Permanent markers are more commonly referred to as Sharpies, and they can make some of the most intimidating stains you’ve ever come across in your home. However, unlike what their name would lead you to believe, these pen types don’t necessarily cause any permanent damage if you know how to remove permanent markers correctly.
In a lot of ways, permanent markers have more in common with traditional spray paint than they do with a normal ballpoint pen. This is due to the fact that these markers, just like spray paint, have VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds that evaporate the ink to dry it. The faster you remove the ink, the better chances of actually getting the ink out of your medium before it becomes permanent. As a general rule concerning stain removal, the faster you act, and the better chances of success you have.
While most of the products that will remove permanent marker stains will work on almost any surface, your biggest concern is how the item you’re trying to clean will react. For example, using an acetone nail polish remover when you’re learning how to remove permanent marker can do a great job at stripping out marker stains from a range of items, but there won’t be much left of whatever you’re cleaning when you finish. So, you’ll need to find the correct balance between the products you’re using and the surface you want to clean.
You also have to consider how porous your surface is that you want to clean. The more porous it is, the more difficult the marker will be to remove. However, we’re going to outline how to remove permanent markers from a huge range of surfaces below.
Sharpies are what comes to mind when people think of permanent markers, but it is possible to remove the stains with a little work.
General Tips and Advice
If you’ve never tried to remove a permanent marker from any surface before, count yourself extremely lucky. This can be a task to take on, especially if it’s a very porous surface. The following tips and advice will help give you a jumpstart on the process.
- If the first attempt to remove the marker fails, pick a different method and have another go.
- You want to test on a discrete surface first to see if your choice on how to remove permanent markers is effective.
- Don’t mix your different cleaning products together. Always try a single method first, and if it doesn’t work, rinse or wash the surface before moving to the second method.
- How successful you are with how to remove permanent markers depends on how long the stain has been there and that surface. The longer the marker sits on the surface, the more it starts to get permanent.
- Don’t use abrasive products to get rid of the permanent market as they can cause damage to porous surfaces.
- Ensure that you don’t apply heat to the stain as this can set the stain in.
- Apply your chosen solution to the stained portion and let it sit for five minutes.
Popular Items to Use to Remove Permanent Marker
While they can seriously damage some surfaces, the good news is, permanent markers can be removed from most surfaces with a little bit of work and patience. How to remove permanent marker stains whether they’re fresh or new isn’t such a scary task when you realize that you most likely have a lot of the ingredients at home.
Before you take on the full stain, make sure to test your removal methods on a hidden spot. This way, if something goes wrong and your solution strips the color or finish from the surface, it won’t be nearly as noticeable.
Baking soda is a very popular cleaning tools to put in a host of household cleaners, and it can be a very effective stain removal agent too. All you have to do is create a paste with water and baking soda before gently rubbing it into the permanent marker stain using a circular motion. If you don’t have baking soda laying around, try toothpaste as long as it’s not gel to get the same effect.
If you have a wooden surface that is stained or painted with an opaque stain and you’re feeling brave, try drawing over the stain with the dry-erase marker. Once you have it covered, wipe it away. This may seem backwards when you’re learning how to remove permanent markers, but it usually works well on finished surfaces. Don’t try this method on any unfinished surfaces or you’ll have a mess.
Fine Grit Sandpaper
You should only use this technique on unfinished wood. Using a fine grit sandpaper on stained or finished wood will remove the stain, finish, or paint. However, if you’re trying to learn how to remove permanent markers from unfinished lumber or wood, a fine grit sandpaper usually works well. Markers can permeate into the wood or lumber. Sanding this area using a fine grit sandpaper will gently remove a few minor layers of wood on the surface. You want to avoid sanding too aggressively in one spot because you risk wearing a spot on the surface of the wood. Use broader, larger strokes instead.
If you’re trying to remove permanent marker from the surface of the wood, be ready to go through a few rounds of gentle sanding with a dry, clean cotton cloth. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing at the stain, especially if you use an abrasive brush, sponge, or cloth as this can remove the finish from the wood and damage the surface. Always test your solution on a hidden spot like the inside of a table leg or on the bottom in case there is damage to the item’s surface or finish.
