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How To Remove Permanent Marker From Clothes 

How to remove permanent marker from clothes

We use washable markers in our house as often as possible. I know that if you are searching for how to remove permanent marker from clothes, you are probably in the process of switching to washable markers as well! Marker stains are stubborn, and before I falsely get your hopes up, sometimes, even with the best methods, a permanent marker stain can still leave residue behind. However, I’ll show you my favorite methods for how to remove permanent marker from clothes and how I have been able to save some clothing using these methods. 

What Removes Permanent Marker From Fabric? 

The best way to remove permanent marker from fabric is to use rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol breaks down the solvent that is in the ink of the permanent marker. In addition, the rubbing alcohol has very little surface tension, so it dives deep into the fabric. Alternatively, you can use things like hand sanitizer, bleach, and lemon juice to remove permanent marker from fabric.

Understanding Permanent Marker Stains

Permanent marker stains are hard to remove because they are designed to be water and chemical resistant. The permanent marker is simply doing its job, and when it comes to labeling products or creating a mark on something intentionally, the permanent marker does exactly what it is supposed to do. 

The problem, of course, is the fact that as soon as you start working on removing permanent marker stains, you quickly realize how resistant they are to these stain fighting methods. 

The time elapsed since the marker stain has set in doesn’t matter here. Unfortunately, permanent marker dries incredibly fast, so unlike oil or grease stains, you don’t have to worry about diving into the stain removal process. 

However, I would make sure to handle your permanent marker stain before putting your clothing in the washing machine and dryer. This process could end up setting the stain even more. Here are some general guidelines for understanding and working with permanent marker stains. 

  • The darker the color and the lighter the fabric, the more work you have cut out for you
  • Check the type of fabric you are dealing with before using any stain fighting method 
  • Always treat a stain before putting it in the dryer 
  • Alcohol based products are going to be your most effective in removing permanent marker 
  • Always test the cleaning solvent on an inconspicuous area of the clothing before applying it to the ink stain 
  • Check your marker brand to make sure it is permanent, Sharpie markers are the most popular brand of permanent marker ink, but they make some water based markers now as well 

Methods for Removing Permanent Marker Stains From Clothing

I’ve already shared with you that rubbing alcohol is my go-to method for getting marker out of clothes. However, I’ll give you the step-by-step process I use and a few other stain removal options to try. 

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is the best way to remove Sharpie stains and stains from other permanent markers. I have a trick on how to contain the stain and remove it at the same time, so follow this process step by step. Remember that the surface tension of rubbing alcohol is very lightweight, so it sinks into the ink stains quickly and does a great job of breaking down those ink solvents. 

  1. Rubbing alcohol should work on any color of clothing as well as different types like cotton and polyester 
  2. Make sure there is no external dirt or debris in the area of the permanent marker stain 
  3. Take a medicine dropper if you have one and pour rubbing alcohol in a circle around the stain; this will help ensure we don’t spread the stain while getting the marker out of clothes 
  4. Take a paper towel and dip it in rubbing alcohol
  5. Blot the stain with the rubbing alcohol
  6. You should not need to rub, but replace the paper towels as it absorbs the marker so that you are not creating placing more of the stained marker back on the clothing 
  7. Continue until stain lightens, and repeat the process

Hand Sanitizers

Hand sanitizers contain isopropyl alcohol, so they have similar stain fighting power to rubbing alcohol. I would be smart here about the color hand sanitizer you use. For instance, if you are using a friendly smelling version with aloe and things like that, I would look for a basic Purell or Germ-X brand that is clear and has the standard ingredients. 

  1. Start with the area of the clothing where the marker stain is damp
  2. Take a cotton ball with a little hand sanitizer on it and blot the clothing 
  3. To remove the stain, you will start wiping the area where the stain is so that the marker starts to release onto the cotton balls
  4. I would not scrub the surface, instead make it more of a blotting and wiping process 
  5. Change out the cotton ball often; you don’t want to spread the ink as you remove marker stains 
  6. Rinse the area of the clothing to get all of the hand sanitizer off, put it through a regular wash, and before putting it in the dryer, check to make sure the stain is removed 


Bleach is an oxidizer. It contains powerful chemicals (sodium hypochlorite) that will essentially wipe out your permanent marker stains. The problem with the bleaching action is that you will remove all color from your clothing too!

