How to get ink out of leather seats

Getting ink stains out of leather seats can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Leather is a porous material that can absorb and hold onto stains, especially from ink pens, markers, or highlighters. The key is using the right cleaning methods and products to lift the ink without damaging the leather. Follow these steps to safely remove ink from leather car seats, furniture, clothes, purses, and more.

get ink out of leather seats

Start With A Mild Cleaner

Before using harsh chemicals on leather, try a mild cleaning solution first. This is the safest way to see if you can lift the stain without having to take more aggressive action.

  • Mix together warm water and a small amount of dish soap or leather cleaner.
  • Use a soft cloth to gently blot the ink stain – don’t rub, as this can push the ink deeper into the leather.
  • Keep blotting with your cloth and solution until you’ve lifted as much of the stain as possible.
  • For dried or stubborn stains, let the solution sit for a few minutes to allow the cleaner time to work on dissolving the ink.

Some recommended mild leather cleaning solutions to try first:

Use Rubbing Alcohol

If dish soap alone doesn’t remove the ink completely, try using some rubbing alcohol. The alcohol can help dissolve and lift many types of stubborn ink stains.

  • Pour a small amount onto a soft cloth and gently dab the stain.
  • Check the cloth for ink residue as you go to make sure you’re lifting it out.
  • As with the dish soap, don’t rub vigorously as this can damage the leather over time.
  • Let the alcohol sit for a minute or two if needed to penetrate the stain, then blot it away.
  • Repeat as needed until the ink is gone.

Make sure to use 91% isopropyl alcohol or higher for effectiveness against ink stains.

Try Nail Polish Remover

Another common household product that can be effective at ink removal is non-acetone nail polish remover. This contains mild solvents that can break down stubborn ink stains without bleaching or discoloring leather.

  • Use a cloth to gently apply a bit of remover directly on the stained area.
  • Let it soak in for a minute or two, then blot away.
  • Check to see if the stain has lightened or lifted – you may need to apply more remover and blot several times to get the leather completely clean.

Some recommended non-acetone nail polish removers:

Use Baking Soda

For a non-chemical way to draw out ink from leather, try making a baking soda paste.

  • Mix water with baking soda until it forms a thick paste consistency.
  • Use an old toothbrush or soft brush to gently scrub the paste onto the ink stain.
  • Let it sit for 10-15 minutes so the baking soda can work on pulling out the ink.
  • Then wipe it away with a clean damp cloth.

The mild abrasive and absorbing properties in the baking soda help pull out many types of stains without damaging leather.

Try Lemon Juice

Citric acid found in lemon juice can also help break down and lift ink stains from leather.

  • Slice a lemon in half and directly apply the juice over the ink spot.
  • Let lemon juice soak in for 5-10 minutes. The natural acid will help dissolve the stain.
  • Blot the area with a clean cloth, applying more lemon juice if needed.
  • Once the stain is gone, clean the area with water and let the leather air dry.

This method bleaches less than chemical solvents.

Use Glycerin

Another mild ink removal method is applying glycerin to the stain. Glycerin has gentle solvent properties that can loosen ink without harming leather.

  • Apply a few drops directly on the stained spot and let it soak in for 10 minutes.
  • Then wipe the area clean with a cloth dampened with water and a small amount of vinegar.
  • The glycerin helps pull out the ink, while the vinegar helps neutralize and remove traces left behind.

You can find glycerin in pharmacies and some grocery stores. Make sure to use food grade glycerin.

Try Sandpaper or Steel Wool

For small ink stains in finished leather goods, very fine grit sandpaper or steel wool can lift ink off the surface.

  • Gently rub the area using light, circular motions.
  • Check often to make sure you’re not removing too much of the leather finish – you only want to buff off the stained top layer.
  • Once removed, condition the leather with oil to restore softness.

Only attempt sanding on small stains and smooth leather items. It takes practice to avoid damaging the leather or finish.

Some recommended fine grit sandpaper and steel wool:

Use Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is an oil-based leather cleaner designed specifically for leather goods like saddles, shoes, jackets, etc. It contains gentle cleaning agents combined with conditioning oils.

  • Saddle soap can dissolve inks through chemical reaction while moisturizing the leather to prevent drying and cracking.
  • Dampen a soft cloth with a bit of saddle soap mixed with warm water.
  • Use a light touch to work the soap into stained areas until ink transfers to the cloth.
  • Rinse with clean water and let the leather air dry.