It is possible to save your wooden items from marker stains, but if you’re dealing with a stubborn permanent marker stain that is above your skill level and your techniques aren’t working, you can call in a professional furniture restorer or woodworker to do it for you.
You want to be extremely careful when you use sandpaper as a way how to remove permanent marker stains and it can cause damage to the surface.
Another popular item in the medicine cabinet is hairspray, and it can do a lot more than keeping your hair in place. In fact, hairspray can remove all types of stains, from stains in fabrics to hard surfaces. All you have to do is spray the stain with a little amount of hairspray and wipe the residue away using a cloth. You should see the stain start to immediately lift.
Better known as Magic Erasers, you can use melamine foam to remove spots from a huge range of surfaces. You should stick to very gentle spot treatments because rubbing the surface too hard can lift certain finishes and cause damage.
Nail Polish Remover
If an acetone-based nail polish remover can effectively strip away gel manicures, it makes sense that it’s good to use when you’re learning how to remove permanent markers. Use a dry, clean cloth to lightly dab at the stain using the acetone-based remover. Avoid rubbing at the stain as it can damage certain finishes. We recommend that you test on a hidden spot before you really start using it to see if it damages the surface or not.
Regular rubbing alcohol is a very affordable and effective solution to helping remove permanent marker stains. Grab some rubbing alcohol from your medicine cabinet and carefully pour it into a dry, clean cotton cloth. Instead of rubbing at the spot, dab at it with a cloth until the marker starts to lift. Then, wipe the residue away with a slightly damp cloth and pat the area dry. It can take a few rounds to effectively remove the stain, but stop applying it if you notice discoloration on the cloth or stains.
Vodka may make an appearance at your summer BBQ party with your smoker, but it’s also something to pull out when you’re learning how to remove permanent marker stains. Try using plain vodka instead of the flavored options as the sugars in the flavored vodka can make the stain worse. Like you did with the rubbing alcohol method, soak a dry, clean cotton cloth in the vodka and lightly dab at the marker. You should start to notice it lifting from the surface onto the cloth.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Carpets
Hairspray or rubbing alcohol are the best choices when it comes to removing permanent marker stains from the carpet. To use rubbing alcohol, you pour a small amount onto a clean cloth and dap it into the carpet stain. Remember to only dab and never rub the area or you’ll spread the stain further into the carpet fibers. Keep dabbing at the area until the stain lifts.
To try hairspray, you have to spray a little onto the stain and use a clean towel to dab it away. You might have to repeat this process several times for it to work. Once you remove the stain, dampen the carpet with a little water and use paper towels or a clean cloth to blot the area dry.
It’s so easy for ink to splatter off of the page and fall onto the carpet, and it can be slightly difficult to get rid of it without a little work.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Glass
There are a whole host of various stain removers that work on glass, plastic, and wood. A few of the most common things to try on this stain type when you’re figuring out how to remove permanent marker include:
- Dry erase marker
- Nail polish remover
- Regular toothpaste mixed with baking soda
- Rubbing alcohol
All you have to do is put your stain remover of choice onto a paper towel or clean cloth and use it to wipe away the stains on the glass.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Paper and Books
Maybe your kid took a Sharpie to your library or textbooks. If so, dab a small amount of nail polish remover onto the stains, but don’t saturate the paper. Soak up the nail polish remover very well and it should lift the marker stain onto the cloth. Repeat until most of the marks are gone.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Plastic
From children’s toys to bins, there is plenty of plastic that could have a run-in with a rogue Sharpie marker. And, you may want to mark up your tupperware or other plastic containers to write out the contents. But, what do you do when you start wondering how to remove permanent marker from your plastic? You can try:
- Dry-Erase Marker – It may feel very counterintuitive to apply more marker over an ink stain, but it can work. You can use a dry-erase marker to remove stains from a range of surfaces. This is due to the fact that dry-erase markers have a non-polar solvent in the makeup. All you have to do is draw over the previous marker stain with the dry-erase one and wipe it all away using a damp cloth.
