how to remove ink from leather

How to Remove Ink From Leather: The 4 Most Effective Methods

One question that we have received consistently would be on the topic of how to safely and effectively remove ink stains from leather products. The need to do so can arise more often than you would think. Some common circumstances that can lead to this include:

  • Pens being carried and stored in leather bags leaking unexpectedly
  • Watch straps passing over ink on paper that has not fully dried
  • Being careless handling pens on a leather couch

If you find yourself with the need to remove ink stains from your leather product, fret not; all is not lost. This article will help you make the best decisions to get your leather article looking as pristine as possible in the safest possible way.

In short, you can remove ink from leather by:

  1. Using Leather Cleaning Products
  2. Using Homemade Cleaning Solutions
  3. Using Household Cleaning Agents
  4. Using Professional Leather Cleaning Services

Regardless of the option that you do end up going with, keep in mind that the common theme across all options would be to treat the stain as quickly as possible. 

The longer that you allow the stain to set and dry the harder it is to remove the stain and by extension, the higher likelihood of damaging your leather article through elongated exposure to foreign cleaning solutions that are not necessarily ideal for leather.

1. Using Leather Cleaning Products

If you have purchased a leather cleaning product aimed at removing ink stains, I would recommend to follow any specific instructions that you should be able to reference on the product’s packaging.

If your leather article already has a protective coating, chances are that a leather cleaning product will do the trick. One of our favorites is the Leather Cleaner by Leather Honey, as it’s made of natural ingredients and also adds a protective layer onto the leather surface.

Regardless of the product that you have bought, it is important to validate against the following questions.

What Type of Leather am I Cleaning?

Is your ink-stained leather product made of top grain leather or are we dealing with a Suede or Nubuck finish? Suede and Nubuck products tend to be a lot more delicate and many cleaning agents meant for top grain leather products can be too harsh to be used on Suede or Nubuck leather. Therefore, you may want to opt for a product that is more gentle on your leather.

What Color Leather am I Treating?

Verify that your leather cleaner is able to be used on your ink-stained leather product. A common property of leather that disqualifies products from usage would be its base color. 

Important Tip: Cleaning products meant for darker shades of leather are commonly not recommended for use for white or lighter shades of leather.

In this instance, you can draw parallels to mixing white based clothes with darker fabrics in a wash cycle; unintended consequences can arise. Once you have ascertained that your ink removing leather cleaner is fit for purpose, follow the instructions as laid out by the manufacturer.

If not already directed to, we would recommend conditioning your leather product at the end of the treatment process to ensure that unexpected drying out of the leather is mitigated as much as possible.

2. Using a Homemade Cleaning Solution

You are able to create your own cleaning solutions from commonly accessible ingredients, in order to remove ink from leather. Before going by this route, we recommend that you test any cleaning solution on inconspicuous portions of your leather product to ensure compatibility before proceeding.

Rubbing Alcohol

One of the most common and effective homemade solutions for removing ink on leather is by using rubbing alcohol. If you have rubbing alcohol on hand, you can apply the rubbing alcohol locally to the leather area that is ink stained.

You can then use cotton wool to absorb the rubbing alcohol, ideally together with the ink stain that has already dissolved. Also remember to only use a small amount, don’t drown the stain with rubbing alcohol.

It’s best to either use cotton buds or a clean cloth soaked with the rubbing alcohol to ensure that you do not apply rubbing alcohol outside of the stained and affected parts of your leather product.

Vinegar & Olive Oil

Another homemade cleaning solution you can concoct involves vinegar and olive oil. This combination is a relatively effective cleaning agent for removing stubborn oil stains from leather (as it contains acetic acid), whilst also largely being gentle enough to be used on lighter colored leather materials.

Combine 2 parts olive oil with 1 part white vinegar and mix the solution well. You can then spray the solution onto affected areas or apply directly via a clean dry cloth. If you are using the latter, you would want to be careful not to rub against the ink stains in case you cause smudging.

Leave the solution on the stained spot for about 10 – 15 minutes and then rinse off with water. Use a paper towel to dab after rinsing to remove excess product and moisture to prevent long term damage to your leather surface.

3. Using Household Cleaning Agents

Truthfully, we only recommend that you consider this possibility as an option if you have absolutely no other choice for any of our aforementioned methods and if you are treating an inexpensive or insignificant leather article.

Not dissimilar to other methods, please try any substitute cleaning agents on inconspicuous areas before using it in a widespread manner. You don’t want to make the ink stain look any worse!

The following two products that we will take a closer look at usually contain alcohol and other forms of removal agents that can be effective for ink removal from leather. However, we neither have control over the ingredients nor the proportions of ingredients used – therefore, use cautiously.

