How to Remove Ink Stains from Cotton Fabrics

Michael asked: How do I remove calligraphy permanent black ink from a white woven cotton shirt. The ink does not wash out with laundry powder. It’s fast to ammonia based cleansers like Nutri-Metics and Hevi-clean.

Inks of all kinds can quickly ruin a beautiful piece of clothing. Whether it’s a simple swipe from a ball-point pen or more permanent inks, it will be possible to remove them. There are many different methods, all with different levels of stain removing power. The sooner you can attack the stain, the better luck you’ll have removing it. Follow these steps to lift the stain for good.

You Will Need:

  • Hairspray
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Baking soda
  • Acetone nail polish remover
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton swabs
  • Clean white cloths
  • Towel

Steps to Remove the Ink Stain:


  1. Prepare the shirt by placing an old towel inside under the stained area. As you are working on the stain, some of the ink will be transferred to the towel. Use a thick enough towel so the stain is not transferred to the back of the shirt.
  2. Start by spraying the area with a good amount of hairspray. The chemicals in the hairspray are often enough to loosen and lift the stain.
  3. Allow the hairspray to set for a minute and then blot (don’t rub) the area with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
  4. If the stain remains, moisten a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and gently blot the stain.
  5. Repeat using a clean cotton ball each time until the stain is removed.
  6. If the stain still persists, mix together a small amount of baking soda and water to form a loose paste.
  7. Apply the paste to the stain with a cotton ball or soft towel.
  8. Blot to lift and remove the stain.
  9. If the above steps show no success, a last resort is to apply acetone nail polish remover. Cotton fabrics should be able to tolerate the acetone, but check by testing a small hidden area first to ensure there is no damage to the color or fibers of the shirt.
  10. Moisten a cotton ball with the nail polish remover and blot the stain.
  11. Repeat with fresh cotton balls until the stain is removed.
  12. Once the stain is gone, launder the shirt as normal to remove any cleaning residue.
  13. Allow the piece to air-dry first to ensure that no marks remain.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • White shirts can also be cleaned by dabbing a small amount of bleach on the ink stain. Be sure to rinse immediately and wash as normal. Leaving bleach set on the fibers will damage them.
  • Really tough stains, including those that have already been washed and dried in the dryer, need a tougher solution. Oxy-clean is a commercial cleaner that is readily available at most stores and has been successful in removing many types of tough ink stains. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the package.



  1. Martie says:

    I washed a red ink stain with Oxy 5 and Spray ‘n Wash. It faded a little. I didn’t have hairspray so I went directly to the alcohol and acetone methods listed. The rubbing alcohol faded a little more. The acetone did the trick. Red ink on a fine white cotton blouse is completely gone!

  2. Natisha says:

    I had an ink stain on my white pants, so I used hair spray on it and that removed the stain!

  3. Kitty says:

    I had a fancy sweater for my cat that got a mysterious spot on the back. I quickly used the tips above and the sweater is back in full condition. *meow meow*

  4. Varayuri says:

    It’s a wonderful way of removing ink stains.

  5. Tracey says:

    Should the fabric be dry to use this method? I just pulled six shirts out of the washing machine that went through the full cycle with a ball point pen. :( They’re still wet, should I wait until they air dry?

  6. Tani says:

    Thought this might help – I have used the fingernail polish remover before, but not the soda or the alcohol.

  7. Prerna says:

    Thanks a million tons! I used a hand sanitiser instead of hair spray. And it worked like magic!! I saw the stain disappear right in front me. 😀

  8. Kanishka says:

    Hand sanitizer works on ink stains?

  9. Melanie says:

    Yes, hand sanitizer can be effective for removing ink stains. Most hand sanitizers are either alcohol-based or eucalyptus-based, both of which can work to remove ink stains.
    Source: – Natural Home Cleaning

  10. JoAnn says:

    I have tried every method listed on my 100% light blue cotton blouse and got no results. The stain is black ink from a roller ball pen. Any other tips? HELP!

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