Pen Ink Stains on Wood? How to Clean Without Causing Damage

I often get asked about the challenge of removing pen ink from wood. It’s a common issue that can mar the beauty of wooden surfaces. Learn effective and safe methods to remove ink stains from wood, ensuring your woodwork maintains its aesthetic appeal.

Understanding The Type of Wood and Finish

Before attempting to remove ink stains, it’s important to understand the type of wood and its finish. Treated and untreated woods react differently to cleaning methods. Knowing this helps in choosing the right approach without damaging the wood.

Method 1: Baking Soda

Baking soda is a gentle yet effective cleaner for both treated and untreated wood. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Mix baking soda with a little water to form a paste.
  2. Apply the paste directly to the ink stain.
  3. Gently rub the paste into the stain and let it sit for a few minutes.
  4. Wipe off with a damp cloth and dry the area.

Warning: While generally safe, baking soda’s abrasive nature can potentially dull the finish of polished wood. Use it sparingly and gently on finished wood surfaces.

Method 2: Isopropyl Alcohol

91% isopropyl alcohol can be effective for ink removal:

  1. Apply a small amount of alcohol to a clean cloth.
  2. Gently dab the stained area.
  3. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.
  4. Dry the area thoroughly.

Warning: Isopropyl Alcohol can be effective but may also strip certain types of wood finishes, especially shellac or lacquer. Always test on a small, hidden area first.

Method 3: Dishwashing Liquid Solution

This method works well for fresh stains:

  1. Mix half a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid with five tablespoons of hot water.
  2. Test the solution on a small, inconspicuous area of the wood.
  3. If safe, gently rub the solution onto the ink stain.
  4. Rinse with a damp cloth and dry.

Warning: Generally safe, but excessive water can damage wood, especially if it’s unfinished or has a compromised seal. Ensure you use a damp, not wet, cloth.

Method 4: Steel Wool and Liquid Wax

For stubborn stains, fine steel wool (#0000) and liquid wax can be used:

  1. Dip the steel wool in liquid wax.
  2. Gently rub over the ink stain, following the wood grain.
  3. Wipe, clean, and polish the area.

Warning: This method can scratch the surface if not done gently. Use ultra-fine steel wool and work with the grain of the wood. It’s best suited for tougher finishes and may not be ideal for delicate antiques.

Method 5: White Spirit

White spirit is another alternative:

  1. Test it on a small area first.
  2. Apply a small amount to a cloth and gently rub the stained area.
  3. Clean the area with a damp cloth and dry.

Warning: White spirit is effective but can dull or strip varnishes and lacquers. Always test first and use sparingly. It’s a stronger solvent and should be used as a last resort.

What Not to Use

Avoid using acetone and stain removers. These can damage the wood finish and exacerbate the problem.


How quickly should I act to remove an ink stain from wood?

The sooner, the better. Fresh stains are easier to remove than those that have set in.

Can these methods be used on all types of wood?

Yes, but always test on a small area first. Different woods and finishes may react differently to cleaning solutions.

Is it safe to use these methods on antique wood furniture?

Caution is key with antiques. Test any method on a hidden area first and consider consulting a professional if you’re unsure

What should I do if the stain doesn’t come out?

If the ink stain persists after trying these methods, it might be time to consult a professional, especially for valuable or antique pieces.

Can I prevent ink stains on wood?

Yes, using desk blotters or glass tops on wooden surfaces can help prevent ink stains. Regular maintenance and protective finishes also reduce the risk.

Are there any commercial products specifically for removing ink from wood?

Yes, there are commercial products available, but always read the label and test them first, as they can vary in strength and suitability for different wood finishes.

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Pen Ink Stains On Wood