Ink stains, those huge, blotty ruinous matters of carpet destruction, are not as common as they were when fountain pens were in vogue. With that said, however, ink pens explode; they ruin our carpets, pants, and in the case of super cool guys, they would ruin our shirts if we didn’t have pocket protectors. What’s worse, ink is designed to be difficult to remove – this is the reason we sign documents with pens instead of a pencil or crayon. Cleaning out ink stains, particularly from carpets, can be extremely difficult.
Some of the best strategies for cleaning up ink don’t work as great on carpet, however, because they can damage the backing of your carpet or any pad underneath. I learned this the hard way when, while looking desperately for the ink pen I’d been using, I put my full weight on the tip of said pen. It exploded black ink all over the carpet underneath my desk and naturally, I felt inclined to scream. I didn’t, however, and went immediately to mama Google to find out how to fix the problem.
After a while, I had everything I needed to soak up and clean the stain and it worked, thankfully, but the process of searching wasted precious time that should have been used cleaning. The longer ink (or any stain) sits, the harder it is to clean. What follows here is everything I learned during my ink pen misadventure, in the hopes you don’t go through the same torture I did.
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Related: How to get more stains out of carpet
Like all stains, the first thing to do is to blot up any fresh or remaining excess ink. Get a dry cloth, especially one that’s older and has seen a lot of use, to soak up any ink that hasn’t penetrated the carpet fibers. You can use paper towels as well, and this is probably the better route to go regardless – you’re just transferring the stain to a new fabric otherwise.
Once blotted up, you’ll want to pre-treat the stain with a solution that will break down the bonds between the ink and your carpet. Denatured alcohol is a great product for doing this; simply pour it into the stain and let it sit for at least 5 minutes, but be careful to not let it sit longer than 10 or it can damage the latex backing of your carpet.
After the pre-treatment has soaked through, blot it up and then follow the next steps with a cleaning agent to fully remove the stain. It’s also worth noting that there are three distinct types of ink that are commonly used; ballpoint pen ink, permanent ink, and water-based inks, which are commonly found in children’s markers. What works for ballpoint pens might not work for the others, and permanent ink is the hardest of all to remove.
Commercial stain removers
Sometimes you need heavy-duty cleaners to deal with ink stains. Ballpoint ink pens are relatively easy to clean up after, but permanent inks, recreation inks that have metal in them, and fountain pen ink are all exceptionally difficult to remove and will require a professional cleaner. These products are some of the best for removing ink from your carpet and in some cases, other fabrics as well.
Shout Advanced Cleanser
Shout comes in a small, convenient spray bottle that’s designed to function as a pre-treater or cleaner. It works well both on colored carpets and whites/lighter colors, without bleaching or discoloration. With that said, however, always test cleaners on a small, inconspicuous patch of carpet that nobody will notice to truly get a feel for how it will affect your carpet.
Shout is thick and sticks to the fabric you place it on, so you don’t need a lot. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes and then clean the stain with a brush, following up with paper towels wettened with water to blot up any excess ink or cleaner.
This is a chemically based detergent, so while it’s safe for pets and kids, you’ll want to let it dry fully before letting them come into contact with it.
OxiClean is a powerful cleaner that uses non-bleaching agents to clean literally anything in your home. It’s safe for colored and white carpets, and for natural and synthetic fibers. Since it comes in a tub and has directions for mixing it with water, you can control the amount of cleaner you use for every individual incident. Additionally, this product is great to have around the home, as it can clean just about any surface – including clothing – without damaging them. Though I wouldn’t eat it, it’s largely non-toxic and doesn’t emit harsh fumes or irritating chemicals.
Resolve Professional Strength
One of the oldest and best-loved stain removers for carpets, Resolve offers professional strength in a consumer product. It works great on synthetic and natural fibers and removes virtually any stain with little effort. Simply spray Resolve on the ink, let it soak in and detach the bonds to the carpet, and then blot up with paper towels, repeating until the ink is gone forever. What’s even better is, though Resolve isn’t organic in a sense, it is formulated to be pet-and-kid-friendly, so you can use it to clean your home with confidence that your family is safe.
