Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Her flagship column, “Ask a Clean Person”, debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we’ve launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
Before we go into what to do about a big scribbly mess on furniture, let me back up and explain the rubbing alcohol instructions, because they’re helpful when dealing with a more minor scribbly mess. Generally speaking, rubbing alcohol is The Thing for ink stains. This is true of clothes, of upholstery and carpet, and also of many hard surfaces such as countertops or tables.
When you have an ink stain on fabric, what you want to do is dab at the stain with rubbing alcohol. You can use a rag, sponge or even a cotton ball — the idea is to apply the alcohol to something that allows you to control the amount you’re introducing directly to the ink stain. The reason for that is that if you douse an ink stain with a liquid it might cause the ink to spread, and you’ll be left with a bigger mess.
In the case of this particular ink sitch, I would suggest decanting rubbing alcohol into a small bowl and using a washcloth as your tool, since it’s the right size for this job. Dip the washcloth into the bowl, squeeze it out very well so that it’s damp but not dripping with alcohol, and then give those ink scribbles a scrubbing. I think that will work without being as labour-intensive as dabbing gently.
However! Let’s say you don’t even want to bother with the rubbing alcohol. That’s fine and a fair choice to make, and I come bearing other options for you. Hardware and home-improvement stores such as Bunnings or, of course, looking online are your best bet for finding these kinds of products.
Amodex Ink & Stain Remover: This can be used on clothing, furniture and hard surfaces, so it’s a good multi-tasker for ink removal.
Guardsman Leather Ink Remover Wipe: The couch in question isn’t leather, but this is a good product to know about in the event you have leather furniture or car seats that your kiddos get after with pens.
Motsenbocker’s Lift Off: Formula #3 is the one you want for ink, and it can safely be used on hard surfaces such as ceramic, porcelain or wood, as well as on fabrics such as cotton, nylon and wool. It’s probably well worth noting that the other Motsenbocker’s Lift Off formulas can tackle latex paint, spray paint, and tape and other adhesives.
One last thing to note about suggestions you may see in old cleaning manuals or online to use hairspray and/or sunscreen to remove ink stains from assorted fabrics — the reason they work is that they contain alcohol. But I generally steer people away from using those products unless they’re all you have on hand and you’re really in a pinch because they can cause other problems.
In the case of hairspray, it might not even work because most newer formulas don’t contain alcohol in the way that more old-school hairsprays did. With sunscreen, you’re pretty limited in the things it’s safe to use on (leather, hard surfaces), and you should also plan to check the ingredients list to make sure there’s even alcohol in there, lest you go wasting perfectly good sunscreen for nothing.