Popular saddle soap brands:

Try Salt

For fresh ink stains, plain table salt can be an effective absorber before the stain sets.

  • Sprinkle salt liberally over the ink spot and let sit for 1-2 hours.
  • The salt will draw out some of the moisture and ink from the leather.
  • Brush the salt off when done and wipe the stain with a damp cloth.

You can also make a salt paste by mixing salt with just a bit of water to make a thick solution. Apply the paste to ink and let dry completely before brushing or wiping off.

Use Milk

Believe it or not, milk contains enzymes that can help break down inks and other substances that stain leather. Non-fat milk works best.

  • Simply apply milk directly to the ink stain and let it soak in for 10-15 minutes.
  • Then wipe away the milk with a clean damp cloth.
  • You may need to apply and blot milk several times to fully remove old or stubborn stains.

But the milk is an inexpensive, non-toxic way to clean leather safely.

Try Hydrogen Peroxide

As an alternative cleaning solution, hydrogen peroxide can bubble up and lift some ink stains from leather surfaces.

  • Mix a solution of 2 parts water to 1 part hydrogen peroxide in a bowl.
  • Dampen a soft cloth and apply it to the ink spot.
  • Let it soak in for a couple minutes. The peroxide solution will lightly foam and bleach most fabrics, so blot frequently with clean water to avoid bleaching the surrounding leather.

Standard 3% hydrogen peroxide can be found at any drugstore or pharmacy.

Use Cleaning Clay

Special absorbent cleaning clays can be very effective for lifting stubborn ink out of leather.

  • The clay is molded and rubbed onto the stain, where it pulls out the embedded ink as it adheres to the leather surface.
  • Once dry, the cleaning clay is brushed or peeled away, removing the stain with it.

Cleaning clay kits are available for purchase online or in home stores. Follow the product instructions carefully to avoid staining the leather.

Some popular leather cleaning clay products:

Try Oxalic Acid

For tough ink that won’t budge, oxalic acid crystals dissolved in water can help remove it. Oxalic acid is found in some household rust removers.

  • Mix a teaspoon into a bowl of warm water until dissolved.
  • Dip a cotton swab into the solution and gently blot onto the ink stain.
  • Allow it to soak for a minute or two to dissolve the ink.
  • Rinse with clean water and dry the leather completely once the stain is removed.

Be very careful using oxalic acid – always follow directions and use proper skin and eye protection.

Recommended oxalic acid products:

Condition the Leather

Once you’ve removed all traces of the ink stain, it’s important to recondition the leather so it doesn’t dry out. Ink removal solvents and cleaners can strip the natural oils from leather.

  • Apply a leather conditioner or moisturizer to help replace lost oils and prevent cracks.
  • Let the conditioner soak in fully, then buff the leather with a soft cloth until the surface shines.

Well-conditioned leather is better protected from future stains and everyday wear and tear.

Recommended leather conditioners:

When to Call a Professional

Ink stains can sometimes permanently discolor or even damage finished leather surfaces. If you’ve tried every removal method without success, the ink may have soaked too deeply into the leather or altered the dyes.

Rather than risk further damage, call an expert leather cleaning service at that point. Professionals have industrial cleaning solutions and tools that can extract difficult stains without harming the leather underneath. They can also redye stained leather if the original color has been lost.

For expensive leather goods, professional care is worth the cost.

Preventing Future Ink Stains

The easiest way to keep ink off your leather is preventing the stains in the first place.

  • Avoid wearing fine leather goods in situations where they could be exposed to pens, markers, newspapers, etc.
  • If you must carry pens in a purse or bag, keep the caps on tightly and store them inside a pen sleeve or holder.
  • Keep highlighters, markers, stamps and other ink sources away from leather furniture or car seats.

If ink does spill on leather, blot it up immediately with an absorbent cloth before the stain has time to set and spread.

And of course, keeping leather properly conditioned makes it more resistant to stains over time.

With some care and effort, ink stains can usually be removed or faded from quality leather materials. Try the removal methods listed, working from mild to more aggressive as needed. But know when to call in a professional rather than risk ruining the leather.

Follow up all stain removal with proper conditioning to restore the softness, suppleness and beauty of your leather.

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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