When you’re helping your kids with homework or going over the paperwork you brought home from the office, it’s all too easy to smear a highlighter on your clothes! When this happens, you end up with a neon-colored stain that looks like it will never go away. Fortunately, you can learn how to get highlighter out of clothes using handy supplies you already have in your home!
The best way to get highlighter stains out of clothes is to treat the fresh stain with rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, or certain ink removers. Rubbing in laundry detergent or dry-cleaning solution can also remove the stain. In some instances, salt water or vinegar and a baking solution will also work.
In this article, you will learn what makes highlighter ink so tricky to remove. You will also discover nine methods for getting rid of these stains. Finally, you will find tips for how to treat highlighter stains on your mattress, couch, or carpet!
Does Highlighter Wash Out of Clothes?
A regular washing machine cycle will fade a highlighter stain, but it will not completely remove it. To eradicate a neon highlighter stain from clothing, you will certainly need to apply a stain treatment.
You should never put clothing stained by a highlighter in the dryer until you entirely remove the stain. The heat could make it very difficult to get rid of the fluorescent color later on!
Many highlighter pens do contain water-soluble ink, meaning that immediately rinsing the stained area of your garment in water could remove a lot of the color. That said, Sharpie highlighters do not contain water-soluble ink, so keep that in mind!
Most highlighter pens use ink that contains a special glycol solvent, water, and a small percentage of fluorescent dye pigment. For comparison, washable children’s markers use a type of alcohol as the solvent, not glycol. Some inkjet cartridges for printers also use glycol.
Honestly, most types of ink will not completely wash out of clothing in a regular washing machine cycle. The good news is that you can often work miracles with a few simple household products used as stain removers!
How to Get Highlighter Out of Clothes: 9 Easy Methods
Next time you spot a highlighter stain in your clothes, try one of these easy methods for stain removal! Basic household products often have amazing results as cleaning products.
That said, please note that some types of fabric will react differently when exposed to certain products. For example, you should not use any product containing alcohol on wool, silk, acetone, or rayon.
You should always test a new cleaning product on a hidden part of your garment and let it sit for a few minutes. If the product does not damage the fabric, you’re good to go!
1. Rubbing AlcoholRubbing alcohol is one of the most popular household products for stain removal. It dissolves many different types of stains effectively. You can try it on grass, ink, or grease stains!
Using isopropyl alcohol with higher alcohol content, such as 70% can have an even better effect. Just make sure you work in a ventilated area and wash your hands well after exposure to this stronger type of alcohol.
To remove a highlighter stain using rubbing alcohol, follow these simple steps:
- Place a pad of folded paper towels beneath the stained area. This will absorb the alcohol and ink as it soaks through the material, preventing the ink from spreading into the rest of your garment.
- For a small stain, soak a cotton ball with the alcohol. Dab gently at the spot. You want to avoid scrubbing at the ink, as this could easily smear it into undamaged parts of your clothing!
- If you have a large highlighter smear to handle, try arranging the garment over a sink or bucket, and then pour the alcohol right onto the damaged area.
- Next, blot the stain from both sides with clean paper towels. You should see lots of ink on the white paper towels!
- You may have to repeat the cotton ball or alcohol pouring process several times to ensure the complete removal of the neon ink.
- To finish up the process, run the garment through the washer using your regular detergent. You may want to put a safety pin in your clothing to make the stain’s location first. This will help your find the correct area to check and see if all the ink is gone after washing!
- Take the wet garment from the washing machine and inspect it carefully to make sure you got all of the ink out. If so, go ahead and put it in the dyer!
- If yous ee a faded splotch lingering in the clothing, try the alcohol method again, Sometimes you have to repeat the process to completely remove a stain.
2. Baking Soda and VinegarVinegar and either cornstarch or baking soda also offer an easy way to remove ink stains. This process might take a little longer, as you sometimes need to allow the vinegar/baking soda application to sit overnight. That said, it’s cost-effective and easy!
You can use vinegar and baking soda on lots of stains, including stubborn red wine stains!
Why does vinegar work so well as a stain remover? Many stains have some acidity to them, and vinegar’s higher acidity allows it to dissolve the elements of the stain!
Try these steps to use the vinegar method!
- First, soak the affected area thoroughly with vinegar. You may want to drape your clothing over a clean bucket and then pour the vinegar through the stained area.
- Next, mix 3 tablespoons of either baking soda or cornstarch with one tablespoon of vinegar. This should create a thick paste.
- Use your fingers or a paper towel to rub the paste into the highlighter ink. Ideally, the paste will provide a thick coating over the whole damaged area. Mix up a little more vinegar and baking soda if you need more paste.
- Allow the garment to sit overnight. In the morning, the paste should feel dry and crumbly. Go ahead and shake off the flaking bits.
- Then place the garment in the washing machine using your regular detergent.
- Carefully inspect your clothing for any lingering color. If you don’t find any, go ahead and put the garment in the dryer!
Vinegar and baking soda offer an all-natural approach to stain removal that works well on most fabric types. That said, you should not use vinegar on a very delicate material like silk.
