How To Get Permanent Marker Out Of Clothes

We’re both happy and sad that you stumbled across this article. We’re sad because if you’re here, that most likely means that you somehow have gotten permanent marker on some piece of clothing.

However, we’re happy that you’re here because we think that we can help! You may be freaking out but just know that while they may be called permanent markers, their stains are not necessarily permanent.

Don’t Use Water (or Soda Water!) – Here’s Why.

Before we get started on how to actually get the stain out, we thought it might be helpful to know some of the science behind it.

Most inks (aka in a ballpoint pen) are water-based. Part of what makes a permanent marker more “permanent” is the fact that it’s typically alcohol-based. Trying to wash it with water alone isn’t going to get the stain out. Water can’t break down alcohol.

You might have heard that an ice cube or soda water can help to get out stains and that might be true! But that will really only work with light pen stains or food stains. You need something that will break down alcohol.

There is one thing that can break down alcohol – alcohol!

For that reason, you’re going to want to use either rubbing alcohol or if you don’t have that, something else alcohol-based.

Alcohol-Based Liquids That Will Work

Rubbing Alcohol

This one probably goes without saying but if you have it, use it! This is going to be the best option if it’s available. A lot of people don’t know that rubbing alcohol is actually a great option to get out a variety of stains.

Obviously, this is going to have the highest percentage of alcohol in it and therefore will be the best at breaking down the alcohol in the stain and getting it to come right out.

Alcohol-Based Hairspray

Now, this is something that we bet you haven’t heard of. You read correctly – hairspray! Make sure you double-check the hairspray is indeed alcohol-based (a lot of them are).

If it is, a lot of hairsprays are actually over 50% alcohol! Seriously. This is going to be your second-best option if you don’t have rubbing alcohol available.

Alcohol-Based Hand Soap

Are you noticing a theme here? You are? Good. The theme is alcohol! You want alcohol-based liquids to break down the chemicals in the stain and yes, even alcohol-based hand soap will work.

You most likely have some laying around the house somewhere. Just read the ingredients on the back and make sure, but a lot of hand soaps are indeed alcohol-based.

Hand Sanitizer

That brings us to our next possible liquid you can use and that is hand sanitizer. Just about every single hand sanitizer is going to be heavily alcohol-based.

This isn’t necessarily the best out of all the options on our list but hey, it’ll work. It’s usually pretty thick so we suggest diluting it with a tiny bit of water if this is your only option.

Diluted Bleach (On White Fabrics Only!!)

This is a great option to use but only if the fabric you’re trying to get the stain out of is white. Maybe this is obvious, but absolutely do not use this on any other garment.

This doesn’t necessarily contain alcohol, but it is a powerful stain remover and is a great pre-treatment if your clothes happen to be white.

If you want to be thorough, we even recommend using this after you use one of the alcohol-based options. The stain won’t stand a chance!

Baking Soda (Mixed With Water)

If you really have no other options, then baking soda mixed with water should be your last resort. It’s just the weakest out of all the options. It doesn’t contain alcohol so it’s not going to break down the stain as well as the other liquids on our list.

Put some baking soda in a bowl, put a little splash of water in it so it’s a bit of a mixture, and then continue on to the steps below.

Okay – we’re almost there. You have lots of different options for getting that pesky stain out. We’re sure you have at least one of these lying around your house.

And if you don’t, then quick! Run to the store before the stain sets in and get some rubbing alcohol or hairspray or anything!

Because now it’s officially time to go head to head with the stain.

Tips Before Trying to Remove the Stain

  • If possible, you want to treat this as quickly as possible! Ideally, you want to treat it while the stain is still actually wet. The sooner you treat it, the more of a chance you have that it will come out.
  • Double-check the tag on your clothes to make sure that alcohol (or whatever you’re about to use) won’t harm it! Better yet, test it on an inconspicuous part of your clothing to make 100% sure it won’t damage your clothes even further.

Okay – now you’re ready to get that stain out! So, what do you do? Follow these easy steps carefully.

  1. First, you want to use a sponge or a microfiber cloth to remove any excess ink/liquid first. Just gently blot the stain a few times to make sure you get it all. Do not use a paper towel if you can help it! It’ll make do if it’s all you have but you run the risk of leaving behind little pieces of paper towel that can just make the stain even worse.
  2. After you’ve done that, soak your sponge in whatever alcohol-based liquid you’ve chosen. We discussed a few different options for alcohol-based liquids. Go ahead and choose whichever you have most readily available. Rubbing alcohol is going to be the most efficient but if you only have hairspray or hand soap, you still have a good chance of getting the stain out.
  3. Now that your sponge is soaked, go ahead and gently dab the stain over and over being careful not to dab it with a part of the sponge that has ink on it. If necessary, either rinse off the sponge or get a new one if it gets too much ink on it.
    1. We really want to stress that you should absolutely not scrub the stain! Blot the stain only. Scrubbing it has the high potential to make the stain worse and just spread it around the garment.
  4. After you’re certain that you’ve lifted up as much of the ink as possible, now it’s time to wash the garment. This may go without saying, but you’re going to want to wash it by itself as not to transfer the stain to anything else you might own.
    1. You also want to wash it at as high a temperature as possible. This is going to help whatever oils left in the stain break down even further and hopefully fall right off your garment.
  5. You’re almost there! Now that you’ve washed the garment comes the easy part. Do not put it in the dryer! Put it somewhere that it can dry naturally then just let it sit until it’s completely dry. After your garment dries, if you still see a tiny bit of the stain remaining, go ahead and just repeat the entire process over again. Once is usually enough but depending on the exact nature of the stain, there might be a tiny bit lingering. With that being said, this is a fairly fool-proof process and will work with just about all permanent stains. Permanent marker stains aren’t as permanent as you might think! If you know the chemistry behind it, it is possible to get the stain completely removed.

How well this process actually works is going to depend on a couple of main factors.

  1. How quickly you treat the stain after it happens. This is easily the number one factor for your success. If you wait until the stain completely dries, you’re going to have a lot more difficulty. But it won’t be impossible!
  2. What alcohol-based substance you ultimately decide to use. Looking at our list, it goes in order from most effective to least effective. Rubbing alcohol will be your best bet if you have it laying around.

Permanent marker stains are a unique kind of stain. Don’t read articles on how to remove just any stain. What works to remove a wine stain, a ketchup stain, or a grass stain will not necessarily work to remove a permanent marker stain.

So, just make sure you know the science behind what’s going on and you’ll be good to go!

Hopefully, if you followed our article step by step, you made it through and your stain is completely gone. Or worst-case scenario, it should be a lot fainter than it was when it first happened.

You might have other clothes that have gum and looking for ways on how to remove it. Say goodbye to sticky gum now because we have a guide for it, read it right here.

Do you have any secret tips that we didn’t mention in our article? Any home remedies that you’ve tried and worked for you?

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.

Justin Howe

Electrician and DIY specialist Justin deleted his own successful tech blog to write expert product reviews and buying guides together with his friend Robert.