Ink has a nasty habit of staining whatever it comes into contact with—hardly surprising, as that’s exactly what the liquid is designed to do. Although leather is somewhat stain-resistant, its non-porous nature is no match for ink’s power to leave a mark.
Should you accidentally let your pen leak on your lovely leather couch (or purse, jacket, etc.), the mark isn’t going to fade any time soon.
But the good news is, rather than writing off a perfectly good (and super expensive) leather item, you can clean away the stain. In this post, we’ll outline six effective ink removal techniques to get your precious leather looking good as new.
- Pro Tip: Get in Quick
- Six Ways to Remove Ink From Leather
- How to Avoid Staining Your Leather
- Removing Ink From Leather: Final Thoughts
Pro Tip: Get in Quick
Regardless of which method you opt for, the key to effective stain removal is to get in quick—the mantra is particularly relevant with ink.
The longer you let ink seep into the leather, the harder it’ll be to remove from your garment or furniture. Likewise, the more time ink has to dry, the more stubborn the stain will become.
So how fast is quick enough? The first few minutes or hours are ideal. Nonetheless, you could still remove ink stains that are several days, months, or even years old. It all depends on the stain severity and how the ink reacts with your chosen cleaning solution.
We’re guessing you’ve just recently uncovered or created an ink stain. Don’t put the process off any longer. Get to work as soon as you’ve chosen a cleaning method from our list below.
Six Ways to Remove Ink From Leather
As time is of the essence, we recommend you choose an appropriate option that’s immediately available. For example, if you only have isopropyl alcohol lying around the house, try using it to clean up the stain first. If you’re not happy with the results, move onto another cleaning solution you can acquire quickly.
We won’t sugar coat it: removing ink from leather isn’t easy. You may have to try several solutions before the ink fades away. And in some cases, you might not be able to fully remove the stain at all. Typically, though, if you get to the stain quickly, you can greatly reduce its appearance.
We won’t sugar coat it: removing ink from leather isn’t easy. You may have to try several solutions before the ink fades away. And in some cases, you mightn’t be able to fully remove the stain at all.
1. Remove the Ink Stain With Alcohol
Nope, we’re not suggesting you raid the liquor cabinet (but you can if you want). We are talking about rubbing alcohol here, a powerful disinfectant that works wonders at removing all sorts of stains.
The downside is alcohol can damage the appearance of leather, so you’ll need to be careful when applying it.
Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is especially effective at removing stains from sharpies or permanent markers—but it still does a decent job with regular ink. A more heavy-duty option is denatured alcohol, which works incredibly well at neutralizing stains but is even more likely to discolor your leather.
- Patch test your solution (Isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol) on a small hidden section of the leather to see how it reacts.
- Apply the solution with a Q-tip or cotton ball and rub it lightly over the affected area.
- Continue rubbing gently until the ink soaks into the cotton. Reapply alcohol as necessary.
- Dry the alcohol immediately, preferably with a hairdryer, to prevent it from ruining the leather. The object is for the alcohol to help dissolve the ink without reacting with the leather.
2. Remove the Ink Stain With Hair Spray
Can’t find any rubbing alcohol around the house? Don’t worry; there’s a good chance you have an adequate supply in your bathroom cabinet.
Isopropyl alcohol is a key ingredient in everyday hair spray, and you could use this trusty grooming aerosol to remove ink from leather as it dissolves the ink itself. However, hair spray manufacturers have been reducing the alcohol content in their products over the years, so the spray isn’t as effective as it once was. If you’ve got rubbing alcohol handy, use that instead.
Because Isopropyl alcohol is the active ingredient in hair spray, you’ll need to be careful when applying the hair spray so as not to ruin your leather.
- Spray a small amount on a hidden piece of leather to patch test the product.
- Position the hair spray as close to the pen mark as possible to avoid spraying a wider area than necessary.
