How To Remove Ink From Leather [7 Proven Methods!]

Discovering that you have an ink stain on a leather product isn’t something that anyone wants to deal with, but it is possible to save your products. Say your child was running around and managed to get ink on the couch, or maybe you were cleaning out your briefcase and realized a pen exploded. Wherever the stain came from, we can help you. We’re going to show you exactly how to remove ink from leather.

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What to Consider Before Cleaning

You want to make sure to tackle the stain as soon as you notice it, even if it’s already set in and dried. If the stain is still fresh, dab up any excess ink before you try to clean it up so you won’t risk smudging it even more.

Before you tackle the ink stain on your leather, you also have to determine if it’s finished or naked leather. Suede is a naked leather, for example. Finished leather, however, will have a smooth or pebbled texture. If you aren’t sure, you can test the leather. Find a spot on the item that can be hidden easily and put a drop of water on the leather. If the water beads up, it’s finished leather so you can go ahead with cleaning. If it soaks into the leather, it’s naked and you shouldn’t try to treat an ink stain yourself.

ballpoint pen on leather
Photo via Crystal Clutch

Spot Testing

Regardless of what cleaning method you choose for removing the ink stains, you should always do a spot test on the leather first. Find a more hidden area of the leather item and apply whatever remedy you’ve chosen. Once the product or remedy is applied, leave it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then come back and see how it looks. If the leather still looks normal, with no signs of discoloration or anything else, you can proceed.

Something else to note is that you should always use a white or uncolored cloth/rag when cleaning leather. Colored cloth can transfer the dye to leather products.

Soap & Water

The least invasive option for removing ink stains from leather is going to be your classic soap and water solution. You want to use a soap-based cleaner or saddle soap for this. Wet your cloth and wring it out to make sure it’s damp, not soaking wet. Rub the damp cloth over your soap, then gently rub it over the ink stain. Avoid scrubbing at the spot. Repeat the process until the stain is removed, then blot it dry.

Saddle soap is a great product to have on hand if you have leather goods. It can be used to clean things like ink stains off of leather, but it also conditions the leather and can be used as a preventative product to stop any damage from happening in the future.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is an effective method, but it can also be harsh on your leather products and can cause damage which is why it’s important to test the method first. If you’re using rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol to tackle your ink stain, don’t pour the alcohol directly onto the surface. Take a cotton ball or cotton pad and pour the alcohol onto it, then dab the cotton ball onto the ink stain. The stain will lift off as the cotton absorbs the ink. Once you’re finished, dry the affected area immediately. A hairdryer is a good way to quickly and thoroughly dry the area. Once you’re finished, condition the leather to keep it intact.


If you don’t have rubbing alcohol available to you, hairspray is a good secondary option because isopropyl alcohol is one of the main ingredients in hairspray. Position the nozzle of the hairspray can as close to the ink stain as possible, to avoid spraying the non-stained areas. Apply the hairspray to the spot then allow it to sit for five minutes. Rinse the area off with cold water, then dab the affected area with a paper towel or a cloth to remove excess product.

Pro Tip: If you have both rubbing alcohol and hairspray available to you, choose the alcohol. Rubbing alcohol will be more effective since hairspray manufacturers have reduced the alcohol content in the product—though it can still get the job done.

hairspray and non-acetone nail polish remover
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish is a strong, effective option for removing more deep-set ink stains—for those stains that you didn’t notice right away and have had time to set. The important thing to remember when using nail polish remover to remove ink stains from leather is that it must be an acetone-free polish remover. Acetone is harsh and will break down the basic structure of the leather over time, which can lead to the leather being brittle or cracked. It will work in the moment but you’ll be doing more damage to the leather in the long run.

For applying the nail polish remover, use the same method as with rubbing alcohol. Apply a small amount to a cotton pad or ball and dab it into the spot. Once the spot has been lifted, clean off the affected area and dry it.

Olive Oil & Vinegar

Olive oil and vinegar is a cleaning combination that is specifically best for removing stains on white leather. Most commercial cleaners or home remedies won’t work on white leather because they will cause the surface to corrode and potentially leave a worse mark behind.

White vinegar in general is good for stain removal and is a safe option for your white leather products. Combine 1/4 cup of white vinegar with 1/2 cup of olive oil and mix it in a spray bottle. Like with the hairspray method, apply the mixture directly to the stained area and let it sit for five minutes. After the time has passed, rinse the area off and dab off any excess product.

Commercial Leather Cleaner

Using a commercial leather cleaner is going to be a safe option for all types of leather products, whether you’re trying to remove an ink stain on a pair of leather shoes, a car seat, or a couch.

Amodex’s Ink Stain Remover is one of the most popular options for removing tough ink stains, as is a Magic Eraser. For the most effective use, follow the instructions that come with the product.

amodex ink and stain remover
Photo Credit: Amodex

Dry Cleaner

When in doubt, your best option is always going to be finding a professional leather cleaner or taking your stained items to a dry cleaner. If you’ve tried all the remedies you can and it’s still not coming out, you can take it to an expert to see what they can do. This is going to be your only option if you’re trying to remove an ink stain on naked leather too.

How to Prevent Stains On Leather

Other than the obvious method of not spilling ink on your leather products, there are a few things you can do to maintain leather and prevent stains. While finished leather is already treated, you can add a leather protector of your own. It will create a barrier for your leather items that makes cleaning easier and will prevent stains from penetrating. To maintain your leather over time, use a leather conditioner once or twice a year. The conditioner will minimize cracking or peeling and can help protect from stains.

leather sofa closeup
Photo Credit: Taylor Deas Melesh via Unsplash

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