How to Remove Ink Stains from Wood


Mel asked: How do I clean carbon paper ink off of a wood table? Carbon paper was left on our dining room table. Water was spilled on the carbon paper, so it was wet over night. When I removed the paper, the stain was left. Thanks for your help.

It makes your stomach sink as you lift up the paper only to realize all of the ink has transferred to the top of the table. There are a couple of different cleaning methods that should remove the ink and leave your table looking new again.

Baking Soda Method

You Will Need:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Soft cloths
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)

Steps to Remove the Stain:

  1. Begin by mixing water and baking soda to form a paste.
  2. Spread the paste over the ink stain and rub it in with your fingers. Baking soda can be slightly abrasive, so avoid scrubbing too hard or it may damage the finish.
  3. Moisten a soft cloth with plain water and scrub the area as you remove the paste.
  4. For larger stains, repeat the steps above until all of the ink is removed.
  5. If a haze is left on the surface from the baking soda, wipe the area with a cotton ball moistened with a small amount of rubbing alcohol to remove.

Rubbing Alcohol Method

You Will Need:

  • Rubbing alcohol or
  • Hairspray (cheaper is better because it contains more alcohol)
  • Water
  • Soft cloths
  • Cotton swabs or cotton balls

Steps to Remove the Stain:

  1. Rubbing alcohol is a well-known ink removal product. Cheaper hairsprays tend to contain higher level of alcohol making them excellent alternatives when no rubbing alcohol is available.
  2. Moisten cotton ball or cotton swab with the rubbing alcohol or hairspray.
  3. Gently wipe the ink-stained area until the ink is removed.
  4. If necessary, repeat with a fresh cotton ball or swab.
  5. Avoid scrubbing with pressure as this can lead to removing some of the finish and may leave a mark.
  6. When the stain is completely removed, rinse the area by wiping it with a clean cloth moistened with plain water.

Alternative Cleaners

You Will Need:

  • Plain white toothpaste
  • Cutter’s insect repellent
  • Spray on sunscreen
  • Soft cloths
  • Water
  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs (optional)

Steps to Remove the Stains:

  1. It can be surprising what normal household products will remove ink safely from many surfaces.
  2. The first cleaner to try is plain white toothpaste (toothpaste with baking soda has been found to be even more effective). Spread the toothpaste over the area and rinse by wiping away with a clean cloth moistened with plain water.
  3. Repeat until the stain is removed.
  4. The second method employs the power of spray on insect repellent or sunscreen. Both of these products allow the water to get underneath the ink and literally make it run off of the surface.
  5. After testing a small hidden area, spray the stained area until the stain is saturated with the repellent or sunscreen.
  6. Wipe away with a clean soft cloth. For smaller areas it may be helpful to apply the spray by moistening a cotton swab or cotton ball and rubbing the area.
  7. Repeat until all of the ink is removed.
  8. Finally, rinse the area with a soft cloth moistened with clean water.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • It is always wise to test a small hidden area first to ensure that there is no damage to the surface or color of the finish before proceeding with the actual ink removal.
  • Different inks respond differently to removal methods, so experiment and find the right combination for your particular situation.
  • If the ink stain is on a dish or wooden bowl, ensure that all cleaning products are thoroughly removed prior to use.
  • If the stain is closer to a dye stain, rather than an ink stain, there are additional removal techniques at How to Remove Dyes from Finished Wood.


  1. Amy says:

    When I was trying to clean some ink from my coffee table with hair spray, I made the mistake of swiping the ink in a circular motion rather than dabbing at it — it made the stain worse. I am going to try to use the other methods to remedy the big purple stain I have created.

  2. Maggie says:

    I followed the baking soda method to clean off marker stains from a wooden table. It was so easy and after rubbing the stains gently with the baking soda paste, the stains came off magically. Thanks for sharing this method. I had tried so many other cleaners and nothing worked. With this method, I didn’t even need to buy anything from the stores as I had baking soda in the refrigerator!

  3. Tricia says:

    I rescued a piece of artwork after some carbon paper left blue smudges all over the white painted wood. I tried white spirit, which did nothing. Before I made the situation worse, I googled the problem and found this site. Had some toothpaste with baking soda so tried that, but the result was not very good and painfully slow. So, I tried the hairspray. Magic! How grateful am I that you saved me hours and hours of going back to square one. Thank you!

  4. Crissy says:

    I left a form with blue ink on a piece of white painted wood, and it got wet. I just tried this method (after trying about 8 different cleaners!), and it worked! Thank you; thank you; thank you!

  5. Brenda says:

    I was very skeptical when I was reading these cleaning suggestions, but we found one that worked! We had left a piece of pink paper on the table and when it got wet, it stained the wood a pinkish reddish color. After trying numerous other cleaners, we finally tried the sunscreen method. It worked so great and allowed us to wipe the ink right off the table. We are so grateful!

  6. Neta says:

    My husband and I had just purchased a brand new set of office furniture for our business. I got up one morning and went to my office, and when I walked over to my desk, I noticed about 10-12 small ink droplets right where I sit. I have no idea how they got there, but I looked up on the internet how to remove ink stains from wood and read about hairspray. Then I remembered that I had previously been told that hairspray would remove ink off of clothing, so I went and got a Q-tip and hairspray, sprayed some on the Q-tip and lightly rubbed the ink stains. They came off like a charm; no smearing, smudging or anything. I wiped the desk off with a Kleenex right after I applied the hairspray and it has left no residue of ink or hairspray. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Sofia says:

    Thank you! Such wonderful advice! It worked!

  8. Kaitlyn says:

    Thank you so much for this! I had an ink stain and was in panic mode! I used tooth paste and the stains came off magically! THANK YOU!!!!

  9. SRQ says:

    Thank you! The alcohol worked beautifully. Mine was a bright pink/fuchsia on my mother’s antique dining room table, instead of carbon paper. I rubbed a little mayo on the table afterwards like my mom did with watermarks. :)

  10. Happy says:

    I used the toothpaste method to remove the dye from paper from my wooden furniture. It worked really well.

  11. Niri says:

    Thank you so much! I had ink stains from some cheap Kleenex box on my beautiful mahogany wood vanity and the baking soda paste did the magic!! I tried alcohol and Lysol and those didn’t work! I googled and clicked on your advice! Thanks for saving my $10,000 vanity! I had to comment to say thank you. You were so helpful!

  12. Betty says:

    Something sticky was on dining room table, then a magazine was thrown on top of it. I started to move the magazine and it was stuck…removed it and got soapy water and removed the paper. The ink didn’t come up. Tried alcohol…nothing…went to the computer and saw the baking powder paste, tried that and…wow, it was gone!! Called my husband and had to show him…thanks…and thanks!

  13. Rich says:

    Rubbing alcohol cleaned up my spill lickety-split. A pen broke on my floor, leaving ink stains. Concerned, I looked up cleaning methods here. Thank you for the help.

  14. Katy says:

    WOW!…who would have thought cheap hair hairspray would restore my beautiful dining room table after my lovely 7-and-8-year-old granddaughters had gotten red, blue and black ink on it. I can’t thank you enough for the advice…now, I’m off to try the salad cream on a couple of water stains. :-)

  15. Lauren says:

    Thank you so much! I accidentally marked up a white painted cosmetic box with pen and wouldn’t have known what to do if it weren’t for running across this website!

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