Therefore, bleach is only good on white clothes, and I would go as far as to say I would only use it on white cotton clothing. Some higher end fabrics have a touch of other coloring, and the white from the bleach will come out as a pink stain on the clothing. 

  1. Wear gloves before you start because bleach can be harsh on your hands and fingers
  2. Work on a surface that is not going to get stained by the bleach, an old white towel is a good choice
  3. Put bleach on a cotton ball and blot the marker stain 
  4. Keep switching the cotton ball in order to ensure you don’t spread the stain 
  5. Rinse the bleach off of the clothing before putting it into the washing machine 


Hairspray typically has alcohol in its ingredients which are helpful in removing permanent marker stains. In addition, the chemical makeup of hairspray makes it sticky, so it can almost grab some of the ink stuck in your clothing. I would test this in an area of the clothing that is not as visible to ensure it doesn’t leave behind a mark. 

  1. Spray hairspray directly on your permanent marker stain 
  2. Blot the stain with a paper towel or clean cloth
  3. Continue until you are able to get the permanent marker stain out 
  4. If it is working to fade the stain but not remove it, switch to rubbing alcohol 

Nail Polish Remover 

If nail polish remover can take the paint off your fingertips, it should certainly be able to get a permanent marker out of clothing, right? Nail polish remover is acetone-based and can work on a marker stain. Again, test the area first. Nail polish remover is overall quite similar to rubbing alcohol in how it responds to the stain. 

  1. Make sure you are working with an acetone based nail polish remover 
  2. Put a towel or paper towels under the clothing with permanent marker stains 
  3. Place some nail polish remover on a paper towel and start working on the stain from the outside in; by starting on the outside of your stain and working to the center, you create a barrier to help stop the stain from spending 
  4. Gently rub the area with the nail polish remover if necessary 
  5. Rinse with cold water and then place the clothing in the washing machine 
  6. Before putting in the dryer, check to see if the stain has disappeared; if not, try the process again 

Hydrogen Peroxide 

Hydrogen peroxide, with its natural bleaching agent, is one of my favorite stain remover tools for around the house stains. However, I don’t find peroxide to be quite as effective on permanent ink stains. If you have just a quick brush with a fine point marker, you may be fine, but if the stained area is large or a deep older stain, move back up my list for a better method. 

  1. Choose a hydrogen peroxide with around 3% concentration 
  2. Test the hydrogen peroxide on an area of the clothing where you won’t see it should it do damage 
  3. Put peroxide on a damp cloth and blot the stain 
  4. Add a few more drops of hydrogen peroxide if you find it’s not working 
  5. Rinse with cold water
  6. Wash on a normal cycle in the washing machine 

Distilled White Vinegar/Lemon Juice

Permanent marker stains dry really quickly. As much as I love vinegar and lemon juice for their acidic properties, they do not work all that well on permanent marker inks. I have found that vinegar and lemon juice may lighten the stain by breaking down the inks, but they won’t completely remove it. 

You can try a few drops on a very light or newer stain, but I think you are better off with rubbing alcohol. Remember I said the permanent marker stains are some of the most stubborn, and sometimes you just have to use what works. 

Baking Soda

Baking soda paste does not work well on clothing to remove dried permanent marker stains. I would find something more alcohol based and see if that does the trick. Don’t get rid of your baking soda, though; I use it in my kitchen and laundry room all the time! It’s just that hand sanitizer, hair spray, and even nail polish remover do the trick better here. 

All About Removing Sharpie Stains 

All of my methods to remove permanent marker stains will apply to the Sharpie brand permanent markers. However, I’m often asked a few additional questions about how to remove Sharpie marker stains. 

What Removes Sharpie Stains?

A Sharpie stain can be removed using rubbing alcohol. On darker fabrics, you have a better chance of the stain coming out completely. If you were wearing white, tan, or yellow when the stain happened, you will have a little more work to do to get the Sharpie ink out. 

How Do You Get Sharpie Out of Clothes With Hand Sanitizer?

Place a paper towel underneath your Sharpie stained clothing. Squirt a little hand sanitizer on the entire stain. Use a cotton ball to blot and gently rub the stain in a circular motion. You don’t need to scrub the stain; it won’t help. The idea is to lift off as much of the marker as possible. 

