It may have happened during a lengthy study sesh at the library, filing away paperwork, or simply tidying up your desk! Highlighter stains are easily done and notoriously difficult to remove.
It may seem like you’ll have a neon patch on your beloved shirt forever, but try not to panic!
There are a few methods that can remove highlighter stains using things you have around your home.
Some effective approaches involve using hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, or simple laundry detergent.
People have seen success using a simple vinegar and baking soda mixture, but depending on the stain in question, you may have to purchase a specific ink remover to eliminate it completely.
We’ll cover some proven methods to remove highlighter stains in this article.
You’ll also learn why it’s so hard to get rid of highlighter ink, as well as how to target the same stains on your upholstery.
Can Highlighter Ink Wash Out Of Fabric?
Standard washing machine cycles may fade highlighter ink, but they won’t fully eliminate the stain.
The best way of removing neon ink from garments is by applying a pre-treatment before laundering as usual.
Never wash the stained clothing in hot water or place it in the dryer. Hot temperatures can set the stain, making it much harder to remove later.
Don’t expose the garment to heat until the stain is completely removed.
A lot of highlighter pens designed for children are made with water-soluble ink. In this case, rinsing the stained garment with cool water may remove most of the ink.
However, this method won’t work as well on Sharpies, or highlighters with stronger inks.
Highlighter pens usually use ink that contains a particular glycol solvent, water, and a small amount of fluorescent dye pigment.
Children’s highlighters differ, as they substitute the glycol solvent with a different type of alcohol. Various inkjet cartridges for printers also use glycol in their ink solution.
Truth be told, you’re unlikely to get ink to wash out of fabric in just one wash. However, you can reduce the chances of permanent damage by following these steps.
10 Ways To Remove Highlighter Stains
The methods below can help you remove highlighter stains out of your clothing.
Some of these methods involve purchasing a specific product, but others will involve common household items.
However, keep in mind that some materials can react poorly to particular substances. For instance, alcohol can damage silk, rayon, and wool.
It’s best to carry out a test patch before using new cleaning products.
Apply the product to a hidden area on the garment, then leave for a couple of minutes. If the fabric isn’t damaged, you can proceed with the full method.
Here are some of the most effective methods to get rid of highlighter ink stains.
Rubbing Alcohol Method
Rubbing alcohol is a common household item that works well to eliminate stains. It can break down lots of substances, like ink, mud, or grease.
It’s best to use isopropyl alcohol with a greater alcohol content, like 70%. A solution with more alcohol will work better than weaker ones.
- Before you proceed, make sure that you fully ventilate your working space and wash your hands after handling the alcohol.
- First, place several folded paper towels underneath the stained fabric. The towels will draw in the ink and alcohol, stopping the ink from spreading into other areas of your clothing.
- If the stain isn’t very large, apply the alcohol to a cotton ball and use it to dab the stain. Don’t rub back and forth as this could make the stain spread.
- If the highlighter stain is bigger, place the clothing in a bucket or a basin, then pour the alcohol straight onto the stain.
- Use paper towels to blot the stain, working from the outside in. The ink should spread from the garment to the towels.
- You may need to continue dabbing with a cotton ball or pouring alcohol to make sure the stain is gone.
- Once the mark is removed, put the clothes in the washer on a regular cycle. Place a safety pin through the stain before it can let you see if it’s completely removed after laundering.
- Remove the wet clothes from the washing machine and check to see if the stain remains. If it’s completely gone, you can proceed with drying.
If a faded stain remains, you may have to repeat the steps until it’s completely gone. Never put it in the dryer if a stain remains, as the heat can cook the stain, making it permanent.
Vinegar And Baking Soda
Vinegar and baking soda (or cornstarch) can be a cheap, but effective way of removing ink stains. This method may take more time, as you’ll need to leave the mixture to work overnight.
Baking soda and vinegar can work on a variety of stains, from grease to red wine! Vinegar works particularly well as it contains acid.
Lots of stain-causing substances are acidic themselves, so the vinegar can break down these components.
- Begin by soaking the stained fabric with vinegar. If you prefer, you can place the garment over a basin or bucket and pour the vinegar on top of the stain.
- Make a paste by mixing three tablespoons of baking soda with a tablespoon of vinegar.
