How To Get Permanent Marker Off Wood Furniture

My Elias. I love this boy more than words can ever express. It’s a good thing, too. ‘Cause this one will TEST you.

More often than not, he’s running through the house, leaving a trail of destruction in his dust. Every time I turn around… and I do mean every single chance he gets… this boy is into MISCHIEF! You can’t turn your back!

clean wooden table with no marker on it
clean wooden table with no marker on it

I’m at the point to where I’m ready to throw away every single crayon and marker in the entire house, and banish them once and for all. You should see my walls. Thank heaven for Mr. Clean Erasers. It works wonders for getting marks off painted walls.

The furniture, on the other hand, is another matter.

The other day I walked into my office to find a black Sharpie masterpiece scribbled all over the top of my beautiful cherry writing desk. I just froze in place. Who in their right mind left a Sharpie out?????

I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I searched it: “How To Get Permanent Marker Off Wood”. Don’t you just love the internet? I quickly found a solution that seemed like it might work, as well as a few others, which I’ll detail here.

Before you get started with your stain removal chore, make sure your rinse the area with cold water first. This will help transfer any ink that might not have dried yet onto a cloth or paper towel.

It will also remove any debris, like sand or dust, from the surface, which can also affect how well your cleaning agent of choice penetrates the wood.

In addition, make sure you don’t rub the stain too hard. This can cause the ink to smear and ruin your wood even more by dulling the varnish. Instead, blot gently, working in a small, circular area.

Sequester the kids and pets in an area of the house where they won’t interfere with your cleaning project. Depending on which method you try, you might be using alcohol or other scented or toxic products.

You don’t want to risk the toddler or puppy trying to take a taste test of whatever it is you are using to clean. Plus, you definitely don’t want to have to worry about causing more damage to the area!

These tips, with the exception of the final item, are all designed for wood that is unpainted and sealed with a coat or two of varnish or polyurethane.

Many of these can also be used on painted wood, but keep in mind that some may require you to add a new coat of paint.

Unfinished wood is a different beast altogether, and in most cases, you’ll probably find that you need to turn to my last and final tip to get the permanent marker out of your wood furniture.

if you’re dealing with old furniture, there’s also a chance that the paint contains lead. There’s a long list of health issues associated with lead, such as abdominal pain, loss of appetite and, in more severe cases, even memory loss.

Some of these tips do also work for other surfaces, like vinyl or even fabrics. However, make sure you always test the chosen cleaning agent on a hidden surface first, just in case it discolors or causes other problems.

Take a deep breath – and don’t panic! – before you begin. Evaluate the stain and collect your materials. Remember that while a permanent marker stain can be a major hassle to deal with, it’s not the end of the world. Then, take a look at one (or more!) of these tips.

If the first thing you try doesn’t work, clean the surface of the first DIY cleaning agent, and then keep going until you find a method that works for you.

1. The Toothpaste Method

I’ll talk about a few other Sharpie removal techniques in a minute, but I want to talk about the toothpaste method first, as it’s worked for me too many times to count.

The first time, I was nervous, but figured I had little to lose. And I already had the main ingredient for success at home – toothpaste, of all things!

Remembering an old tube of Rembrandt from my couponing days, I climbed up on the bathroom counter and searched the very back of the cabinet there. Perfect! I knew I kept this for a reason. Here’s how it works.

Without much hesitation, I squeezed a good sized glob of toothpaste onto the desk, and began working it in circles with a damp rag. And do you know what? It worked!

The permanent marker came right off. I buffed it clean with another rag, and it was as good as new. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.

I’m so glad I learned this trick, ’cause I’ve used it countless times since. My husband came home the other day to find more Sharpie scribbles on his computer desk (where the heck does this child keep finding these things?).

He started freaking out, until I calmly pulled out the old toothpaste and did my thing, and quickly diffused the problem. I love it when that happens.

Disclaimer: I do not know if this will work on every wood surface without causing any damage. I’ve used it on multiple pieces of wooden furniture, and have not damaged the finish on any of them.

If you are worried about damaging your surface, definitely test the toothpaste somewhere hidden first. I follow up the buffing with a coat of furniture polish, and it works like a dream. Use your own judgement.

Here are some Before & After shots from a project my kids and I did last week. On my good table. Why oh why did I let them do crafts on the good table?

I momentarily freaked out a little when we picked up the papers and there was ink all over the place.