- Hand Sanitizer – An alcohol-based hand sanitizer works just like rubbing alcohol does. You should read the label before you use it and test it on a very small area before you apply it to your stain. Squirt it onto the affected area and use a clean cloth to rub away at your stain until it lifts out.
- Magic Eraser – Many people use magic erasers to clean bathtubs, but did you know that it’s effective at removing permanent marker spots too? Double check the packet as it’ll tell you exactly what surfaces you can use it on. All you need to do is get the magic eraser slightly wet and then scrub at the stain to remove it from the surface.
- Nail Polish Remover – Any nail polish remover that has acetone in it can be an effective way to lift permanent marker stains. Just get a clean cloth slightly damp with the nail polish remover and dab at the stain until it’s gone.
- Pencil Eraser – On certain types of plastic, you can get rid of a marker stain by rubbing it with a pencil eraser. It’s quick, easy, and definitely worth trying.
- Rubbing Alcohol, Toothpaste or Peanut Butter – All of these methods that you can use to remove permanent marker from other surfaces work on plastic.
- Sunscreen – Sunscreen is a very effective way how to remove permanent marker stains from non-porous surfaces like plastic. All you have to do is squirt or spray it onto a clean cloth and work it into the stain before wiping it away.
- WD-40 – This method couldn’t be any more simple. All you have to do is spray WD-40 onto the stain and scrub at it using a clean cloth.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Screens
You want to be extra careful when it comes to learning how to remove permanent marker from screens as they’re delicate. Try using a baby wipe to remove the stain from the screen. If this doesn’t work out, try regular toothpaste. You can dab it onto the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe it off using a clean cloth. Repeat the process until the stain lifts.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Skin
It’s very easy to end up with permanent marker on the skin, and there are only so many times you can get rid of it using soap and water. Luckily, it’s easy to get the stains off using sunscreen, nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, or rubbing alcohol.
You’ll have to scrub to get the marker off of your skin, but you can make the process easier by using something like rubbing alcohol.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Upholstery
How to remove permanent marker from upholstery will depend largely on the fabric you’re working with. A few suggestions for popular fabrics include:
For permanent marker stains on canvas, you should use rubbing alcohol and blot at the stains until they lift. Always, test on a hidden spot first to ensure it doesn’t make the colors run. Sponge it to cold, clear water and blot it dry. You also want to be mindful of any instructions on the label.
You can also rinse the canvas under a stream of cold water until it starts to run clear. Blot the stain using rubbing alcohol, rinse it, and then allow it to air-dry. Wash it according to the label to finish. Air dry it once again, and repeat the process if necessary. Check to make sure the stain is gone before you dry it as this can set the stain in more.
To get permanent marker out of chenille upholstery, blot gently at the stain using rubbing alcohol until you can’t see it anymore. Of course, test on a small hidden area before you tackle the whole stain. Rinse it with cold water and blot it dry. You can also try running it under a steady stream of cold water until the water runs clear and blot at it with rubbing alcohol before washing it according to the label’s directions. Make sure the stain is gone before you dry it.
If you have velvet, slik, or another delicate fabric for your upholstery, you want to call in the experts to clean it for you. However, for other fabric upholstery options on cushions, sofas, or bedsteads, rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover can work very well. Apply a little nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to a dry, clean cloth and use it to dab at the stain. Whatever you do, don’t rub it in as this can drive the stain deeper into the fabric and spread it.
You may find that you have to apply the cleaning agent to a new section of cloth and keep dabbing at it to lift the stain. Don’t allow the fabric to get soaked in your cleaning agent as this could also stain. Once you successfully lift the stain, pat away any excess moisture using a dry, clean towel to get it as dry as possible before you air-dry it.
Too much moisture can easily damage leather, so you should get a can or aerosol hairspray. Spray it onto a clean cloth and scrub at your marker stain. You might need to use more hairspray or swap to a cleaner section of cloth before you lift the cloth before you remove 100% of the stain. Once the stain is gone, you can clean away any hairspray residue using a damp, clean cloth and put a little leather condition into the furniture.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from Walls and Hard Floors
A lot of the techniques we touched on to teach you how to remove permanent marker from spaces will work on walls and hard floors too. Hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, whtie toothpaste, aerosol hairspray, or magic eraser can remove permanent marker from walls and floors. You do want to be careful when you work on walls though because if you rub too hard, you can remove the paint.