- Gently apply the hair spray onto the ink stain and allow it to dry for five minutes.
- Rinse the spray off with cold water.
- Dab the affected area with a paper towel or cloth to get rid of any remaining alcohol.
3. Remove the Ink Stain With Vinegar and Olive Oil (White Leather Only)
White leather is rather tricky to clean as it’s highly sensitive to caustic ingredients. Most commercial cleaners will corrode the surface and leave an unsightly mark, so it’s better to opt for a gentle homemade solution instead. The downside is that this won’t work as well, especially if your stain is set in.
White vinegar is a wonderful cleaning agent that works on a wide range of stains, including ink.
- Mix ¼ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of olive oil into a spray bottle.
- Patch test the solution on an inconspicuous area.
- Apply the solution to the affected area.
- Allow it to dry for five minutes.
- Wipe the affected area clean.
4. Remove the Ink Stain With Lemon Juice and Cream of Tartar (Colored Couches)
Couches of color require a different cleaning approach, and one of the most effective homemade solutions is a simple mix of lemon juice and cream of tartar, which is a powdered, acidic byproduct of winemaking. The lemon juice’s acidic nature helps dissolve the ink, while the cream of tartar adds extra oomph.
- Mix one part lemon juice and one part cream of tartar to form a paste.
- Apply the solution onto a small hidden area to patch test it.
- Dab the solution onto the affected area with a microfiber cloth.
- Rub the paste deeply into the stain and apply pressure in circular motions.
- If it doesn’t remove the stain immediately, let it sit for three hours.
- Wipe the solution clean with a damp cloth.
5. Try a Commercial Cleaner
As much as we love our homemade solutions, sometimes they don’t achieve the desired effect. If you’ve tried one or more of the above options with no success, then have a crack at using a commercial-grade product instead.
One big plus is these cleaners won’t damage your leather, at least not if you follow the instructions. Commercial cleaners also don’t require you to mix up any solutions—the product is ready to go straight out of the bottle.
One easy and effective option is the Magic eraser, a pen-like device that uses melamine foam to remove all sorts of nasty stains, including ink. Amodex manufactures the industry-leading product, which comes with an official endorsement from Sharpie. Tide has their own guide for using their cleaning products for removing ink stains.
Application is easy: draw it on, rub the foam in with a toothbrush, and let it dry for a few hours. As it works on so many different things, it’s worth keeping the product stashed away in your cupboard, especially if you’ve got kids or you’re stain-prone.
6. Get Professional Help
If none of the above options achieved the desired results, consider enlisting a dry cleaner as a last resort. These professional businesses dedicate their lives to stain removal, and they’ve got the tools of the trade to get the job done right.
The downside is that these services don’t come cheap. You’ll need to factor in the price of the stained leather item to determine whether professional help is worth it.
Some dry cleaners are better than others, too. Ask around for recommendations and pay close attention to online reviews.
How to Avoid Staining Your Leather
The best course of action is to prevent your leather from getting stained in the first place. Be especially careful with your pens—both ballpoint and fountain—around leather or other expensive fabrics. Put the lids back on after each use and store them safely away.
If you’re beating yourself up for spilling ink on your leather, another useful strategy is to apply a conditioner to your most precious leather products. These powerful protective agents prevent fading, cracking, UV damage, and stains and provide an impermeable layer to your leather products. TriNova makes an excellent spray-on version that does all of the above—plus, it restores your leather’s original luster.
If you’ve got kids, keep the little rascals well away from anything with ink; otherwise, your whole house will soon be covered in “adorable” scrawl. Encourage them to express their artistic side through crayons and paper, well away from your leather couch.
Removing Ink From Leather: Final Thoughts
An accidental ink stain doesn’t have to be a disaster, even if it landed on your favorite Italian leather couch. With the tried and tested cleaning solutions we’ve covered in this handy how-to guide, there’s a good chance you’ll remove the mark and enjoy your plush leather products again.