How to Remove Permanent Marker Stains

Permanent markers, aka Sharpies, don't necessarily leave behind permanent stains! Here's how to get them off everything from clothing to your walls.

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Permanent markers, commonly referred to by the brand name Sharpies, can make for some of the most intimidating types of stains. However, contrary to their name, these types of pens don’t necessarily cause permanent damage—if you know how to remove a permanent marker stain like a pro. “In many ways, sharpies and permanent markers have more in common with spray paint than they do with a ballpoint pen,” Guy Peters, owner and founder of MOP STARS cleaning service, explains to Reader’s Digest. That’s because permanent markers, like spray paint, contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that evaporate to dry the ink. “The faster you can remove the ink, the less time the evaporation process has time to affect, and the greater chance that you can successfully remove the ink before it really does become permanent,” he points out. As a general rule of stain removal, the faster you act, the better your chances of success; that’s especially true when it comes to removing red wine from clothes.

While most of the products that will remove permanent marker stains will work on just about any surface, the bigger concern is how the item you’re trying to clean will react, he explains. For example, the acetone in nail polish remover can do a great job at removing sharpie stains from all kinds of items but if you use it on a natural fabric like silk or wool you might not be left with much of a garment when you’re done. “That means you’ll need to find a balance between the surface you’re trying to clean and the products you have available,” Peters says.

There’s also the factor of how porous the surface is: the more porous the surface, the more difficult it will be to remove. “Whiteboards for example are extremely non-porous and you can actually just write over the permanent marker with a dry erase marker and wipe it up! This trick also works great for most metal surfaces,” he explains.

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What removes permanent marker?

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Aerosol hairspray (depending on alcohol content)
  • Nail polish remover
  • WD-40
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Toothpaste
  • Paint thinner
  • Dry erase marker (in some situations)
  • Makeup remover wipes (best for skin)
  • Vegetable oil

How do you get Sharpie out of clothes?

As with any type of stain, always start the process of getting a permanent marker stain out of clothing, with a small, inconspicuous area, so you can see how your specific garment reacts. And, here’s how to get ink stains out of clothing.

How do you get Sharpie out of leather?

“Alcohol and acetone-based products can easily damage leather so it’s best to avoid things like hairspray, nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol,” Peters explains. Instead, he suggests the following:

White vinegar

  1. Using a cotton ball, cloth, or paper towel, dab a vigorous amount of white vinegar on the ink stain.
  2. Let it soak for at least five minutes.
  3. Blot the area while and be sure to replace the cloth regularly as ink is removed.
  4. Repeat as needed.


  1. Spray a small amount of WD-40 on a cloth or paper towel. Don’t spray the leather directly as not only will this give you way more than you need, but you’ll likely end up with WD-40 getting sprayed in more places than you want.
  2. Using the cloth or paper towel, do a combination of small circles with heavy blotting.
  3. Repeat as needed.

How do you get Sharpie out of cotton?

Most cotton can handle alcohol and acetone products, which are also going to be some of the most effective options. “If your garment is older or thinner cotton you can try diluting the rubbing in alcohol in water,” Peters says. “Start with 1 part water and 1 part rubbing alcohol and work up from there as needed.” Did you know it’s incredibly easy to get grease and oil out of clothing?

Rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover (same process)

  1. Always apply the alcohol or acetone using a cloth or cotton ball and never apply directly to the garment.
  2. Apply a small amount of the ink stain and allow it to soak for at least five minutes.
  3. Begin blotting with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
  4. Repeat as needed.

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How do you get Sharpie out of wool?

Peters explains that wool can be more fragile than many man-made fabrics like polyester, so it’s extra important to test a hidden area and start small. Using rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover, follow the same steps as above for removing Sharpie from cotton.

How do you get Sharpie out of denim?

“Denim is a sturdy, tough material that can handle the most effective ink removers like rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover,” he explains.

How do you get Sharpie out of polyester?

Because polyester is a tough man-made fabric, it is “plenty sturdy enough to handle permanent ink stain removal with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover,” Peters says.

How do you get Sharpie off skin?

Most of the same options that work for removing permanent ink from garments will work for your skin too, with one caveat. “You might not want to use harsh chemicals like nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol into your skin,” Peters points out. So while those work, you might want to consider a few less harsh options. “There are many skin-friendly and oil-based options that can remove permanent ink from the skin,” he explains.

  • Hand sanitizer: Since the majority of people have hand sanitizer with them at all times in 2021, it is a great option for removing permanent marker stains off your skin. “While it still contains alcohol, it’s a lot less concentrated than pure rubbing alcohol so it’s much less harsh on your skin,” says Peters.
  • Baby oil and olive oil: In addition to helping keep your skin soft and smooth, these common household oils are great for getting a stain off your skin.
  • Makeup remover: If you have delicate or sensitive skin, makeup remover is a very effective option for removing permanent ink.