Whilst this step can potentially be effective in ink stain removal from leather, it is also the likeliest way to cause unexpected damage to your leather product so please take extra care if you are choosing to go with any of these options.


Apply any type of alcohol-based hairspray on a wool cloth or cotton bud. Then, gently dab this across the ink stain in a gentle manner. Make sure not to apply hairspray directly onto the leather, as you’ll most likely cover non-affected areas.

Do not let the hairspray sit on the leather for any prolonged amount of time. Blot dry the area with a clean dry cloth and follow up by rinsing the affected area with a gentle soap and water solution.

End the process by using a new clean dry cloth to remove any excess moisture from the leather’s surface area and repeat the steps if needed.

Nail Polish Remover (Caution!)

Before we go any further on using nail polish remover to get rid of ink stains, please take note of the following: don’t ever use nail polish removers with acetone! It can discolor and also permanently damage your leather.

Get a non-acetone nail polish remover and wet a cotton bud, followed by gently applying it on the ink stains. Take extra care not to rub and spread the ink over areas that aren’t already stained.

Leave the nail polish remover on the leather for a minute or two and then rinse off with water, taking care to use a clean cloth to remove any excess moisture. Remember not to use too much nail polish remover, a small amount would suffice.

4. Using Professional Leather Cleaning Services

If the ink stain on the leather surface area that you are trying to treat is conspicuous and not insignificant, and you’ve exhausted all options, then using a professional leather cleaning service may be the next best step.

professional ink cleaning service

If you stain your leather after hours and would need to wait for a full day or two before being able to make a trip to a professional cleaner within their opening hours, you might be better off exploring some of the other options that we have mentioned above.

On the flip side, we will almost always recommend this step if you are dealing with white or lighter shades of leather. The margin of error that you do have with lighter colored leather is extremely thin (especially with ink stains) and the last thing you would want to do is to create more problems that you are solving for.

If you are able to send in your leather product within an hour or two of the original stain being formed and noticed, you stand the best chance of having a professional who will have wide access to a variety of cleaning agents and tools to address the ink stain on your behalf.

Even if you are proceeding with this step, we recommend that you use a clean, absorbent paper towel to dab any wet ink stains to begin with to reduce the final blemish that will need to be treated. Please take care to dab and not rub the stain to prevent the ink from spreading beyond the already affected area.

Useful Tips for Avoiding Ink Stains on Leather

Getting ink stains out of leather may not always be as easy as it sounds. Therefore, it goes without saying that avoiding ink stains on leather from occurring in the first place is definitely better than having to remove them. In light of this we’d like to share the following tips with you, which you’re able to apply. 

  • Use Leather Conditioners – Leather conditioners add a protective layer to your leather, which make potential ink stains much easier to remove when they happen. Leather without protective coatings can get damaged much more easily and are also harder to remove. 
  • Cap Pens in Leather Bags – When carrying pens inside a leather bag, it’s always best to cap them, or use ink pens that are retractable. If possible avoid loosely capped pens altogether. 
  • Maintain Leather Regularly – It’s important to maintain your leather products regularly. Leather cleaning and maintaining products also add a protective coating that make cleaning ink stains much easier. 

Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that you may have more questions on the topic of removing ink from leather. Below, you’ll find a list of the most frequently asked questions that were sent in. If you would like to have your questions added, simply reach out to us and we’ll be happy to answer them.

Can Ink Permanently Damage Leather?

We’ve tried and tested various leather cleaning products on leather articles. While most of them can work effectively if used correctly, there is a possibility that it may permanently leave your leather damaged, especially when using products containing harsh chemicals.

Therefore, you should also ensure that you treat ink stains on your leather immediately and also use any of the above mentioned ink removal methods correctly. Lastly, always ensure that the cleaning products only contain ingredients that are safe for leather.

What’s the best method for removing Ink From Leather?

Simply said, there is no single best method. It depends on the type, color and condition of your leather, as well as the type of ink stain. We always recommend starting with the method that is least harmful to your leather. 

Avoid using harsh agents first, instead start with a damp cloth and work your way through the methods accordingly. If you’re not able to remove the ink stain without damaging your leather, it’s best to consult with a professional leather cleaning service. 

Can I Use More Than One Method?

You can certainly use more than one method to remove ink from leather. In fact, we recommend working your way through these methods, starting with the one that is the most gentle on your leather. Ensure that you always use cleaning agents and leather cleaning products that are designed for leather, preferably made with natural ingredients. 

About Matthew

Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief & Writer At Leatherskill

I’m a leather enthusiast turned artisan. Apart from crafting leather products, I’m passionate about writing in-depth guides and reviews on all things leather!