How to Remove Ink Stains from Leather

Three Methods:Treating Ink Stains with Proven MethodsTreating Ink Stains with Unproven Home RemediesPreventing Ink Stains on Leather

If you just spilled ink on your white leather couch, don't panic! Act quickly to remove the stain before it spreads. Ink stains on leather present some difficulties, but none that you shouldn't be able to master with a little DIY or professional help.

Method 1
Treating Ink Stains with Proven Methods

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    Determine whether your leather is naked or finished. Naked leather, being extremely absorbent and essentially untouched, is difficult to clean without professional help. Put a drop of water on the surface of the leather item. If the water soaks in, the leather is unfinished and will require professional assistance. If it beads up, the leather is finished and you can begin cleaning.[1]
    • Take unfinished leather (like suede) directly to a dry cleaner for ink stain removal. Unfinished leather is extremely absorbent and the stain will be very difficult to remove even professionally. Try to use home remedies for unfinished leather is likely to cause you more time and hassle than it's worth.
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    Determine the depth of the stain. If the ink stain is fresh and only on the surface of your leather item, begin cleaning according to the steps below. If the ink stain is older or has soaked deep into the leather, you will likely have to re-dye the leather professionally to remove the stain.
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    Read the care instructions for your leather, if possible. The manufacturer may recommend a certain conditioner or cleaner to remove ink stains. They may also advise against doing something, possibly on this list, that either won't clean the leather or will actively hurt it.
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    Spot-clean an area before applying any of the following methods. Locate a small spot of the leather in an inconspicuous area. Using whatever solution you end up trying, wipe a small amount into the leather and check for signs of damage or discoloration.
    • What you're doing here isn't checking that the solution is cleaning the leather; what you're checking is that the solution isn't ruining the leather. If the solution doesn't in fact work on your particular leather, you don't want to add insult to injury and make it even worse. That's why spot-cleaning is recommended.[2]
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    Try wiping the leather gently with a cloth dampened in a soap-based cleanser. Soap-based cleansers, like Ivory, are gentler than solvent-based cleansers, making them better suited for cleaning stains off of leather.
    • How do you tell apart cleansers that are solvent-based from those that are not? The packaging should clearly say "solvent" or "solvent-based" if that's indeed the case, so be on the lookout.
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    Treat the leather with an ink stick designed for use with leather. Much of the time, when you take your leather item to a professional cleaner to get serviced, this is what they use to remove stains. Although they can be pricey, it's only a nominal cost compared to what you probably paid for authentic leather.
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    Try busting out some saddle soap. Saddle soap both cleans and protects leather, most often leather used in saddles — hence its name. Saddle soap is usually a combination of very gentle soaps and emollients such as glycerin and lanolin, which help rehydrate the leather after cleaning.
    • If you want to treat your leather better and increase its lifespan, apply saddle soap in small quantities to it regularly. The key to healthy leather is proactive treatment, not reactive treatment.
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    Try some leather cleaner and conditioner. Much like saddle soap, these products help both clean the leather and hydrate it, helping to stave off cracking. Although ink stains may be too tenacious for some leather, give leather cleaner and conditioners a try to see the difference it makes.
    • What you use to apply the leather cleaner and conditioner matters. You'll probably want something like a non-scratch, nonabrasive scrubbing pad instead of a terry cloth applicator pad. Terry cloth applicators are fine for conditioning, but they won't get the trick done if you're trying to remove a persistent stain.

Method 2
Treating Ink Stains with Unproven Home Remedies

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    Make use of hairspray. Yes, you heard right: hairspray. It may not be the most glamorous cleaning agent (or it may be glammed-out, depending on your perspective), but some ink incapacitators swear by it. Here's what you do in order to try to remove the stain:
    • Douse a Q-tip or cotton swab thoroughly in hairspray.
    • Quickly take the Q-tip and attack the spot of the foul.
    • Apply leather cleaner and conditioner to the spot of the foul afterwards. Because hairspray can dry out leather, causing it to begin cracking, it's important to treat the leather after using this method.
    • Repeat until the ink stain is removed.
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    Try using isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. 70% isopropyl alcohol has worked for some leather owners in the past, although it's probably not a preferred method.[3] Soak a Q-tip or cotton swab with a bit of rubbing alcohol before rubbing it on to the stained leather item. Because alcohol is also a drying agent, be sure to couple this approach with leather cleaner and conditioner afterward. Repeat if necessary.
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    Attack the stain with a magic eraser. Dampen the tip of a magic eraser and then rub it into the stain. Magic erasers contain a material called melamine foam, which helps remove tricky stains.[4] Finish routine by applying a leather conditioner to the spot using a clean towel.
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    Use nail-polish remover — the kind that's not acetone-based. Some people have succeed at removing ink stains with the help of non acetone-based nail polish removers.[5] Dab a little on a Q-Tip, rub the Q-tip against the stain, and finish with a nice bit of leather cleaner and conditioner to keep the leather from unnecessarily drying out.

Method 3
Preventing Ink Stains on Leather

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    Treat your leather on a regular basis with quality protection products, such as leather conditioner. Leather conditioners help hydrate your cowhide, leaving it less susceptible to cracking. Some leather conditioners even tout the ability to form a seal over the leather which keeps stains — ink and otherwise — from embedding itself too far into the leather.
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    Take good care of your leather. There are plenty of things that you can do to better care for your leather, apart from giving it a good moisturizing bath every now and then. Because ultimately, a better cared-for piece of leather is a cleaner piece of leather. And a cleaner piece of leather is one you'll be less likely to spill ink on.


  • Always test your cleaner in a hidden spot before using it to remove ink stains on leather.
  • Most leather cleaners will not remove ink unless you have also been applying a leather protectant to the item on a regular basis.


  • Do not scrub your leather item to remove an ink stain, since scrubbing will remove the finish.
  • Don't try to remove ink from unfinished leathers because your attempt will most likely leave a greasy residue.
  • Do not use hairspray, nail varnish, baby wipes, milk, toothpaste, "magic erasers" or silicone furniture polish to clean leather. These will only make the problem worse by removing the finish.[6]

Things You'll Need

  • Ink Stick or Gel
  • Scotchgard® - type leather protector
  • Mild soap and water mixture or leather shampoo
  • Manufacturer's recommended cleaning supplies

Article Info

Categories: Pen Ink and Marker Stains