks and marking pens ink sometimes give the fabric some stiffness. It is difficult if not impossible to visibly determine whether a stain is a wetside or a dryside stain.



Work on heavily ink stained areas before entering the garment into the drycleaning machine. Otherwise the free ink might transfer to other areas of the same garment or to other garments in the drycleaning machine. It may be easier to cut out a heavily ink stained pocket lining from the garment and replace it rather than attempt stain removal.



Stain removal on all unidentified ink stains should be started with the dryside procedure.

  1. Apply liberal amounts of oily type paint remover and amyl acetate.
  2. Manipulate the stain with a spatula followed by a rapid light tamping motion with a spotting brush on the hard surface of the spotting board. Absorb the loosening with a towel and flush with a volatile dry solvent. Continue the application of lubricant, mechanical action and flushing until ink stains ceases to become loosened.
  3. Any traces of the ink must be removed by using wetside stain removal procedures.



Cleaners Chemical Corp and Wilson Chemical have formulated spotting agents designed specifically for ink stains. Cleaners Chemical Corp has developed the product called Super Ink Eraser and Wilson Chemical manufactures the product called InkGo.

RR Streets General Formula 209 is incorporated in ink stain removal but not in the first step. Ink stain removers are chemical formulations made up to make ink stains soluble. The chemical formulation contains ingredients similar to the chemical make-up of the ink. In other words adding the right ingredients to an ink stain  makes the ink stain soluble because I brought it to its original state. Ink stain removers do not work on all ink stains since the solvent composition of ink stains may differ. It will work on the most common inks which are ball point pen ink and most magic markers. It will also work on lipstick since the make-up of lipstick is similar to the make-up of many inks. When using ink stain removers they are initially used with no heat to avoid setting and spreading of the stain. Ink stain removers are more aggressive than drysides and therefore must be tested on colors and fabrics before use. It is for this reason that garments which were drycleaned should be worked on using the dryside method that was previously outlined.



  1. Place stained area on a towel.
  2. Flush with water gun until bleeding of ink stops.
  3. Apply ink remover and wait a minute or two for ink stain to loosen.
  4. Apply mechanical action.
  5. Flush with water gun (Avoid steam).
  6. Continue with process until bleeding stops.
  7. Apply ink remover and acetic acid.
  8. Mechanical action.
  9. Flush.
    The following chemicals used should be tested for safety.
  10. Oxalic acid or a safe rust remover.
  11. Heat.
  12. Flush.
  13. General formula.
  14. Mechanical action.
  15. Flush.
  16. Hydrofluoric acid.
  17. Heat.
  18. Flush
  19. Hydrogen Peroxide plus ammonia.
  20. Heat.
  21. Flush.
  22. Acetic acid.
  23. Flush.
  24. Bleach.



On red wetside ink stains and traces of red dryside ink stains use the same procedure as for wetside ink stains described in the preceding paragraph except that ink removers and ammonia should be used before ink remover and acetic acid. Red dyes are usually loosened more readily by alkali.



On large ink stains a soaking method may be effective. Soak garment in cool water with 8 to 10 ounces of ink remover per gallon of water. Soak for 1 to 2 hours and then wetclean garment.

Picture of Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen, former chief garment analyst for the National Cleaners Association, offers lecture, consultation and garment analysis service. He is the author of The Art of Spotting. He can be reached at (772) 340-0909, by email at or through his website at Dan Eisen, 274 NW Toscane Trail, Port Saint Lucie, FL 34986.