The Heartbreak of Ink Stains on Leather and How to Remove

A new leather sofa or handbag—so beautiful. Or perhaps it’s the car you’ve had for a long time—the one with leather upholstery that still looks fantastic because that you’ve babied and protected it against spills and stains.

Somehow through the course of life, that beautiful leather gets hit with an ink stain.


Ink stains on leather and how to remove them

Here’s what happened to Dana,  who recently wrote:

While working, I placed an ink pen in the back pocket of my jeans. Later, I realized the pen was not there, only locate it in the seat of my car. Apparently it had slipped out of my pocket and wrote on the leather seats—blue ink on tan leather—before I realized it had gotten out. Not a pretty sight, especially considering I have no kids to blame it on!

Leather can be tricky because there are so many variables. Is the leather finished or unfinished? Is the ink stain fresh or has it been there for a long time? What kind of ink is it—ballpoint, Sharpie®, gel?

Because of the variables, there are a number of remedies, all of which do work to remove ink stains from leather in certain situations. You may have to make multiple attempts until you find one that works for your particular leather and situation.

So go through the steps below until you hit on the one that works for your specific ink-on-leather challenge.

For sure, your chances for success will be greater the fresher that ink stain is. Once the ink has penetrated the surface and had time to dry, cure, and even get “baked” by the sun into the car’s upholstery, the more difficult the challenge will be.

Test the leather

You need to determine if it is “naked” or finished. Suede, for example, is naked—unfinished. Finished leather will have a smooth or pebbled finish. To discover what type you are dealing with, put a drop of water on the leather. If it beads up, that leather has been finished so you can begin cleaning. If it soaks in immediately, it is unfinished. Do not attempt to treat a stain on naked leather. Call a professional.

Test the remedy

Find an inconspicuous place like under a seat cushion or in a seam; on the bottom of the purse or an inside pocket where you can test each treatment before taking it to the stain itself. You want to see how the product interacts with the leather. Does it remove the color? Leave a light spot? Allow it to dry fully and then determine if the result would be better than the stain.


Try wiping the stain gently with a soap-based cleaner like Ivory soap or Dr. Bonner’s pure castile soap. Or go for the Blue Dawn. If the stain is fresh and hasn’t soaked in, soap or Blue Dawn may be the easiest and least harsh remedy.


If you can possibly get your hands on a bottle of non-toxic, Amodex Ink and Stain Remover, it may be the miracle you’re looking for. removes all kinds of stains including ink from all kinds of surfaces. I keep a bottle of Amodex in my handbag and another in my laundry room.


If soap has failed and you have no Amodex handy, it’s time to move on to home remedies, all of which have worked for me when dealing with ink stains.

Acetone often works like magic to male ink disappear. Find it the nail polish remover and polishes. Or in a craft store, usually shelved with glues and adhesives.

Believe it or not most really cheap hairspray has a very high concentration of aceton. Like magic! Hairspray would be my first home remedy against that ink stain (on leather, fabric, tile, walls).

Saturate a cotton swab with hairspray and then work on the stain with it, rather than spraying the area. You may need to follow with a soft old toothbrush.

Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is different from acetone, so if the hairspray didn’t take care of the problem, perhaps rubbing alcohol will. Ditto for the cotton swab application.

Fingernail polish remover

If you can, try a non-acetone remover first. I don’t know why, but often it will remove the ink when acetone will not. If you get a negative result, move to acetone fingernail polish remover. Yes, cotton swab.

DON’T MISS: Using Hydrogen Peroxide to Remove Stains

Magic Eraser

One of those Magic Cleaning Erasers has been known to erase ink stains from leather. Not always, but under the right circumstances. Magic erasers contain a material called melamine foam, which helps remove tricky stains. To use, follow the label instructions.


Once you have removed the ink stain, allow the area to dry fully then treat it with a good leather conditioner to rehydrate and protect the leather against future stains. I’m a big fan of Kevian Leather Cleaner and Conditioner. I find that Kevian builds a protective coating on the leather that keeps it from cracking but also creates a barrier against future stains. Love the stuff.

Sure do hope this helps!

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3 replies
  1. Pam
    Pam says:

    For heaven’s sake DO NOT USE NAIL POLISH REMOVER on a leather sofa!!!!! I read this, I used it and now I have a hole in my $2,000 leather sofa!!! Shameful to even suggest something so harmful.

  2. Ryan Viturner
    Ryan Viturner says:

    As the image shown does it really works on white leather? Coz I have a white leather couch and my niece showcase their artworks 🙂 Any suggestions?

  3. Marilyn Dobbin
    Marilyn Dobbin says:

    a pen came apart in my clothing pocket; after trying everything I finally used a toilet declogger but can’t remember what the chemical was; seems like it had p-something; any help?


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