How to Remove Ball Point Pen Ink

Stain Removal Tips Using Home Chemistry

Ink stain on a button down
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Ballpoint pen ink is not something that you can usually remove with simple soap and water, but there is an equally easy and inexpensive way to remove pen ink from surfaces or clothing. You will only need a few materials, which you probably already have, to save your favorite shirt from being ruined. Find out what makes ink difficult to remove and how to remove it here.

Why Is Ballpoint Ink so Hard to Remove?

Ballpoint pen ink is tricky to remove due to its chemical composition. Ink pens and felt-tip markers contain pigments and dyes suspended in water and organic solvents, which may include toluene, glyco-ethers, propylene glycol, and propyl alcohol. Other ingredients such as resins, wetting agents, and preservatives may be added to help the ink flow or stick to the page. In other words, the elements of ink pens responsible for making them work so well as pens are also the reason ink stains clothes.

The Chemical Process Involved in Removing Ink

Removing pen or marker ink requires the use of solvents that work to dissolve both polar (water) and nonpolar (organic) molecules found in ink. In chemistry, a general rule of thumb is "like dissolves like". Therefore, organic compounds containing both polar and nonpolar molecules can break down ink.

Materials You Will Need to Remove Pen Ink

You can use any number of common household chemicals to lift away ink. The best of these is alcohol because it easily dissolves water-soluble pigments and organic solvents but is gentle enough that it won't discolor or damage most fabrics. In order of most to least effective, here are other household substances to try.

  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
  • Shaving cream
  • Hairspray
  • Non-flammable dry cleaning fluid

Ink Removal Instructions

It's important to always remove ink stains before washing. If you add ink-dissolving solvents to stained fabric and then wash it, you run the risk of the stain lifting and spreading to other parts of the fabric. If you do nothing to treat ink before washing and drying, you will very likely set the stain even further into the fabric, rendering treatment nearly impossible. Start with rubbing alcohol and remember to thoroughly rinse any lifted ink in cold water.

  1. Dab rubbing alcohol onto the ink.
  2. Allow a couple of minutes for the alcohol to penetrate the surface and react with the ink.
  3. Blot the ink stain using paper towels or pre-dampened cloth soaked in either water or alcohol.
  4. If the alcohol is ineffective, try using foaming shaving cream and repeating the steps above.
  5. If the shaving cream doesn't work, hairspray will usually do the trick. However, use this only as a last resort because hairspray can be damaging to certain surfaces and fabrics.
  6. A non-flammable dry cleaning fluid may remove certain inks, but use caution when using this toxic substance. Alternatively, you can take your clothes to be dry cleaned and let the cleaners know about the stain.

Other Inks and Materials

Gel ink pens use ink that is made to be permanent. Not even rubbing alcohol will remove gel ink, nor will acid. Sometimes it is possible to wear away gel ink using an eraser. Ink stains in wood can be very difficult to remove when the ink makes its way into cracks and crevices. When treating ink-stained wood, be sure to remove all traces of alcohol from the wood afterward and rinse the affected area with water—prolonged exposure to high concentration alcohol is damaging to wood. To reverse the drying effects of alcohol, condition the wood as well.