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Sharpies and other permanent markers have long been a go-to tool for everything from labeling moving boxes to crafting. However, one of the things that makes them so beloved — their ability to leave a lasting mark — also makes using them a frightening prospect, considering how hard it is to clean up stains when you end up with a mark somewhere you don’t want it.
There’s nothing worse than getting a permanent marker stain on one of your favorite outfits. But according to Grewal, a little marker mishap doesn’t have to spell the end of your clothes. All you’ll need to do is add a pretreating step — Grewal suggests using something with a high alcohol content, like rubbing alcohol, a little bit of hand sanitizer, or even hairspray — before running your clothes through the wash.
“Wet a paper towel with the alcohol solution and dab the permanent marker stain gently,” she says. “The alcohol will help break down some of the oils in the marker ink.” Once the mark is well-soaked, use a second dry paper towel to blot the stain. At this point, she says you should begin to see some of the ink transfer to the paper towel, which is a good sign that it’s working! “Use as many dry paper towels as needed and continue to blot until no more ink will come off.”
For the best results, you’ll need to work the spot from both sides of the fabric. “If the item is light-colored and bleach-safe, try massaging liquid or gel bleach onto the remaining stain in a circular motion,” she continues.
“After pre-treating with bleach, you’ll want to immediately throw the item into the laundry using a stain-fighting detergent and wash with cool water to avoid ‘baking’ the stain in.”
If there is still any ink left, Grewal suggests repeating the alcohol and bleach process above before washing the item with cool water. “Once you’re satisfied with the stain removal, let the item air dry.” Pro tip: If you’re dealing with sensitive fabrics you should use a pine-oil-based cleaner that is gentle on clothes. “Simply apply the pine-oil solution directly onto the stain and massage and scrub. Rinse using cold water and add the garment to your usual laundry load.”
If you’ve discovered a bit of marker on your cloth or upholstered furniture, you’ll need to follow some of the steps above. “First try rubbing alcohol, and if that doesn’t work, nail polish is another stain remover that is a bit more aggressive and can help spot treat thicker, more durable fabrics,” Grewal says.
If you’re dealing with leather, you’ll need to be a bit more careful. “First, try a very small amount of hand sanitizer in a discreet area to see how the fabric reacts,” Grewal suggests. “If all goes well, gently rub the hand sanitizer over the marker stain and wipe the leather clean.”
Unfortunately, if the hand sanitizer didn’t work, you may be all out of DIY options and need to call in the pros. “If you’re ever unsure about how to treat a certain fabric or are working with something like leather, satin, silk, wool, or anything particularly sensitive, professionals are extremely helpful,” she says. “Better to be safe than sorry.”
You won’t want to use the same harsh chemicals that Grewal suggested for removing markers from your skin, which is why she has a milder suggestion. First, start working the stain on your skin with some hand sanitizer. If that doesn’t work, Grewal says makeup remover is another great (yet mild) option. “A liquid solution or makeup removing wipes can be gentle on skin while also breaking down a lot of the oils and chemicals in the marker to easily wipe it off.”