How to Remove Ink Stains From Wood Without Destroying It

Last Updated:  June 30, 2021

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A few months ago I bought a nice, solid-wood desk and in those three or so months, pen ink has gotten into the wood in several places. I’m surprised at just how badly it stained. The desk has an oil and wax finish of some type, so it isn’t a hardened varnish that leaves a film which would have been much more resistant to the ink.

I tried to use an organic wood cleaner and scrub it with a rag – didn’t work at all. So, I was faced with trying to find an unconventional solution to remove the ink from my desk. I came up with 7 different products that are commonly suggested to remove ink from wood and put each one to the test.

#1 Nail Polish Remover – 100% Acetone

I started with the meanest product on this list and I really screwed up. I should have either A) read the back of the bottle that warned about acetone and wood finishes, or at the very least B) tested in an inconspicuous spot. I won’t make that mistake again. The acetone immediately dissolved the oil and wood stain down to the wood. You can see it left a pretty glaring blemish and I’m going to kick myself every time I see it – but interestingly, the location does help a bit.

With an oil finish like this one, the area that arms and hands come in contact with the desk tend to be polished and shiny. The movement of my arms polishes the finish with the oil from my skin. This spot is already less noticeable and, if I can match the finish, I may be able to come close to making it invisible. Time will tell.

Verdict:

Keep acetone far away from any type of wood stain or finish unless you want to completely strip it.

#2 Shaving Cream

I don’t remember exactly where I saw this recommendation but I remember seeing it in several places. I scoffed at the notion that shaving cream would remove ink from wood.

I started by letting the cream sit and soak into the ink stain for several minutes. After scrubbing for several more, it became apparent that my initial reaction was correct. You can see from the pictures below that the ink stain didn’t change a bit.

Verdict:

Shaving cream gets ink out of wood every bit as good as closing your eyes and willing it to happen. Don’t waste your time.

#3 Dishwashing Liquid

I thought that dishwashing liquid might actually have a chance to get the ink out of my wood desk. It seems like a substance that breaks up grease and grime could do the same to ink. Unfortunately, after approaching it the same way as I did shaving cream, I got the same results. The ink stain remained unchanged.

Verdict:

Dishwashing Liquid does twice as good as shaving cream. Unfortunately, 2 x 0 is still 0. Don’t bother.

#4 91% Isopropyl Alcohol

It was a safe bet that alcohol would work. The only question was how it would treat the wood finish. Would I be left with a dull spot where the stain use to be?

After the Acetone debacle, I was very cautious when applying this. Eventually, it only took a few seconds of scrubbing for the ink stain to be completely removed from the wood. It did a great job with only minimal change to the finish. And, that can be fixed with a bit of oil and polishing.

Verdict:

Removes the ink quickly and with minimal scrubbing. It also only minimally changed the oil finish. I recommend it.

#5 Stain Remover

Sure, stain remover had a chance. After all, it is known for removing tough stains from clothes and other fabrics.

But, that strength turned out to be worthless when it came to removing ink from wood. If we had been dealing with removing ink from clothing this might have been our winner, but not today.

Verdict:

Stain remover learned how to get ink out of wood from shaving cream and dishwashing liquid. Pass.

#6 Toothpaste

I’ll admit it. I didn’t think toothpaste had the smallest chance of working. After scrubbing for about 5 minutes I thought I was right.

But, slowly, the ink stain started to recede and my eyes opened wide. Toothpaste actually removes ink from wood. You have to take breaks to go to work and live life in between, but eventually, it works.

Verdict:

It eventually got the ink stain out, but it took so long that I had to shower and shave, afterward.

#7 Baking Soda

If there was ever a surprise horse in the race it was the baking soda. It removed the ink as quickly as alcohol and with a slightly less noticeable spot. In all, I removed it in less than a minute with light scrubbing. Amazing!

Verdict:

Baking Soda was the ultimate superstar of the day. This is my first recommendation.

Conclusion

This really was a fun and interesting set of tests. I could say that it went as planned, but I didn’t expect to have a large eye burned into my desk. I was surprised that the toothpaste was able to remove ink, despite it taking forever. And, I was surprised how quickly and seamlessly baking soda performed.

The moral of this story, if you read nothing else, is:

1) DO NOT USE ACETONE ON A WOOD FINISH OF ANY KIND, unless you want to strip everything off of the wood

2) Baking soda will very gently remove ink from wood. It’s awesome.


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