Black marker. On the dining room table. Not good:

wooden table with marker on it
wooden table with marker on it

Get a glob of toothpaste on a somewhat damp rag. A gritty toothpaste works nicely:

applying toothpaste to wooden table scribbled with marker
applying toothpaste to wooden table scribbled with marker

Rub it in circles directly over the marker, and buff it off using a little elbow grease as necessary.

Wipe it off with a damp rag. Voila:

I usually follow up with my homemade furniture polish:

  • 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3-5 drops lavender essential oil

If there is any stain remaining, pour some baking soda on it and rub the mixture into the wood. Be gentle, as this can be somewhat abrasive. No baking soda on hand?

I’ve heard you can also use peanut butter, and it’s much less gritty than baking soda, so you don’t have to worry about scratches.

When you’re done, dry the table and you’re set to go. Good as new!

2. Isopropyl alcohol method

This is a good one to try first in an area that doesn’t see a lot of use, like the underside of a table, as it can cause some discoloration.

However, all you need to do is dab some isopropyl alcohol on a clean cloth. Then rub the cloth onto the stain until the ink transfers to the cloth. You can also use cotton makeup remover pads, either plain or the ones that already contain some alcohol.

Rinse with water and pat it dry. If you don’t have any isopropyl alcohol hanging around, you can also use alcohol! Keep in mind that liquor will work better than beer, which can also stain materials. Plus, you need the alcohol to be above eighty proof for it to be truly effective.

3. Nail polish remover

You probably already have this item in your home as well. Put some nail polish on the marker stain (again, test it on a small area first), and then use a paper towel to help guide the stain off the wood.

4. Store-bought stain removers

There are multiple companies which have really profited off kids’ major love of drawing on forbidden surfaces with permanent markers! Goof Off, for example, is a spray that you can use to help remove stains. All you need to do is spray and blot.

5. Erase it

Permanent marker can sometimes be removed by using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, but if you don’t have one of these lying around, try a regular white rubber eraser! This doesn’t always get all of the ink out, but it can sometimes get a majority.

6. White vinegar and dishwashing detergent

Mix a tablespoon of white vinegar and liquid dishwashing detergent with two cups of water. Cover the stain with the mixture and let it sit for about half an hour. Then, blot every five minutes for a couple of hours, and blot until all of the liquid is absorbed.

7. Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer, or even baby wipes, work in the same way that the isopropyl alcohol does (because both contain small amounts of alcohol!). Put some hand sanitizer on your palm and then rub it on the stain.

8. Coconut oil

This product will help remove the permanent marker stain, and also help your home smell great! Dab a teaspoon of coconut oil on the ink stain, and then wash it with soap and warm water.

This also helps to hydrate the wood, so it can have a preservative and buffing effect on your furniture as well.

9. Cigarette ash

Alright, so this one I was pretty skeptical about, and I haven’t tried it, but there are people who rave it about how effective it is! Obviously, don’t take up smoking just to try this remedy, but you get the drift! To make it work, all you need to do is take a damp paper towel and bot it in some cigarette ash (cooled, of course). Then wipe the area of the stain, and voila!

10. Lysol

Lysol disinfectant spray can help lighten the appearance of permanent marker. Simply spray a large quantity of Lysol on the stained area, let it stand for half an hour or so, and then wipe it off with a clean rag.

11. WD-40

This is another commercial cleaning product, but it’s not just for taking care of that squeaky car door anymore! WD-40 can be sprayed on an ink stain to get rid of it once and for all.

12. Dry erase markers

This one REALLY scares me, but I’ve heard it works wonders. The reason why it scares me is that for it to work, you actually have to draw on your wooden furniture some more.

However, it works because dry erase markers contain non-polar solvents, meaning they can be – you got it – erased. Hence the name. All you need to do is draw over the previous stain with the dry erase marker, and then wipe it off. Easy peasy.

13. Sunscreen

Another tip that will make your house smell fantastic! Sunscreen can help remove ink from non-porous substances, like wooden furniture or even your walls, if you’re lucky enough. Simply squirt a little sunscreen on the stain and then use a cloth to work it in, and then remove.

14. Hairspray

Again, hairspray contains alcohol, so it can be effective in removing stains. Just make sure you test it on another surface first. I’ve heard hairspray is also a good way of getting ink stains (as well as other types of stains) out of clothing and fabric, too.

15. Sanding

All of these methods work well if your furniture is sealed with polyurethane or another similar clear coat. Unfortunately, if your furniture or wood products are not protected, there’s often not a lot you can do to remove permanent marker.

