Tips for Removing Ballpoint Ink Stains
Have you been the unlucky recipient of a ballpoint ink stain?
Maybe you’re a student carrying your books around with an open pen and you’ve accidentally scribbled ink on your shirt or you had the pen in your back pocket and it leaked.
Ballpoint pens use permanent non-water based ink and can be one of the hardest types of ink to remove – but not impossible.
I can’t tell you how many times this happened to me, my Mom would give me the endless lecture about the cost of clothing and how I need to be responsible enough to put the cap on the pen. It took a while but she eventually got through to me and she would get the ink out.Good job Mom.
Another scenario we see quite often is ink stains from men who carry pens in the pocket of their work shirts.
But wait - before you think about throwing your stained clothing away, you need to know that an ink stain doesn’t have to be permanent!
Take a look at our cleaning methods below before you go shopping for a new shirt and see if you can’t save yourself a little money.
How to Remove Ballpoint Ink Stains
No matter how the ink stain happened - and I know how frustrating and annoying it can be - don’t give in to the little voice saying, “Get rid of it. Buy a new one.” You can successfully treat some of these stains with a little work and patience.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Work on a non-porous surface if you have one, and lay down a protective layer between the item with the ink stain and the surface you’re working on.
- Also, before you start the cleaning process, put something behind the ink stain (if possible) to keep the ink from transferring to a clean piece of fabric. An example is to use is a dish towel folded in half, some paper towels, etc.
- Never rub at the ink stain – you will only create a bigger mess to clean.
- You can use a cotton ball, Q-tip, paper towels, clean cotton rag, etc. when cleaning the ink stain. Something absorbent that is a throw away item.
- If you think you have removed all the stain and washed as you normally would, just double check the item before you put it in the dryer. If there is any of the ballpoint ink stain left and you do put it in the dryer, you run the risk of the ink stain permanently staining your clothing.
Stop the Ink from Spreading
Before you apply your cleaning agent, you’ll want to take preventative measures to keep the ink from spreading further onto the item.
If you’ve tried to clean an ink stain before, then you may already know how ink will bleed more (when applying a cleaning agent) on some fabrics than others, resulting in a larger area to clean.
We don’t want that, we don’t want to feel deflated before we’ve even tried removing the stain!
Containing the Stain
To keep the stain contained and keep it from spreading until it’s reaches its stopping point, follow these steps.
Mix a 50/50 solution (about 1 teaspoon each) of household strength ammonia (without color and fragrance) and 3% hydrogen peroxide. You can make a little more if you need to, just keep the amounts even.
Swish the mixture in a small glass cup then use a dropper of some sort or a spoon and apply the mixture going around and into the ink stain. You only need a small amount. I probably start with about 1/4 of a teaspoon.
This will create an area of confinement which should keep the ink from spreading wildly when applying the cleaning solvent.
Note: I reapply a little of this mixture prior to each time I add more cleaning solvent.
- The first image above shows how much ink can spread when a cleaning solvent is applied and no mixture of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide is used. Spreading is quite a bit.
- The second image has the ammonia and hydrogen peroxide added prior to using a cleaning solvent. Spreading is minimal.
Even though you are using such a small amount of ammonia, it is corrosive and you should take proper safety precautions. Use in well ventilated area, use a paper mask over your nose, wear protective eyewear and put on a pair of gloves.
All over the internet you will read how you should not use ammonia on natural fibers.
Natural fibers are:
But really – ammonia should not be used on silk or wool as it can damage these items. Use only the hydrogen peroxide on these items but do a test in an inconspicuous spot first.
Ammonia is also an oxidizer and over time it can slightly damage fibers if used very frequently.
Never mix ammonia with bleach as it will release a highly toxic gas.
Use the 3% household strength hydrogen peroxide which can be purchased from the grocery store. Do not purchase hydrogen peroxide from the beauty supply store as this is a higher grade.
I cannot stress enough that you do not randomly mix cleaning agents together. They are chemicals and can have chemical reactions such as letting off dangerous gases. For instance, never mix ammonia with bleach.
I do have firsthand knowledge of this. Before I became Mrs. Clean and know what I know now – I had an especially dirty kids tub to clean and I mixed chemicals – my lungs started to close up and I had a hard time getting out of the bathroom.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic but it was a frightening experience that I went through, so do be careful.
Apply the Cleaning Solvent
Now, use a cleaning solvent that is safe for the piece of clothing you’re cleaning to remove the stain.
Cleaning solvents you can use are items such as:
- Nail polish remover with acetone
- Rubbing alcohol
- Dry cleaning spotting agents
If you try more than one solvent on the same item, be sure to let each evaporate off before using the next cleaning solvent or rinse well and let air dry.
Stain removal involves removing a little of the stain with each application. You may need to repeat using the cleaning agent quite a few times before you see success. If you are seeing progress and the stain is being removed, the process should be repeated.
Use paper towels or a clean absorbent cloth when tamping the cleaning solvent. Again, use something absorbent that can be tossed in the garbage afterwards.
Liberally spray the hairspray on the ink stain. Tamp or blot with cloth. Reapply as necessary. I’ve actually had good luck using hairspray on fresh ink marks.
Nail Polish Remover
Another successful way of removing ballpoint ink is to use nail polish remover. This is another of the methods I’ll use first.
If I don’t have hairspray I’ll use nail polish remover and vice versa.
Before doing this, test the nail polish remover on a hidden area of the material.
Pour a small amount of the nail polish remover on the stain. Blot until nothing more can be removed. Again you will most likely need to reapply a few times.
Another good choice for removing ballpoint ink stains. Rubbing alcohol can be dabbed onto the area where the ink stain is.
After applying the rubbing alcohol, blot with a clean cloth. This will remove most of the stain within a matter of minutes.
Laundry Pre-Treatment Products
In some cases, small pen streaks from the ink of a ballpoint pen will come out with laundry pre-treatment products such as OxiClean.
Follow the directions provided by these products. Most often you apply the treatment to the area and allow it to sit for several minutes before washing as you normally would.
Air dry before you put in the dryer. If you put it in the dryer and the stain is not completely removed it can set permanently.
Removing Ballpoint Ink from Silk and Wool
Place absorbent material under the ballpoint ink stain. Saturate the stain with hairspray and follow our guidelines above and blot, dab, or tamp the stain with another absorbent piece of cloth, paper towel, etc.
Repeat until the ink stain is gone.
If you are not comfortable removing a ballpoint ink stain on your own, you can always try your local dry cleaner.
By following our suggestions you will have a greater success rate in removing ballpoint ink stains.