An object in his hand

How to Remove Ink Stains on Leather

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 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. Oh, the heartbreak!

An object in his hand

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. 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.

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.

Start simple

In keeping with the “First, do no harm,” principle, start with the simplest, least invasive remedy first, then move through the list until you discover which one works for your specific situation.

Soap

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

Amodex

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. May require multiple treatments with Amodex if the ink stain is old or particularly stubborn! I keep a tiny bottle of Amodex in my handbag and another in the laundry room.

Hairspray

If the soap has failed and you have no Amodex handy, grab a can of really cheap hairspray, which will have a high concentration of acetone. The cheaper, the better to work against that ink stain. 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 brush like an old toothbrush.

On a personal note, I was ready to walk on stage to speak at a large convention many years ago, wearing a pale blue wool blazer. I didn’t realize the Sharpie pen handed to me did not have a lid attached and you guessed it—somehow I laid a big black permanent-ink mark right across the lapel. 

Fortunately, someone had a can of hairspray handy. I sprayed it liberally (how could it get any worse, right?) and it was amazing. That ink dissolved and actually disappeared by the time I reached the podium. That ink stain was very fresh which helped considerably, but it was also permanent ink! I hope you have equally good luck with your ink stains. But if not, let’s keeping going 

Acetone

A bottle of straight acetone, if you have that available, may work better than the hairspray to make ink disappear because of the greater concentration. You can find acetone in craft and home improvement stores, usually shelved with glues and adhesives. Look for it in drugstores and large supermarkets, most likely located with nail polish removers.

Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is different from acetone, so if the acetone or hairspray didn’t take care of the problem, perhaps rubbing alcohol will. Apply with a cotton swab, as above.

Nail polish remover

At this point, 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. And always test in an inconspicuous place, first. Always.

RELATED: Hydrogen Peroxide to Remove Stains

Magic Eraser

One of those magic cleaning erasers (Mr. Clean is one brand) has been known to erase ink stains from leather—not always, but in some circumstances. Magic erasers contain a material called melamine foam, which helps remove tricky stains. To use, follow the label instructions.

Condition

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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9 replies
  1. Ginger says:

    I have had luck on leather purses by using a small amount of hand sanitizer with a Q-tip. Be sure to test in a place that won’t show first, but this has worked every time for me.

    Reply
  2. Ashley says:

    This was a big help. I pretty much went down the list and each product helped. My stains were only a couple hours old though. I did use nail polish remover but I did as the author suggests and tested this in a nondescript area first. It did not harm my couch in the slightest. I think the dawn dish soap and the hairspray work the best for me. Thanks for the article!

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Are you sure you were working on leather? Nail polish remover/acetone will not create a hole in leather. It could easily damage the dye if not “colorfast.” In any case, you should always test in an inconspicuous place first.

      Reply
  4. 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?

    Reply

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