- Use a paper towel to apply the paste to the stain. Try to cover the whole stain with a thick coating. You can always add more baking soda or vinegar if needed.
- Once the stain is fully covered, leave the clothes overnight. When time passes, the paste should dry and feel powdery. Shake off any peeling bits.
- Put the garment in the washing machine on a regular cycle, using your normal detergent.
- Once the cycle finishes, check the garment to see if the stain remains. If it’s gone, you can proceed with putting the garment in the dryer.
Vinegar and baking soda may be a natural stain-removing method, but remember that vinegar is highly acidic, so it may damage fine fabrics, such as silk or chiffon.
Hand Sanitizer Method
Hand sanitizer can remove many stains, like makeup, condiments, and blood. If you’re on the go when a stain occurs, you can quickly treat the stain with hand sanitizer all away from home.
Hand sanitizers tend to contain large amounts of isopropyl and ethyl alcohol, both types of rubbing alcohol. Hand sanitizer mimics how rubbing alcohol breaks down stains.
Hand sanitizer does have a large alcohol content, so it may bleach some colors out of the material. Fabrics like silk, leather, and suede can be prone to this.
Similarly, darker colors are more likely to lose their color compared to lighter ones.
As long as you keep the precautions in mind, there’s no harm using this method if you notice a highlighter stain on a white shirt before work!
- Begin by placing a paper towel underneath the stain.
- Apply some hand sanitizer to a tissue or a paper towel.
- Start dabbing the stain with the wet paper towel. Don’t rub back and forth, but lightly blot the mark to remove it.
- If you can, soak the wet stain under a running tap to eliminate any residual ink. If this isn’t possible (if you’re on the go, for instance), press the wet area between some paper towels to dry it.
Hair Spray Method
If you have some hair spray in your bathroom cabinet, this method may help you remove a stubborn highlighter stain.
Check the ingredients on the label to ensure the hairspray contains alcohol, as alcohol is the effective ingredient in this method.
Some modern hairsprays don’t contain alcohol as they can dry hair out, so always check beforehand.
The hairspray method works very well on fabrics with artificial fibers, like polyester or nylon.
- Simply spray the stain with hairspray. The fabric should feel damp on its underside, so you may need to spray a lot.
- Leave the clothes for up to ten minutes. The hairspray should start to dry and crack around its border.
- Place your garments in a basin and run cold water over the stain. If successful, the hairspray will have freed the ink particles so the water can wash them away.
- If the stain’s edges are still visible, repeat the steps from the start.
Ink Remover Method
Ink remover products are designed to remove ink stains. Products like Amodex work like soap to remove ink stains without harming the fabric.
Ink removers can work on most kinds of ink, including pen, printer, and highlighter ink.
This method can cost more than using household supplies but can work more effectively on ink compared to natural products.
- To use an ink remover, apply a small amount to a hidden area of the garment. Some materials can be prone to losing their color, while soap solutions can break down fine fabrics.
- Place folded paper towels underneath the stain. This will prevent ink from leaking to the other side of your garment.
- If the product requires it, shake the bottle.
- Apply the ink remover straight onto the stain. You don’t need to soak the fabric, as a lot of ink removers work better on dry materials.
- Use a paper towel or a small brush to work the product into the mark.
- You may need to leave the remover to work on the stain, but this will vary depending on the product used. Always follow the directions written on the packaging.
- Use cool water to wash the residue away, then wash the clothes on a regular cycle.
Salt Water Method
Salt can work well as a stain remover, particularly blood, grease, and ink. There are two ways to use salt on highlighter stains.
- The first involves making a salt paste. Mix some cold water with half a cup of salt to make a thick solution.
- Dab the ink stain with the paste, making sure you cover it completely.
- Leave the paste to work on the stain for up to twenty minutes.
- Wash the area with clean cold water. Check to see if the stain has gone, then wash as normal.
The second method is best to use on a fresh mark.
- Simply rub some dry salt into the ink stain, then leave for ten minutes.
- Dip the stained area into a bowl of milk, leaving it to steep overnight.
- In the morning, wash the milk out of the garment using cold water. Don’t use hot water, as this can set the proteins in the milk.
- If the stain is fully removed, wash the garment using your usual detergent.
