How to Remove Ballpoint Pen Ink Stains From Fabric

Mike Matthews

It always seems to happen when you forget to store your ballpoint pens in a pocket protector -- the cartridge leaks an ugly blue-black stain on your shirt that only Doctor Freud would love.

While ink stains can mar a white shirt, the stain needn't be permanent.

But if you're willing to apply some persistent effort to the chore, you can remove most or all of an ink stain from clothing or upholstery fabric using ordinary household chemicals.

Act Quickly

Most fresh ink stains take some time to settle into fabrics, so it's important to act quickly. As soon as a stain appears, blot up as much ink as possible using a wet cotton ball or paper towel. This will draw off as much of the gelatinous ink as possible and prevent it from adhering firmly to the surface. Do not rub the fabric at this time because that may cause the stain to spread.

Spray-on Solutions

Most cartridges for ballpoint pens are filled with an oil-based ink, which means that even set-in stains will re-liquify when exposed to household solvents. If you're working on a cotton-blend fabric, the solvents found in ordinary hair spray may prove equal to the task. Simply moisten the stained portion of the fabric with the sprayer; then blot up the ink using a lint-free cotton rag. You may need to repeat this process several times before the stain is gone.

No-Rub Rubbing Alcohol

As an alternate solution, mix up an alcohol cleaning elixir consisting of equal portions of household hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. If possible, lay the fabric on a hard, non-porous surface. Then pour enough of the alcohol/peroxide blend onto the stain to thoroughly soak the affected area. Gently daub the fabric with a clean cotton rag or a sponge while the material remains wet. Re-apply the solution as needed to keep the stained portion wet, and continue daubing until the ink is removed.

Stronger, Smellier Remedies

If the hairspray or alcohol solution does not completely remove the stain after repeated efforts, it may be time to pull out some stronger household chemicals. For example, you can substitute an acetone nail polish remover for the hair spray. Other chemicals to consider include denatured alcohol, white ammonia and a dry-cleaning spotting solution. Before using any of these chemicals on the stain, first perform a test on an inconspicuous portion of the fabric, and be sure to work in a well-ventilated area.

Lay Off the Heat

Fabrics that can be machine washed should not be tossed into the clothes dryer until you are absolutely confident the stain is gone. Machine wash; then allow the material to air dry. If the previously stained area is now ink-free, you can launder the fabric normally in the future.