3. Hand SanitizerHand sanitizer works as an excellent stain removal for many stains, including lipstick, hot sauce, ink, and even blood! If you’re in the office or out and about, this gives you a quick, handy way to treat stains when you’re away from your laundry room.
Most hand sanitizers contain pretty high concentrations of both ethyl and isopropyl alcohol. Hand sanitizer does the same thing as rubbing alcohol when applied to a stain!
That said, the very strong alcohol content can bleach the color from some fabric. Silk, suede, and leather will show this bleaching badly. Dark-colored material, in general, will not handle the application of alcohol as well as light-colored fabric.
All that aside, hand sanitizer can save the day if you notice highlighter ink on your white blouse right before an important meeting at work!
Try this quick method for emergency ink removal:
- Squirt a dab of hand sanitizer onto a tissue, paper towel, or white napkin.
- Press another tissue to the back of the stained area.
- Dab the wet tissue on the stain. Make sure you blot instead of rubbing or scrubbing! You don’t want to make the stain larger.
- If possible, hold the wet spot under running water for a minute to remove any lingering ink particles. If you can’t (you don’t want a giant wet spot on your shirt before a work event, either!), simply dry the area as much as possible by pressing it between two clean tissues or paper towels.
4. Hair SprayNot everyone has hair spray on hand as they did in the 80s, but if you do keep a spray bottle in your purse or bathroom cabinet, you can try using this iconic hair product for ink removal, too!
Before trying this method, you will need to read the list of ingredients on your hairspray. If the product contains alcohol, this method should work!
However, some newer hair products no longer contain alcohol. You see many “old housewife” tips online, and many of these promise that hairspray will remove all kinds of stains. This only holds true if your type of spray has alcohol in it!
With that caveat in place, you can try this method if you use hairspray containing some type of alcohol! This works especially well on synthetic fabrics such as polyester.
- Give the stained area a few good spritzes of hairspray, enough that you can feel the dampness on the wrong side of the cloth.
- Let the garment sit for five to ten minutes. During this time, the hairspray will begin to harden and crackle around the edges.
- Next, take your clothing to a sink and let cool water run through the ink spot. Hopefully, the hairspray will have loosened the ink particles, and the water will carry them away!
- If you still see the rim of the stain after rinsing, repeat the process from the beginning.
5. Ink RemoverAn obvious way to remove ink is to use an official ink remover! Popular products like Amodex have soap-like qualities that allow them to dissolve ink stains without damaging the fabric.
This kind of ink remover should work on highlighter, sharpie, or regular old ballpoint pen ink!
Of course, you would have to purchase an ink-removing product, so this method does give you the most cost-effective option. That said, you may want to keep a small bottle on hand in case of future accidents!
To apply an ink remover such as Amodex:
- Dab a tiny drop of the ink remover onto an unobtrusive area of the garment to check for colorfastness. SOme soap or stain removing solutions can damage delicate fabrics.
- Place a folded paper towel beneath the ink spot on the wrong side of the garment. This way, the ink will not leak through to the back of your shirt, pants, or dress!
- Shake up the solution if the bottle says to do so.
- Squirt the ink remover directly onto the spot. You don’t need to get the fabric wet; many stain-removers work better on dry fabric.
- Use a brush or another paper towel to firmly rub the ink remover into the stain.
- Depending on the product you purchase, you may need to allow the remover to sit on the stain for several hours. Follow the instructions on the package regarding timing.
- Finally, rinse the stain remover away and launder your garment as usual!
6. Salt Water
You can use salt as a stain remover in two different ways. Both work well on ink, blood, and grease!
- For the first method, mix up ½ cup salt with enough cold water to form a thick paste.
- Apply the paste to the ink-stained spot on your clothing.
- Let this mixture sit for ten to twenty minutes.
- Rinse away the salt using cool running water.
- Wash the garment using regular laundry soap.
The second option works best on a fresh stain.
- For the second method, rub a spoonful of dry salt into the highlighter ink.
- Let the salt sit for ten minutes.
- Submerge the inky spot in a small bowl of milk and let it soak overnight.
- Rinse the milk out under cool water.
- Wash the clothing with regular laundry detergent.
You should not apply salt to a dry-clean-only fabric. Also, make sure you carefully rinse away all of the salt, as lingering salt could leave marks on most types of material!
As a pro tip, adding ½ cup of table salt to your wash can also prevent bleeding ink as you wash new clothes for the first time!
7. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice has a natural ability to remove some stains, including sweat, ink, and even mildew. If you’ve ever thought about ditching the commercial cleaning product in your house and switching over to cleaning and laundering with all-natural products, you probably know all about lemon juice!
How does lemon juice treat stains? Its high level of acidity breaks down many types of stains. Plus, lemon juice has a strong whitening ability meaning that it can brighten your light-colored clothing, too!
You can try two different lemon juice methods for treating highlighter ink.
- Cut a lemon in half and rub it firmly across the stained area.