Are Sharpie Stains Permanent? 

I would call a Sharpie stain a stubborn stain. However, in some instances, it can be permanent. I would highly recommend working on this stain before the clothing hits the dryer; otherwise, you risk the stain transferring as well as setting it into your clothing. 

Special Considerations for Different Types of Fabrics

The fabric you are dealing with can impact how you remove stains; here are a few considerations to remember. 


Cotton tends to be one of the most durable fabrics, which allows you to use a harsher cleaning solvent, but the stain does tend to sink in a little further with a cotton fabric. Always test an area before using rubbing alcohol, and make sure to blot and gently rub. Don’t scrub your marker stain. 


It’s important to be careful not to damage the finish that the leather clothing has. Use a small amount of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol. If it doesn’t work, don’t push it. Simply switch to a leather cleaner and follow the instructions; you may need to call in a professional here. 


Wool is similar to leather in that you can cause quite a bit of damage if you don’t treat it properly. If you try initial methods of sanitizer and rubbing alcohol to no avail, switch to a wool cleaner or treatment to see if it can help release the stain. 

How Do You Get Permanent Marker Out of Washed and Dried Clothes?

Permanent marker stained clothing should not be put in the dryer before the stain is removed. If this has happened, the stain could be permanent. Start with rubbing alcohol and work through the steps of blotting and rinsing the stain to see if it releases at all. If you notice any progress, stick with it and repeat until the stain is gone. If not, then the stain is likely permanent.

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few of my best tips and tricks when dealing with permanent marker stains: 

  • Act on the stain before putting the clothing in the dryer. Unfortunately, permanent marker stains dry so quickly that fast action can’t solve all your problems here
  • Be smart about your work surface. Don’t put stained clothing on something that could end up stained if the ink bleeds through as it’s released 
  • Wear dark clothing when working with permanent marker; it’s much easier to get the stain to fade to the point you really can’t see it 
  • If your stains have already been through the dryer, work with rubbing alcohol, as it’s the most effective stain remover for permanent marker 

Methods for Removing From/off Other Surfaces

If your permanent marker removal project is for more than just your clothing, my thoughts are with you! In all seriousness, you can use some of these methods below to try and tackle your permanent marker stain situation. 


For a microfiber or cloth sofa, you should be able to follow the same process I did for clothing. Use rubbing alcohol and blot the surface until the stain is released. Test this on an area of the sofa facing the wall or even on the bottom underside so it’s not visible if it causes discoloration. 


Hand sanitizer is your go-to method for removing permanent marker from hands. Rub hand sanitizer through your hands, and then wash with soap and water and repeat. If it doesn’t all come off right away, it should be within a day or so. 


The carpet can be treated with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Again, test an area first. If you have a really high end carpet and are worried about stains, you can start with a little mild laundry detergent and water. However, if the stain is from a high quality permanent marker, expect that stain removal will be a bit more involved than this. 


With plastic surfaces, I usually put rubbing alcohol on a wash cloth. I then wipe down the area and continue to fold the cloth so I’m not wiping marker stains back onto the plastic. Luckily the plastic stains usually lighten quickly. 


Mr. Clean Magic Eraser may be your best bet for walls stained with permanent markers. The problem with the rubbing alcohol on the walls is that it can impact your paint job and leave you with an entirely different project. 


A folded paper towel dipped in rubbing alcohol can work to remove permanent marker from leather. However, you need to be careful to test an area before you use this; leather can be very sensitive to any liquid used on it. 

Kitchen Counter

The last time I had a permanent marker stain on my kitchen counter, I put lemon juice on it right away, thinking that I would remove as much ink as possible as quickly as possible. It worked all right, but mostly just lightened the stain. I eventually had to use a little elbow grease and rubbing alcohol to get this one out. 

Dry Erase Marker vs. Permanent Marker

Dry erase markers are those used on whiteboards and even windows. A dry erase marker has pigment suspended in alcohol as opposed to the permanent marker, which has pigment suspended in strong solvents. 

Dry erase markers can be washed away through typical laundering and basic stain removal for fabric; whereas, the permanent marker is designed to hold up under water, and therefore it won’t wash away nearly as easily. 

If you have to choose one stain over another to deal with, the dry erase marker stain is the better one!


Britt Olizarowicz