Removing Ink Stains Without Stain Removers

When he graduated from university in 2000, my husband’s father gave him a gold pen. For the past 11 years, he’s carried that pen in the front pocket of his shirt. When we met, he had an ink stain on his shirt. It should have been a warning but I had no idea that he’d rather throw away five or six shirts a year rather than give up a poorly crafted pen. After four years of doing battle with ink stains, I can tell you that the best way to tackle an ink stain isn’t with special stain removers but with quick-thinking.

Keep it Wet
One day, I showed up at his office and dropped off three new shirts and three freezer bags. I’d tried to get him to take them himself, but he can be incredibly stubborn about the strangest things. They aren’t just for ink stains but for the myriad other stains he manages to get all over himself in the course of the day.

Now when he gets an ink stain he does the first part of my job for me. He takes the shirt to the sink, wets the entire thing with the coldest water the sink can muster, tosses it in the freezer bag and brings it home to me.

Start with Detergent
But first, a note on labels. I ruined three of his work shirts before I figured out how to read the label. Some garments are made out of special fabric or treated with chemicals that don’t like water. Washing them will get the stain out, but the fabric will look dull and tattered. Now I don’t buy anything without reading the label. Stain prone people shouldn’t buy dry-clean only clothing unless you have the cash and the time to rush something over to the local laundry.

I start with a little bit of laundry detergent in a small bowl. Dip the bristles of an old toothbrush in it. Use the toothbrush to push the laundry detergent into the stain. Don’t scrub or rub, just dip and press. You want to penetrate the surface of the fabric with the detergent. Don’t be afraid to push down with a little bit of force. Keep dipping and pressing on one side of the fabric until you saturate the stain and the quarter inch of fabric around it. Then flip the garment inside out and do the same to the other side of the stain.

Wash the Garment
If you can use a washing machine, toss the garment in the washing machine by itself. Add enough detergent for a small load. Turn the water dial to “hot”. Let the washing machine do the rest. To hand wash the item, fill the sink with hot, hot water. Put on gloves to protect your hands. Add the hand washing detergent. Leave the garment to soak for five minutes, then work the ink stain out with your hands. Change the water before you rinse to avoid re-transferring the dye.

Don’t put it in the Dryer
Keep hand- or machine-washing until you make no more progress removing the stain. If you’re using a white bowl or sink, you can check the water. When it stops turning ink-colored you’re not making any more progress. If you acted quickly enough, you can wash the stain away. If you didn’t and the shirt is white, you have another option: bleach. Don’t add it to the wash. You need a concentrated dose. Push laundry bleach into the stain with a toothbrush just like you did with the detergent. Then wash again. This time add a cap of bleach to the water.

If the stain is completely removed, you can dry the garment. If it’s not and the stain doesn’t get any lighter with repeated laundering, well, the stain may be permanent. If you’re creative, this isn’t so bad either. I’ve turned stained shirts into sleep shirts for me, stuffed them and turned them into beds for the dogs or saved them for dusting rags. If you think “recycling” you never really have a failure, just an opportunity for transformation.

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