- Plug in a handheld steamer or an iron with a steam function.
- Hold the steamer close to the fabric so that the steam saturates the damaged spot.
- Rinse the spot under cool water, and much of the stain should dissolve and wash away!
For the second option:
- Fill a small cup or bowl with lemon juice. Fresh juice works best, but you can use the bottled kind, too!
- Stuff the stained portion of the garment into the cup so that the stain can soak in the lemon juice.
- If you have an old or very large stain, you may want to let it soak overnight. Otherwise, an hour should suffice!
- Next, use about a tablespoon of salt to scrub the lemon juice into the ink-stained spot.
- Hopefully, you will see the stain disappear before your eyes!
- All you have to do next is rinse the lemon juice and salt away thoroughly.
8. Laundry DetergentLaundry detergent can also remove some highlighter stains, especially ones with water-soluble ink.
You’re probably thinking, earlier in the article; it said that washing won’t remove the stain! Well, that is true! Simply washing clothing stained with a highlighter probably will not entirely remove the stain.
However, directly applying undiluted laundry detergent may do the trick!
- If the ink stain still feels damp to the touch, blot it by gently pressing it between two clean white cloths or paper towels. Some of the ink should transfer to the cloths.
- Next, squirt about one teaspoon of laundry detergent onto the stain. You don’t want to rub the stain around, but make sure the detergent covers the whole damaged area.
- Allow the detergent to sit for about five minutes.
- Finally, put the garment in the washing machine by itself, and wash it as usual. You will not want to add any other clothes, as the ink could transfer onto them during the wash cycle!
- Check the garment over to make sure the ink disappeared. If it did not, repeat the process instead of putting the clothing in the dryer.
9. Dry Cleaning Liquid
If you get highlighter ink on an expensive dry-clean-only piece of clothing, you may want to try applying a dry cleaning solvent to remove the ink.
Dry cleaning solvent typically contains a chemical called tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, or “perc.” This solvent is both flammable and highly toxic, so handle with care!
Please note that you cannot put a garment containing dry-cleaning solvent into the washer or dryer! The heat could cause the flammable chemical to ignite. If you try this method, you need to handwash the clothing afterward.
- First, apply a small amount of the solvent to a clean white cloth. It usually comes in a powder form, so just dab the cloth into the powder.
- You will need to test the solvent on an inconspicuous area of the garment to make sure it does not harm the fabric.
- Next, blot the cloth with the solvent onto the ink. You should see the ink transfer to the cleaning cloth.
- Repeat the process with another spot on the cleaning cloth, using just aunty bit o the solvent each time until the stain is gone.
- Remember to hand wash, rinse, and air dry the garment after this process!
How Do You Remove Old Highlighter Stains?
You can try any of the methods described in this article to remove an old highlighter stain, though rubbing alcohol will probably work most successfully.
For some types of material, you can also substitute nail polish remover in place of the rubbing alcohol. This powerful substance will dissolve many types of stains, even old and stubborn ones. That said, you do need to take a little care because the acetone in nail polish remover can damage fabric types such as silk, wool, or any material that isn’t colorfast.
Finally, you can try a freezer trick if you get desperate. Soak the stained garment in a bath of saltwater, wring it out a bit, so it isn’t sopping wet, and then stick it in your freezer!
Let it freeze solid overnight, then thaw it out and put it in the washing machine.
How to Get Highlighter Out of Your Fabric Couch, Carpet, and Mattress
You can apply many of the products described in this article to get highlighter stains out of your fabric couch, carpet, and mattress, but you often need a slightly different process. This is because you can’t put your couch into the washing machine or run it under the kitchen tap!
Instead, you will need to dab the product, such as rubbing alcohol, onto a pad of paper towels or a clean white rag. Then use this to blot the stain on the couch, carpet, or mattress. You will probably need to keep replacing the paper towel or rag with a fresh one, as the ink transfers from the stained surface and onto your cleaning cloth.
When you can’t see the stain anymore, get yet another clean rag, dip it in hot water, and use that to blot with, ensuring that you remove the cleaning product you used, too!
How Do You Get Sharpie Highlighter Out of a Comforter?
Your best chance at getting highlighter ink out of a comforter is to blot the stain with rubbing alcohol. You will not want to pour alcohol onto the stain or scrub at it in any way! This could smear the neon ink around instead of removing it.
Instead, dampen a clean rag or paper towel with the alcohol and gently blot the stain. Repeat this process until you don’t see any ink.
Rubbing alcohol dissolves both water-soluble and permanent ink quite effectively, so this trick should work even on a white comforter!
Don’t panic next time you find neon ink staining your clothing! You now know nine easy ways to get rid of even the most stubborn highlighter ink stains.
Applying rubbing alcohol, vinegar, hand sanitizer, hair spray, or laundry detergent can easily remove the stain. Natural products such as lemon juice or salt water can also prove effective. Finally, you can go with commercial products like an ink remover or dry cleaning solvent.
Have you ever successfully removed a highlighter stain from your clothing? What product did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!