Finding the Permanent Solution

You know that awful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something goes horribly wrong? What if that horribly wrong thing was a permanent ink marker leaving its imprint on one of your precious quilts?

Several years ago, I was heartbroken to find pencil markings could not be removed from a quilt I had spent weeks appliqueing. I tried everything to get those marks out. The fabric faded with each attempt, but the pencil marks never completely disappeared. I’ve become pretty diligent about checking marking tools on fabrics before I mark my quilts.

100 0577 300x225 Finding the Permanent Solution

Fabric color faded while trying to remove pencil markings.

I also keep a couple of permanent markers in my sewing studio. They’re great for marking on plastic templates. What would I do if a permanent marker was to accidentally leave its mark on a quilt? Recently, I heard that rubbing alcohol could remove permanent ink. Could this be true? I had to put it to the test.

photo1 e1377811484313 300x198 Finding the Permanent Solution

The culprit

I marked a piece of 100% cotton with this red permanent marker and layered it over a piece of batting and another piece of cotton to simulate a quilt sandwich.

photo2 e1377812603366 300x294 Finding the Permanent Solutionphoto3 300x300 Finding the Permanent SolutionI grabbed a bottle of 99% isopropyl rubbing alcohol, some cotton rounds and paper towels. For this process you have to work fast, so it’s best to have everything ready to go.

photo4 e1377812773282 237x300 Finding the Permanent SolutionFirst, I dribbled a little alcohol on the marked heart; then I immediately used a cotton round to blot it back up again. I continued this procedure until the stain had absolutely disappeared. As you can see below, it only took about 9 cotton rounds. I also checked the batting and the fabric on the bottom. No sign of the red marker. All gone! On an actual quilt, I think I would follow the procedure with a complete, gentle wash.

photo5 e1377812832586 300x286 Finding the Permanent SolutionOut of curiosity, I also tried this same experiment using several other stain removers. The cotton picked up some pink, but the marks looked just as red.

Keep those permanent markers secured away–but know that if one gets out of hand, you have a “permanent” solution.


About Eileen Fowler

I am an Associate Editor at Quiltmaker. My quilting hobby, that began over 20 years ago, turned into a career when I was hired by Quiltmaker in 2008. My quilting passion is slowly taking over every nook and cranny in my house. I have a supportive husband who makes it all possible.
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11 Responses to Finding the Permanent Solution

  1. Susan Paxton says:

    Thanks for the post…All info is much appreciated. I had just got my machine back from having it tuned up and was working on an appliqued quilt block and somehow ended up with oily grease on my white background fabric. I tried a kitchen degreaser and then went to alcohol… It got most of it out.

  2. Caroline van der V says:

    Ink can be removed with white vinegar. Douse the spot with it and afterwards simple wash in water and soap. I’ve done this and it works even on synthetic fabrics, which are particularaly hard with ink. They say it also works with lemon juice, but I have never tried that myself. Pencil marks I carfully remove with an ordinary eraser which you normally use on paper.

  3. Claudia says:

    I did a similar thing with the first quilt I sent to a competition–BUT with a white marking pencil. The fabric was a reproduction “yuck” green, and I had very carefully marked a feathered wreath on it. It would not come off. I even had it in the bathtub, rubbing and scrubbing. When I was finished, it looked old. The color had rubbed off and, hence, faded! Like you, I am very careful now. Minimal marking to get the job done.

  4. Cindy B says:

    Right Guard Original spray deodorant for men dissolved ink and marker like magic on fabric. I haven’t had a mishap since my kids left home so have no idea what works now.

  5. Nancy M says:

    When I was a teacher, I kept a can of hair spray in my closet and one at home. I always removed ink and marker with it. I used it on my husband’s pockets where pens leaked on occasion, sometimes days later, and it worked. I have also used alcohol to take ink off various itemsHaven’t had to try it on a quilt, but am confident hair spray would work as does the alcohol. Thanks for posting.

  6. Brenda says:

    I purchased 2 yards of fabric at a quilt shop for a baby quilt. I was horrified when I unfolded it and found some black ink marks on it. I don’t use hairspray but had a small can someone gave me as a sample. I dug it out, tried it and it worked like a charm. Now I keep it in my sewing room.

  7. Betty drake says:

    This summer I made a quilt in a class and got unknown ink on my quilt from a cutting board. There were about 5 of us in the same boat. I’m going to try it.
    Hair spray removes ballpoint pen. Blot with tissue paper.

  8. Eileen Fowler says:

    Bonnie and Barb, the pen marking was definitely dry before I started the procedure. I worked on another marking that was several days old and the alcohol removed it too. However, I would strongly suggest testing on similar fabric with the same marker before attempting this on a quilt.
    Jocelyn, I’ve heard about hair spray for this too. I wish I had had some on hand, I would have given it a try. Has anybody else used hair spray to remove permanent ink?

  9. This exact thing happened to me during a move. A machine pieced, hand quilted quilt was marked by a packer when marking a box in the bedroom. I didn’t try alcohol but I tried many other things. I, too, would like to know how long the ink dried into the fabric. It seems to me the longer it sets the less likely it will come out. Hum, it may be experiment time.

  10. Jocelyn says:

    Years ago I was told to use hair spray to take out permanent ink stains. I guess it has alcohol in it too. Great suggestion.

  11. Barb Johnson says:

    Just curious – did the ‘heart’ dry completely before you tried this? I found a mark from an ink pen on a piece of fabric – but not until AFTER I had sewed it into a block. I’m wondering if the rubbing alcohol would take it out even if the mark has been there for awhile. Any ideas?

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