Learning how to remove permanent marker stains from brick is easy. All you have to do is make a 50/50 solution of water and baking soda. Work this mixture into your permanent marker stain using a soft-bristle brush. Allow it to sit for five minutes before you rinse the surface of the brick. If the stain is still there, apply bleach diluted with water, hydrogen peroxide, or multipurpose waterless mechanic’s cleaner to the stain. Follow the instructions on the bottle as you do and allow it to sit for five minutes. Rinse it with clear water to finish.
To get permanent marker out of concrete, make a 50/50 solution of water and baking soda again. Work it into the stain using a soft-bristle brush while ensuring you cover the whole stain. Allow it to sit for five minutes before you rinse the surface of the concrete using cool water. If this doesn’t work, try diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Whatever you choose, finish it with a good rinse.
Granite is a very popular kitchen backsplash material, but it can have issues with marker stains. To remove them, rubbing alcohol is your best choice. You shouldn’t let the alcohol sit on the granite for an extended period of time though. You also want to make sure that you thoroughly wipe any residue away once the stain is gone.
Removing marker stains from laminate is usually an easy and straightforward task when you use regular vegetable oil. Dab a little bit of your cooking oil onto a paper towel and lay it over the stain. Allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before removing the towel. Get a dry, clean cloth and rub away the marker using circular motions and light force. You can also use a second paper towel that you dip in the cooking oil. When the marker lifts, wipe the area clean using water and soap.
Laminate flooring is very easy to get stains out of using routine cooking oil and a little scrubbing.
For metal walls or surfaces like stainless steel appliances in your kitchen, use a dry-erase maker, rubbing alcohol, or regular toothpaste to get rid of it. Applying any of these options should make it easy to wipe the Sharpie away.
Permanent marker stains should come off of most tiles with a little help from aerosol hairspray, regular toothpaste, or a magic eraser. You may need more force and work to clean it off of textured tiles, and an old toothbrush can really come in handy when it comes to getting into all of the crevices and cracks in your tile.
How to Remove Permanent Marker from White Board
It’s very common to accidentally write on your white board using a permanent marker instead of a dry-erase one. Luckily for you, working on how to remove permanent marker from a white board is easy. All you have to to is draw over the permanent marker spots with dry-erase markers and then wipe the marks away using a damp cloth.
How to Remove Permanent Marker From Wood
If you have permanent marker stains on your wood flooring or furniture, the first thing you should do is see whether the wood is finished or unfinished. So, does it have a coat of varnish, stain, or paint on it? If the wood is unfinished with no seal on it, then you’ll have to be very careful. It may be best to consult a professional so you don’t accidentally cause any damage. If you do try one of the following methods, make sure that you test it out on a small area first. For finished wood, one of these methods should strip the permanent marker away for good:
This is a more unusual take, but peanut butter works surprisingly well to remove permanent marker ink stains. All you have to do is apply peanut butter to the stain and use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the spot until it lifts. Wipe away the peanut butter and rinse with water and wipe it up with clean cloth.
Isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol is very effective for helping you break down the chemicals found in permanent ink. You could even use a bottle of vodka if it is more than 40 proof. All you have to do is blot the rubbing alcohol into the stain using a clean cloth and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Then, dab at the area using a damp cloth to remove both the stain and alcohol. Continue until the stain is gone and allow it to air-dry.
Toothpaste and Baking Soda
In a small cup, mix one part white toothpaste with one part baking soda to form a paste. Test this solution on a small area first, and they apply it right to your permanent marker stain and allow it to sit for five minutes. Grab a slightly damp, clean cloth and use it to rub the mixture into the stain in circular motions. It may take a bit of force, but the stain should lift out.
When you’re trying different methods on how to remove permanent marker stains, you may have to repeat the steps we outlined a few times to get the desired results. Generally speaking, paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, and nail polish remover work well for any non-porous surfaces, while toothpaste can usually get stains out of porous surfaces. For additional cleaning tips, check out our other articles.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.