How to remove permanent marker

It’s a common nightmare: young child gets hold of the permanent marker, leaving a trail of creative “artwork” across walls, documents, clothing and bodies. While the destructive stage of childhood may be temporary, the lasting effects of a permanent marker can strike at more than just the nerves. Never fear, read on for how to remove permanent marker from just about any surface.

It’s not just the kids. Who hasn’t accidentally used the wrong marker on the whiteboard in the conference room? Whether at the office or at home, there’s a way to remove permanent marker from almost any surface. So now you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that even permanent marker doesn’t have to be permanent in unwanted places.

Test First

Permanent marker ink is designed to last…and last. Because there are so many variations in ink formulations and surface paints or material, there is no 100% guarantee that a removal method will work. In every situation, it’s important to test on a discreet surface to see if the solution is effective, and whether it might be too effective and remove paint or dyes along with the ink.

According to Sharpie, treating stains sooner rather than later is more likely to yield good results. Pay attention to the type of material and ensure you don’t apply heat such as an iron or dryer, as this may set the stain.


Hairspray appears to be the top choice for removing permanent marker from fabric. If the marker has been used to inadvertently decorate clothing, dab at the material with hairspray before following up with a cold machine wash.

On furniture upholstery, the same trick may work if covers are removable. If not, try some baking soda, some elbow grease, and some patience. If the furniture is leather, vinegar should do the trick. Just remember to wipe it off so your couch doesn’t smell like salad dressing.

For carpet stains, a citrus-based cleaner or hand-sanitiser may be the best bet. Use with a toothbrush or soft bristle brush to reach into the carpet pile effectively.

Ink Remover

Many commercial ink removers are petroleum based, so it’s important to test a product before going hell for leather at the cleaning. One alternative option is a water soluble, low-toxic solution. These are citrus-based and can be as effective at removing ink as their oil-based counterparts.

There are many ink and graffiti removers on the market, each effective on various surfaces. Read the label and choose according to your particular needs.

Laminate, Plastic & Metal

Oil can be an effective cleaner! Tea tree, eucalyptus, lemon, or pure vegetable cooking oil can all work miracles on ink stains. Concentrated oil extracts such as lemon or eucalyptus can be potent against paint and dyes too, so use with caution. For larger surfaces, let the oil sit over the stain for a few minutes before gently rubbing away.

Alternatively, try an oil-based product such as hairspray, hand sanitiser, or nail polish remover.


This may be the easiest surface to treat, and often a simple blend of soap and hand sanitiser will remove permanent marker from skin. Other options include nail polish remover, sunscreen, or vegetable oil such as olive or coconut. Scrub gently onto the skin and rinse well with water.

Some inks can be toxic, so be sure to wash hands well before touching food or food preparation items.

The Writing on the Wall

To remove permanent marker from whiteboards or glossy painted surfaces, using a whiteboard (dry erase) marker directly over the top of the permanent ink can help. Pick a colour that is as close to the permanent marker as possible and cover the offending scribble line for line. Then wipe over with a clean, dry cloth and watch the writing disappear.

Other options include a gentle scrub with white toothpaste, bicarb soda, or hand sanitiser. Hand sanitiser, or other products containing alcohol, can sometimes remove paint, so be sure to test on a small area first. These methods will also work on glass and mirrors.


Untreated, unpolished wood can be a little trickier than sealed timber, but both can be treated with toothpaste or bicarb soda and a damp cloth. If the wood is stained, be sure to test a discreet patch to ensure your scrubbing doesn’t also remove the colour.

Vegetable oil may also be effective to remove permanent marker from wood but avoid citrus oils as they can remove wood stains along with the marker stain.

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