You may need to bust out the power sander to strip the top layer from the wood and then you will need to re-stain it again. This is a huge chore to accomplish, but the good news is that sanding and restaining your furniture can give it some new life and a major facelift!

For every good tip about how to get rid of permanent marker, there are also some tips on what not to do. Make sure you don’t use any sharp object to get rid of the marks, as this can really damage your wood furniture. Even a sander won’t be able to undo that damage.

Also, avoid getting the stained area hot, as this can cause the stain to set in. That means no hot dinner plates, irons, or appliances on top of the stain until you’ve been able to completely get rid of it.

Once you have the stain out, no matter which method you used, make sure you pat dry the table so that no water damage occurs. You should also launder the cloth you used to clean the area by itself in the hottest water possible, so that no ink is transferred to other clothes or linens you might be trying to wash.

After you’ve cleaned the area, I also recommend dabbing or spritzing it with an essential oil or similar fragrance.

Lavender, lemongrass, or tea tree oil are all good choices. This will help remove any lasting odor of the marker or cleaning agent from the surface and from the air, and it will also help seal and polish the area you’ve just cleaned.

Now, obviously, the easiest way to get rid of these marker stains would be to not allow them to happen in the first place!

While we can’t always control that – kids always seem to find the most hidden items, don’t they? – I’ve since taken a few steps to make sure I never have to deal with this hassle again! You can store your permanent markers in a locked box or drawer, or put them high up where your kids can’t reach them.

Trust me, a little bit of legwork to reach your permanent markers is definitely worth it when it comes to potentially having to re-sand all of your wooden furniture!

At the end of the day, if you can’t get the stain out, don’t let it stress you out. Any parent knows that part of having kids is learning to embrace the mess!

A permanent marker stain might be an eyesore now, but in twenty years will be a joyous reminder of all the memories you made with your children – even if they were less than immaculate!

Do you have a tried and true way to get permanent marker off wood furniture?

permanent marker removal pinterest

12 thoughts on “How To Get Permanent Marker Off Wood Furniture”

  1. I had tried several of these solutions in vain after I had been drawing something on fabric for a craft project, and the ink had bled through. I was worried that the isopropyl alcohol would stain my desk, but I had no need to! the stain came out almost instantly! I was very impressed!

  2. I purchased a beautiful wooden office desk, looks like a chest of drawers when closed up, my pride and joy. I don’t know how it happened but there was permanent marker pen scribble on one side! (I use them quite a lot) I was aghast! But after my experience of my grandson who one day scribbled all over my wife’s white car – I had to do something quick so I grabbed a bottle of white spirit and it removed it easily. I did the same with my desk – a sheet of paper towel – wet it with white spirit by just holding it over the upturned end of the bottle – and gently rubbed for about 5 mins and it has gone completely. Take care with kids and flame when using white spirit.

  3. Thank you! Just yesterday I was trying to scrub off a picture my son drew on the hardwood floor in his bedroom to no avail. After I read this I tried it and the ink came right off. This post was just want I needed today. How did you know? Hee hee. Thanks!

  4. NICCCE! Thanks so much for sharing! I know exactly what you mean with not being able to turn your back for a second! I have a 4 and a 15 months old! And it seems like they’re looking for trouble, ALL.THE.TIME! LOL! I will try the toothpaste trick, I certainly have my area were I was “presented” art work! 😉
    …btw, your little guy, as much mischief there might be under this smile 😉 is suuuper cute!!! Just looking at those chubby cheeks! <3 <3 <3 Little boys are just the cutest and funnest (is this even a word?) things in the world! …Oh yeah, and the most trouble. LOL* 😀

  5. Alcohol also works! My lil darling, 3 yr old grandson, drew a really nice train about 3 ft long AND outlined his feet – both of them on oak floor in our computer room. Floor not so beautiful with the artwork. My daughter got some alcohol and rubbed it out pretty quick. Whew!

    Another great tip with olive oil. Gum in hair! I tried to cut it out of said daughter’s hair when she was about 3 and she ended up with a real cute pixie cut when I panicked and called the local beautician to fix my mess. Tried peanut butter, mayo, nothing worked. When her daughter was about the same age (what is it about 3 yr olds????), she got gum stuck in her hair. Instead of trying the other failed remedies, I grabbed the olive oil. Just a drop or two and it slid right off onto a paper towel! Hair saved!

  6. I will retain this tip!! I wonder if this works for getting it off ones face. One of my twins LOVES to draw on his face. Luckily it was only once with the sharpies (daughter left them out after doing a project). Only one way to find out! 😉


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