Can Hairspray Remove Ink Stains?

An ink stain is on a shirt.

You left a pen in your shirt or pant pocket. Now, there’s a massive ink stain that you’re worried will never come out. According to an old wives’ tale, the answer could be in your vanity.

Can hairspray remove ink stains? This commonly cited fix might have worked in the past, but due to changes in modern hairspray formulas, it’s a bit outdated now.

Alcohol was the reason hairspray worked on oil-based ink stains (think ballpoint pens and permanent markers). Both alcohol and ink have similar chemical structures, and this is what makes alcohol an efficient remover. It used to be abundant in hairspray. 

Now, however, many hair care brands have significantly lessened or altogether removed alcohol as it has been found to damage and dry out the hair. While it never hurts to try hairspray on a stain if it’s all you have available, it’s not the best method.

The best way to remove an ink stain is to use straight rubbing alcohol—the ingredient you were really using when attempting to remove the spot with hairspray. As long as you catch the stain early on (it can’t have dried and set in yet), you’ll simply add a bit of rubbing alcohol to the spot and allow it to sit for a few minutes without rubbing it. Rinse the stain in cool water and repeat if necessary.

The next time you leave your favorite pen in your shirt, don’t freak out about the ink stain quite yet. You might just need to grab your first aid kit.

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