Method Stain Remover
The Method brand family of products are highly powerful cleaners that are all-natural and family-safe. This one, while designed to treat and remove clothes stains, works exceptionally well on ink stains, something I learned first-hand (it was the only cleaner we had in the laundry room when I smashed the pen).
Created with plant and mineral-based enzymes, Method Stain Remover breaks down ink stains and, with a little scrubbing, removes them completely. The one potential snag with this product is that it’s less useful for synthetic fibers than natural ones, so do consider that when making a purchase.
Home remedies to remove ink from your carpet
As we stated before, removing a stain before it sets is critical, so time is not on your side. With this in mind, you might not have the luxury of purchasing a cleaner and waiting for it to be delivered. Even the trip from the store might be too long to prevent the stain from setting in permanently, so we’ve got a few different home-based remedies that you probably have on hand right now.
As odd as it might sound, hairspray is a great choice when cleaning up ink, particularly ballpoint pen ink. Start by liberally applying the hairspray and waiting – hard-hold/lacquer sprays are what you want to use. It should not take longer than about 10 minutes for the hairspray to loosen and break up the strain, at which point you’ll need to repeatedly tamp the stain with a dry paper towel. Do not scrub – this will spread the ink around.
When it’s satisfactorily gone, let the carpet dry and then brush it to remove the hairspray, as it can bond to your carpet (particularly to synthetic fiber).
Using a bit of rubbing alcohol, soak the stain and start to blot with a paper towel. The amount of rubbing alcohol you need to use is roughly dependent on the size of the stain, but 1 tbsp for every 4 inches of ink should be sufficient. Every blot after applying the alcohol should start to draw ink out of the carpet, and you’ll know when you’re done because there simply won’t be any more stain.
Finish up by applying some warm water and then blotting that up as well.
This only works if you’re working with a water-based ink or marker stains. 1/2 tsp in 1 cup of warm water makes the solution, and then lightly apply the cleaner to the ink stain. Dab it and then rinse the towel, and repeat this process until the stain lifts completely. With this method, you’ll need a hairdryer to fully dry the carpet to ensure you got all of the ink up, as when wet, these types of ink fade considerably but then dry darker.
Non-acetone nail polish remover
Nail-polish remover can be applied the same way you’d use denatured alcohol – sprinkle it onto the stain, brush it lightly into all the fabric, and then let it sit for no more than 5 minutes. Blot it up with a dry towel repeatedly until the ink is gone. With nail polish remover, you want to work quickly and use the solution as conservatively as possible, because it can damage your carpet’s backing pretty significantly if you use too much or let it sit too long.
Natural cleaning solutions
For those who want to keep their home free from harsh chemicals, there are several home remedies that avoid strong odors, irritants, or other not-so-friendly cleaning agents. Your mileage may vary on these because cleaning ink depends heavily on the type of ink and the type of carpet you’re working with. Still, it’s nice to have these methods in your pocket.
Using a mixture of about 1:4 vinegar to warm water, apply the solution to the carpet and immediately tamp down with a dry towel. Don’t use paper towels here; you want a highly absorbent fabric towel. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and then remove the towel, repacing it with another dry section of the same towel until you no longer see ink. When you’re done, clean lightly with detergent, either dish soap or laundry detergent, and dry.
This particular method should be diluted slightly when working with synthetics (1:5) or strengthened for natural fibers (1:2). If you’re using a 1:2 ratio of vinegar to water, make sure you follow-up with something to get rid of that smell before that sets into your carpet.
First, pour warm water onto the carpet to dilute the stain and then blot with a few paper towels, Next, sprinkle the baking soda and wait about 2 minutes. Pour diet ginger ale onto the stain and lightly scrub with a fingernail brush or toothbrush and then start blotting with warm water-soaked paper towels.
It’s important to use diet ginger ale here because regular soda will make your carpet backing sticky and can gum up your carpet fibers. When you’re done, give it a mild sprinkling of warm water, blot it until the water is gone, and immediately dry with a hairdryer to prevent lingering smells.