Remember, never use salt on dry-clean-only garments. It’s also important that you wash all of the salt away, as residual salt may stain other fabrics.
Nail Polish Remover Method
Regular nail polish remover can work well on highlighter stains. The effective ingredient within is acetone, the same substance found in paint solvents.
Acetone can break down the pigments within highlighters, but be careful. Don’t use this method if the fabric is 100% synthetic, like polyester, or contains 5% or more elastin.
Acetone can degrade the artificial fibers in these, making the fabric melt.
Nail polish remover is a common household item, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can easily find a bottle at the drugstore, grocery store, or shops around the corner.
Before you begin, make sure that the formula contains pure acetone. Don’t choose a bottle that’s labeled as ‘nourishing’, ‘moisturizing’, or ‘oil remover’.
These may condition your nails, but they won’t work as well on highlighter stains.
- Begin by applying a little nail polish remover to the stain, using a tissue or clean cloth to do so.
- Leave the solution to work on the stain for a few minutes.
- Use another clean cloth to blot the stain. Keep checking on the stain to see if it makes a difference.
- Repeat cleaning and blotting until the stain is gone.
- Once done, immediately wash the clothes using a regular cycle. This is necessary to rinse the solvent out of the fabric, as residual acetone may irritate sensitive skin later.
Lemon Juice Method
Lemon juice is particularly effective at removing many stains, including sweat, mildew, and of course, highlighter ink.
Lemon juice is a popular natural alternative to household cleaners, especially for those that prefer all-natural products.
Lemon juice works well on stains as it has a high acid content, just like vinegar. This acidity level works well to break down several stains and can even make white clothes seem brighter.
Two lemon juice methods can work on highlighter ink.
- The first involves cutting a fresh lemon in half, then wiping the stained area with the lemon wedge.
- Plug in a steamer or an iron with a steam feature.
- Place the steamer (or iron) near the garment to let the steam work on the stain. The steam should loosen some of the ink’s particles. Don’t place the iron onto the fabric, as the heat can set the stain.
- Wash the mask with cool water. If successful, the stain should break down and be rinsed away.
The second method involves filling a small bowl with lemon juice. It’s best to use freshly squeezed juice, but in a pinch, the store-bought kind can work too.
- Pack the stained fabric into the bowl to let it immerse in the juice.
- Leave the juice to work on the stain for an hour. If the stain is old or big, you can leave the juice to work overnight.
- Scrub the lemon juice into the stain using a tablespoon of salt. The stain should start to vanish there and then.
- Once the stain is completely removed, rinse the lemon juice and salt residue away, then launder as usual.
Laundry Detergent Method
Laundry detergents are specially designed to remove stains, so they may work well on highlighter marks, particularly if the ink is water-soluble.
As mentioned earlier, just placing the clothes in the washing machine won’t remove the marks. However, applying concentrated laundry detergent may work well at removing the stain.
- First, check to see if the stain is freshly wet, or has dried. If the ink is still damp, press the mark between two paper towels. This will shift some of the residual ink onto the towels, making it easier to remove.
- Then apply a teaspoon of detergent directly on the spot. Don’t rub this into the fabric, but manipulate the liquid so it covers the whole stain.
- Leave the detergent to work on the stain for five minutes.
- Place the clothes in the washing machine, using a regular cycle. Don’t add any other clothes to the machine, as the ink may bleed into other garments in the process.
- Once the cycle finishes, inspect the garment to ensure the stain is gone. If the ink remains, repeat the steps until you see a marked difference.
Don’t place the clothes in the dryer until the stain is completely gone.
Dry Cleaning Liquid Method
If the worst happens and you get a highlighter stain on an expensive garment, a dry cleaning solvent may be the best way to remove it.
Dry cleaning solvents usually contain tetrachloroethylene. Also known as ‘perc’, the chemical is very toxic and flammable, so needs to be handled carefully.
Remember, never put garments treated with dry cleaning solvents in the dryer or washer. The heat from both of these machines can make the flammable solvent ignite.
You’ll need to hand wash the clothes instead.
- Begin by applying a little of the solvent to a clean cloth. The chemical is usually available in powdered form, so you just need to dip the cloth into the powder.
