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How To Remove Permanent Marker from Surfaces

Permanent marker isn't always as permanent as you might think! This how-to guide provides methods for banishing permanent marker from fabric and other surfaces.

You never know when you or your child can get a little over-zealous and accidentally scribble on the table with a permanent marker. Thankfully, permanent marker isn’t always permanent. Using the correct everyday household substance and a little persistence, you have a very good chance of removing that accidental scribble. Here is a guide to removing permanent marker from a variety of surfaces – wood, plastic, upholstery, leather, and walls.

Removing Permanent Marker

The difficulty of removing permanent marker depends on the surface it’s staining. Porous materials like fabric require different techniques and products to more resilient surfaces like plastic or varnished wood. Some common household substances – rubbing alcohol, toothpaste, hairspray, white vinegar, baking soda, nail polish remover – as well as specialist products like Magic Erasers can be used to remove permanent marker, although it’s worth bearing in mind that you may well need to remove the product itself after having tackled the stain. You can also use specialist stain removal products.

Whatever option you go for, always read and follow the instructions on the label, and test a small area of your surface first to check for potential damage. Also remember to consult the manufacturer’s care advice when attempting stain removal from the surface of any furniture.

How to Get Permanent Marker Off Plastic

For non-porous surfaces, removing permanent marker is simply a matter of breaking down the colour and wiping it off. Any of these methods may work; it’s generally advisable to use the least invasive method first.

  • Colour over the stain with a dry erase marker and wipe off with a clean cloth.
  • Apply hairspray or acetone nail polish remover to the stain and wipe off with a clean cloth.
  • Apply a specialist stain removal product to the stain and wipe off.

How to Get Permanent Marker Off Walls

Some walls are porous, and thus require extra care so as not to leave a stain.

  • For non-gloss walls, a specialist product is usually best.
  • For gloss or semi-gloss walls, apply hairspray or white non-gel toothpaste (not together) and wipe off with a clean damp cloth.

Removing Permanent Marker from Wood

Woods with different finishes will need to be treated in different ways. If you are unsure about what type of finish you have consult a professional. 

  • Toothpaste is often gentle enough to use on varnished or unvarnished wood. Use a white, non-gel paste and rub into the stain with a clean damp cloth, then wipe off. Several applications may be necessary.
  • Use rubbing alcohol to break down the stain before wiping off with a clean damp cloth.

How to Get Permanent Marker Off Leather

Too much moisture will damage leather, so you need to use a method that won’t saturate the item.

  • Spray hairspray onto the stain and wipe away with a clean damp rag. Repeat as necessary.
  • Apply a leather conditioner to ensure the leather is not damaged by the hairspray.

How to Remove Permanent Marker from Fabric Upholstery

  • Mix a tablespoon of clear dishwashing or washing detergent with two tablespoons of white vinegar and two cups of water.
  • Blot the stain, rinsing the sponge in the mixture and reapplying where necessary.
  • Rinse with cool water.
  • You could also try using rubbing alcohol or a specialist stain removal product in place of the vinegar mixture.

If your upholstery has removable covers, it’s a good idea to follow up stain removal by laundering with a laundry detergent, like Surf excel Liquid Detergent. Just remember to check the care advice to make sure the covers are machine washable and follow the instructions on your detergent for dosing guidelines.

With the above guide, you now know how to get permanent marker off a number of different surfaces in your household. Your toddler may still go wild with the art projects, but in case of any accidents, you no longer have to worry about permanent marker staying permanent.

Top Tip

Remember to always test any stain removal solution on a small, unnoticeable area of the surface to check there will be no damage. And when removing permanent marker stains from furniture, be sure to consult the manufacturer’s care advice for cleaning guidelines.