How to Remove Ink From Cotton & Khaki

Lisa Sefcik

Removing ink stains from washable fabrics such as cotton and khaki can be problematic. Your success may ultimately depend on if the stain is the result of water-soluble (ballpoint) ink or permanent ink. If your garment has a special place in your wardrobe, your best bet is to take it to a professional dry cleaner.

But you can first try to remove ink stains at home.

Removing Ink

  1. Before you try to remove ink from cotton or khaki, check to make sure that the fabric is colorfast. You may want to treat a hidden part of the garment (such as an inseam) first to make sure that home ink removal won't strip the color from your clothing.

  2. Place the garment on a flat surface padded with old towels or a thick stack of paper towels, ink-stain-side down.

  3. Using a sponge, first daub the area around the ink stain with rubbing alcohol (for water-soluble inks) or a dry-cleaning solvent (for permanent ink stains). Then carefully blot the alcohol or solvent directly onto the ink stain itself. Move the towel as the ink begins to bleed through the fabric to prevent it from transferring back to the fabric.

Post-Stain Removal Laundering

  1. After all or most of the ink is removed from the cotton or khaki, rub a small amount of liquid detergent into the stained area with your fingers. If your stain is the result of water-soluble ink, proceed to Step 2; if permanent ink, go to Step 3.

  2. For stains caused by water-soluble ink, launder the garment in the hottest water the fabric will tolerate (check the garment's label) using color-safe bleach.

  3. For stains caused by permanent ink, first rinse the detergent from the fabric, then soak the stained area in a mixture of warm water with 1 to 4 tbsp. of ammonia. Flush the stained portion of fabric well with water. Launder according to the instructions on the label.

  4. Tip

    Hair spray is often mentioned as a way to remove ink from fabrics. But the Good Housekeeping Institute indicates that aerosol and pump hair spray removes ink only from polyester fabrics–it simply lightens stains on cotton fabrics.


    Ink stains in laundered clothing are almost impossible to remove. You'll have more success removing ink from cotton and khaki when the stain is fresh.

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