Drawing on sofa

How to get pen marks off your sofa – 3 effective methods

23rd June 2021

Pens are incredibly useful little things, but in the wrong hands, they can be a disaster. Perhaps someone’s lost the lid, or perhaps that black felt tip has ended up exactly where you don’t want it to. Maybe one of your children has decided to ‘get creative’ with a collection of permanent markers – which can quickly lead you to find out just how accurate that adjective is.

Whatever the circumstances and the type of pen in question, it’s a pretty universal truth that pen marks can be tricky to hide and an absolute nightmare to cover. Thankfully though, you’ve got options! If you’ve got a removable sofa cover – a washable one, specifically – you might find that a quick wash is all it takes to get rid of the stain. If you’ve not got one of those though, or a wash hasn’t quite done the trick, there are a couple of tried-and-tested methods you can try.

Now, before we get started, we should include a quick disclaimer: all these methods are undertaken at your own risk, and Cover My Furniture cannot be held responsible for any further staining or any other kind of damage that may occur. Ultimately, you’ll have to use your own judgement as to whether you think they’ll work for your individual sofa. That said, all these techniques are very well-known for their effectiveness, so if you do decide to try them then you might be surprised at how easy they are. We’ll leave it up to you!

So, shall we begin?

Check the cleaning code

First things first – before you do anything else, you’ll need to start off by checking the cleaning card. You can usually find that on the underside of your sofa cushions; the tag you need will often be tucked down the side of the cushion near the armrest, or alternatively on the back of the couch. If you can’t find it there, it could well be on the sofa’s platform (the hard bit underneath your cushions).

Once you’ve got them, you’ll find it displays one of four letters:

W means that you can clean it with water-based solutions. These include gentle soap, washing up liquid, carpet cleaner and upholstery shampoo
S means that it shouldn’t be treated with water, but water-free solvents instead. That includes things like rubbing alcohol, clear alcohols, dry-cleaning solvent, and baby wipes
S-W means you’re free to use either solvent or water-based solutions
X means that you can’t use any of the above, and it can only be cleaned with a vacuum instead. That may necessitate a trip to the dry cleaner


Method 1 – Rubbing alchohol

For years rubbing alcohol has been the go-to solution for really tough stains, and for good reason – it’s got a pretty good track record. In many ways it’s great for sofas, as it works into the sofa fabric without damaging its exterior. Plus it’s easy to get hold of – you can pick it up for under a fiver, which makes it a good general-purpose solution to have on hand for future stains too.

What you’ll need:

Rubbing alcohol (obviously)
A clean cloth, or paper towels

How to do it:

1. If the ink stain is still wet, start by using your paper towel or cloth to blot the stain dry. If it’s biro, or it’s already dry, you can skip this step.
2. Next, choose a discreet spot on your sofa to test your rubbing alcohol, so that you can be sure it’s not going to further stain or mark your sofa.
3. Once you’re satisfied, apply your cleaning agent to your cloth, and dab the ink carefully until it won’t absorb any more ink.
a) Couple of important things to remember here – firstly, don’t be tempted to skip the cloth, and just put the alcohol directly on to the stain. Otherwise, all that will happen is that your sofa will get wet, which will make it that much harder for you to blot dry.
b) Secondly, make sure to work from the outside in. That will ensure that you’re directly absorbing as much as possible of the ink, without smudging it further into your sofa.
4. Once your cloth won’t absorb any more ink, don’t forget to swap it for a new one. Otherwise, you’re running the risk of just smudging it further into your sofa once more. Dip your fresh cloth in water, and then wipe the mark clean, before finally drying it with a towel.
5. Repeat the two above steps over and over again until the mark is finally gone. If it persists though, you might want to try substituting your rubbing alcohol with a dry cleaning solvent.

Method 2 – White vinegar

Let’s be honest, at this stage white vinegar’s reputation for being an effective cleaning agent might well have eclipsed its reputation as an actual cooking ingredient. So it’s probably not too surprising to find it included on our list, especially given its established usefulness for cleaning leather sofas. As you’ll see, white vinegar’s cleaning process shares many similarities with the one for rubbing alcohol.

What you’ll need:

Washing up liquid
White vinegar

How to do it:

1. If the ink stain is still wet, blot it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Don’t rub it, or you could spread the stain. If it’s already dry, or it’s a biro, then you can safely ignore this bit.
2. Mix your cleaning solution by mixing 1tbsp of washing up liquid, 2tsp of white vinegar and 250ml of water. Once again, make sure to check this in a hidden corner of your sofa, so you can see if it’s going to have any adverse effect on your sofa fabric.
3. Once you’re happy, apply the cleaning agent to a white cloth, and dab the stain carefully until it can’t absorb any more ink.
4. Dip a fresh cloth in water, and finally wipe the stain clean before drying it with a towel. Sorted!

Method 3 – Hairspray

OK, so this one’s a little unorthodox, but by all accounts it can get some really great results! To be honest, the secret to its success isn’t actually all that secret. The main reason why it’s so good at cleaning up ink stains is because of the large amount of alcohol in it, so it’s not really all that different to rubbing alcohol in some ways. It’s also a good one for getting stains out of clothes – which is a tip worth remembering!

What you’ll need:

Hairspray (specifically, an alcohol-based hairspray)
A damp cloth

How to do it:

1. In contrast to the other two methods we’ve outlined above, you can start by simply spraying the hairspray directly onto the ink stain. Ideally the ink should still be wet, but it can work equally well on dry ink stains too. Chances are you’ll just have to wait slightly longer.
2. Wait at least 30 seconds, or 40 to 60 if the ink is dry.
3. Then, just wipe away with a damp cloth. That’s really all there is to it!

Each of these three suggestions has a very good track record for success, but don’t forget they are only suggestions – again, it’s all undertaken at your own risk!

If you decide that you’d rather not risk it, or you haven’t quite managed to achieve the results you were hoping for, you’ve still got one useful option left available – you can simply cover the mark with a washable loose sofa cover. We’ve got plenty to choose from here on our site, in a huge range of colours and styles to choose from, so that you’ll always be able to find plenty of options to suit you.

And if you’re having trouble making a decision, or you’re looking for something in particular, don’t hesitate to let one of us know. You can get in touch using the contact form on our website, or through our Facebook or Instagram. We’re always happy to hear from you!

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