How to Remove Tattoo Ink From Clothing

How to remove tattoo ink from clothing
Credit: David Clifton

The permanent quality of a tattoo is, for many, an integral part of the appeal – body art that will grace your skin for the long haul. But that forever factor is a lot less alluring when it comes to tattoo ink staining your clothes. The good news, however, is that fresh ink smearing your T-shirt or flannel PJs doesn’t necessarily have to stay there forever. Even though it’s always wisest to plan ahead for a worst-case scenario, here we run you through how to remove tattoo ink from clothing.

First off, time is of the essence when you’re dealing with removal of unwanted tattoo ink, explains Brian Sansoni, the American Cleaning Institute’s SVP of communications, outreach, and membership. “Speed is the key to attacking just about any stain you get on your clothing, especially tattoo ink,” he says, “by blotting up any excess ink, then pretreating the stain with a stain remover product and letting it sit.” There isn’t a specific brand or type of stain remover he recommends, but advises to follow the instructions carefully. 

Then, follow garment care instructions on the particular piece of clothing for water temperature and cycle settings when tossing it in the washing machine, “preferably using an oxygen bleach,” Sansoni says. If the ink mark isn’t fully removed after the wash cycle, opt for air drying. “Do not put it into the dryer unless the stain has been removed so it doesn’t set,” he says. “If that doesn’t work or if the clothing is dry clean only, take it to a professional, but, like with any stain, a tattoo ink stain is pretty fixable if caught and treated quickly.”

Another, less conventional method to consider when working out how to remove tattoo ink from clothing involves a common beauty cabinet staple. “In my experience, the best way to remove ink stains is hair spray,” says Terry Gauldin, owner of Backwoods Tattoo in Whitsett, North Carolina. He reassures that having an imprint of the tattoo on your shirt, pajamas, or bedsheets is a common situation on your first night post-tattoo, and emphasizes that the stain should be spritzed with hairspray after the ink stain has dried, not while it’s fresh and damp.

It’s a versatile solve, regardless of the wardrobe piece you’ve inadvertently inked. “I’ve used hairspray on all types of clothing,” Gauldin explains of the unlikely hack, which has proven to be a successful approach for any tattoo ink stain debacles he’s personally dealt with in his career. “Professional cleaning could be an option but I’ve never used that method,” he says.

Sansoni suggests that professional tattoo artists should properly educate themselves on their ink supplies in order to be able to be a helpful resource for stains. “A tip for tattoo artists: When you’re purchasing new tattoo ink, make sure you check with the manufacturer to see if they have any specific recommendations about cleaning up tattoo ink stains,” he recommends, as a way to “be in the know in case their colleagues or customers ask about it.”

Granted, despite your best efforts and the tips above, some stains just may not budge—so choose your outfits and bedding accordingly, warns Jay Cunliffe, tattoo artist and owner of Bonedaddys Tattoo and Chief Tattoo Officer for the Philadelphia Union soccer team. “In my years of tattooing, and having a lot of clothing getting hit with ink, I have found that nothing gets ink out,” Cunliffe shares. His go-to plan of attack normally involves blotting the stain with a dry paper towel if the ink is still fresh, followed by blotting then scrubbing the stain with soap and hot water. “Honestly, I’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work. The ink will eventually fade with each wash, but if it’s a darker ink it’ll be there for good,” he says.

While it’s worth trying the aforementioned remedies offered up by Sansoni and Gauldin, as Cunliffe’s experience with stain scenarios proves, also be sure to not wear, or sleep in, anything you really cherish shortly after acquiring some new body art. “I would advise not wearing clothes that you would get upset if ink got on them. The same goes for bed sheets,” Cunliffe says. “Sometimes, for the first few days, I know ink can seep out of the tattoo, so I put older sheets on the bed to avoid stains that might not come out.”

So, as long as you don’t wear your favorite threads and dig out an older set of sheets it’s possible, with some help from hairspray, that a tattoo ink stain might disappear—unlike that new body art masterpiece, which should stick around forever.

If you liked our post, “How To Remove Tattoo Ink From Clothing”, check out Does Tattoo Ink Expire?

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