- Find a hidden area of the garment to carry out a test patch. Examine it to make sure the fabric isn’t damaged by the chemical.
- If the fabric survives, use the cloth to apply the solvent to the ink stain. The ink should start to bleed into the cloth.
- Use another clean area on the cloth to repeat the process. Keep applying a little of the solvent until the mark has gone.
- Hand wash the garment thoroughly, making sure all of the solvents have rinsed away. Hang the garment up to dry, then you’re done.
Eliminating Old Highlighter Stains
It’s best to remove highlighter stains when they’re fresh, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for dried ink.
The methods above can work on older stains well, though rubbing alcohol is likely to work the best.
If you don’t have rubbing alcohol on hand, the nail polish remover method will work the next best.
The acetone can break down older stains well, but you’ll need to make sure your fabric can withstand the chemical. Acetone can damage natural fabrics like wool or silk.
If your highlighter stain is particularly stubborn, you may have luck with the freezer trick. Immerse the stained fabric in a basin of saltwater.
Wring out the material to make sure it isn’t soaking wet, then place in the freezer.
Leave it to freeze overnight, then take it out to defrost in the morning. Once it has thawed, place it in the washer on a regular cycle. Don’t use fabric softener.
If successful, the salt and frozen water should break down the dried ink, removing the stain in the process.
Removing Highlighter Stains From Upholstery
The methods above can work on carpets, mattresses, and sofas, but you may need to alter the process. Naturally, you can’t put a mattress into the washer or hold it under a tap!
For upholstery, it’s best to dab a solution, like rubbing alcohol or ink remover, onto a cloth, paper towels, or rag. Use the cloth to dab the stain onto the couch, mattress, or carpet.
The ink should move from the stained surface onto the cloth, so you’ll need to keep replacing the cloth with fresh paper towels.
Once the stain is completely removed, dip another clean cloth in hot water and start blotting the area. This will remove any residual cleaning products.
Removing Highlighter Stains From Comforters
The best way to remove highlighter ink from a comforter is by dabbing the mark with rubbing alcohol.
Don’t scrub the stain or pour the solution straight onto it. This may make the ink bleed into the rest of the fabric.
Dip a paper towel or a clean cloth into the rubbing alcohol. Use the solution to lightly blot the stain. Keep dabbing gently until the stain is gone.
Rubbing alcohol works well on both permanent and water-soluble ink stains, so it’s useful to keep a bottle on hand, especially if you have white bedding!
Highlighter stains can be stubborn, but there are ways to remove them! The methods above can work well on fresh and dried ink stains.
Common household items like rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and detergent may be effective. You can also try natural solutions, like vinegar, lemon juice, and saltwater, if you prefer.
Remember, if the stain remains, never place the garment in the dryer! The heat can set the ink, making the mark permanent.
If possible, try to act quickly, as fresh stains are easier to eliminate compared to older, dried ones.
If none of these methods work, you may need to purchase a specialized product, like a solvent or ink remover. Try some of the more cost-effective methods beforehand, as you may save some money!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Highlighter Wash Out Of Clothes?
Highlighters won’t wash out of clothes unless they are water-soluble, like child-safe ones. If you have a highlighter stain on clothing, the fabric will need to be pre-treated.
Make sure you don’t use hot water to wash the garment as the temperature can set the stains, making them permanent.
For this reason, you’ll also need to check that your detergent works well in cold water. Water-soluble highlighter marks don’t need to be treated, as a regular wash on a warm cycle should remove the spot.
Why Should You Remove Highlighter Stains Immediately?
It’s best to remove highlighter stains as soon as possible. If too much time passes, the ink can dry and set the stain.
This can make it difficult to remove later, and in the worst-case scenario, may be permanent. Stained clothes can ruin an outfit and can be expensive to replace later.
Can Lemon Juice Remove Highlighter Stains?
Lemon juice can work as a natural bleach on some fabrics, but the juice may damage or fade some materials. In most cases, you’ll be able to use it on white fabric without worrying about further staining.
One common ingredient used in highlighters is pyranine. This is a pH-sensitive substance, so when acidic lemon juice is applied, the highlighter may fade and lose its color.
Instead of pouring the liquid on the stain, wipe a cotton swab dipped in lemon juice across the stain.