The instructions for removing Sharpie from your skin are the same, whichever stain remover you choose:

  1. Apply the compound to a soft cloth, paper towel, or even your hand. If there’s only a little ink you can wipe it away with your hand. If there’s more than a small amount you’ll need a cloth to wipe away the ink. But be sure not to use something too abrasive as you could irritate your skin.
  2. Rub in small circles adding an additional amount of the compound of your choice as needed.
  3. Go slowly, don’t irritate your skin too much in the process.

how to get permanent marker out of woodAlaina DiGiacomo/

How do you get Sharpie off wood?

“Most wood is pretty sturdy and can handle any of the compounds listed above under ‘What removes permanent marker?'” explains Peters. Since finished wood is much less porous than unfinished wood, it will be more durable when it comes to cleaning products and more resistant to permanent marker ink stains. “Still, it’s best to start with a hidden area first since there’s a great deal of variety when it comes to woods and different finishes,” he says.

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Finished wood considerations

With finished wood, you’ll want to remove acetone, paint thinner, and related products from your list. “That’s because the acetone can actually remove the finish and while that might take care of the ink problem you’ll end up with a section that just doesn’t look quite like the rest,” he explains. Rubbing alcohol, hairspray, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also pose similar problems though the latter two are less concentrated and therefore less likely to cause problems. Therefore, he suggests using toothpaste. While toothpaste might seem like an unlikely product to use in removing permanent marker stains off wood, it is a great option for floors. “The best option is a toothpaste with a little baking soda (check the ingredients) or just add some of your own,” suggests Peters. Keep in mind that gel toothpaste won’t do the trick.

How do you remove permanent markers from plastic?

Removing permanent marker stain from plastic is easier than you think. “For most plastics, especially hard plastics, you can simply draw over the permanent marker with a dry erase marker and wipe it away!” reveals Peters.

Dry erase marker

  1. Draw over the permanent ink and then wipe away.
  2. No need to let it sit in most cases.

Rubbing alcohol

  1. Follow the same instructions for using rubbing alcohol to remove Sharpie from clothing.
  2. Be careful using rubbing alcohol on softer or acrylic plastics as it can cause some minor damage.

Pencil eraser

If the stain is still fresh and not set too deep you can actually scrub the ink away with a pencil eraser. You’ll get the best results with a larger eraser since you’ll need to scrub with some decent pressure.

How do you get Sharpie off the wall?

Most parents have suffered at least one permanent marker accident over the years. Luckily, since most walls are painted it is usually pretty easy to remedy, as paint can actually resist the permanent ink pretty well. Still, you don’t want to use anything that’s going to strip the paint, Peters explains. “You’ll definitely want to avoid things like nail polish remover as it shares many of the same ingredients as paint removers!”

Dry erase marker:  “While it might seem counterproductive to use another marker on your walls, this trick can be very effective and puts very little stress on the paint,” explains Peters. “Triple check that the marker you’re using is a dry-erase marker and not a Sharpie. The last thing you want to do is accidentally make the problem worse!”

  1. Draw over the permanent marker spot with the dry erase marker.
  2. Wipe away!

Windex and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers: “Some folks absolutely swear by this technique,” says Peters. “The nice thing is that many people will have both these products and it’s a regular part of our cleaning tool kit. It’s also safe for painted walls.”

  1. Spray the wall with Windex or another glass cleaner. No need to hold back here and feel free to use as much as you need.
  2. Scrub the areas with the Magic Eraser using a lot of pressure.
  3. Rotate the Magic Eraser as you see ink coming off the wall onto the eraser.

Rubbing alcohol: “As always, rubbing alcohol makes a great option,” says Peters. Follow the same instructions for using rubbing alcohol to remove Sharpie from clothing.

How do you get Sharpie off metal?

Permanent ink comes off metal pretty quickly with rubbing alcohol, according to Peters. While the same dry erase marker trick will work with non-porous metal, he maintains that the best option is to simply use plenty of rubbing alcohol.

How do you get Sharpie off carpet?

As is often the case, the best option here is going to be rubbing alcohol. “Rubbing alcohol won’t damage the carpet or leaving it looking worn out but it will remove the permanent ink,” he explains. “It’s also easy to rinse and remove once it’s done its job. ”

How do you get Sharpie off upholstery?

The same guidelines here will apply to the garment section above since many of the same fabrics will be included in upholstery.

How do you get Sharpie off counters?

Most counters are pretty resilient and won’t get damaged by rubbing alcohol which makes it a great option. Another option is toothpaste, says Peters.


Leah Groth
Leah Groth covers everything from cleaning hacks and consumer products to travel and pets for Reader’s Digest. When she isn’t working on a piece, you’ll find her chasing after her four children (two humans, a Vizsla and a German Shorthaired Pointer) or working on her 100-plus-year-old home outside Philadelphia.