Stain Removal: How To Remove Highlighter From Fabric


Think the fabric’s ruined when it gets stained by a broken highlighter? Think again. Try this stain removal technique to get rid of a highlighter stain.

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Stain Removal: How to Remove Highlighter from Fabric

We recently had company who flew here from another state. In flight, the air pressure somehow broke a highlighter that one of our guests packed along for the trip causing it to explode in several large hot pink spots on the bed sheets in our guest room. Our guest felt terrible, but I assured her that I’d look online to find a stain removal solution for the spots.

Most of the sources I found for stain removal suggested using rubbing alcohol to remove the stain. I was worried that treating the stain with rubbing alcohol might cause the highlighter to spread, bleach or discolor the fabric or burn a hole in the sheets. I figured with the pink highlighter stain they were already ruined so what did I have to lose? Here’s the stain removal technique I used to get rid of the highlighter in my cotton sheets.

How to Get Highlighter Out of Fabric

What you need:

Safety pins
Paper towels
Rubbing alcohol

Instructions for Highlighter Stain Removal:

1. Mark the stains

Before I started this stain removal technique, I marked the location of the stains with safety pins so that I would know where to look when the sheets came out of the dryer to see if the stains were gone.

2. Treat the stains with rubbing alcohol

I wadded or folded a few paper towels and held them under the stain to prevent the highlighter from spreading to other parts of the fabric when I treated the stain. I then poured a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto another paper towel and used it to dab the stain. For larger or more saturated stains, I poured the rubbing alcohol directly on the stain and then continued to rub it with paper towel. The stain seemed to almost transfer from the sheets onto the paper towel that I was holding beneath the fabric.

3. Launder the sheets

I then ran the sheets through my washer on the usual permanent press cycle.

4. Check the stains and retreat, if necessary

When I removed the sheets from the washer I looked for the safety pins marking the location of the stains and found that most of the stains had disappeared. A few of the more saturated stains had faded to a light pink, so I retreated them using the same process as before and rewashed the sheets another time. When I removed the sheets from the washer the second time, I could no longer see any signs of pink highlighter stains on the sheets.

5. Dry the sheets

As with any stain, it’s important to wait until the entire stain is gone before drying. Otherwise you risk setting the stain and make it impossible to remove later. Once I removed the sheets from the dryer, I checked the stain locations once more and removed the safety pins.

In the end, the sheets look as good as new and my guest was thrilled when I e-mailed her to let her know I was able to get the highlighter removed from the sheets. I also should note, my bedsheets were cream colored and a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester. I have not tried this technique to remove highlighter from other fabric colors or types, so use this method at your own risk, but do let me know if it’s successful for you!

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  1. It works! I couldn’t believe it. Somehow the cap of a bright blue highlighter came off and left a huge, 4 inches around, mark on my white futon. I took the cover off and cleaned it as described above and it came out!

    1. Oh, KB, I bet you felt sick to your stomach when you saw that big blue spot on your white futon. I’m thrilled to hear this technique worked for you to make it nice and white again. Thank you so much for coming by to let us know.

    2. I just tried this on a duvet cover…unfortunately after studying last night, I accidentally left the cap off of a pink highlighter and a huge stain soaked into it overnight! I was so worried as it didn’t lift off immediately, but after laundering it was like magic. I should note I also did what Elizabeth did and put some laundry detergent into it before laundering as well.

      1. Oh Anna! I bet you just felt awful when you saw that big pink highlighter stain on your duvet this morning. I’m so glad you found this tip and that it worked well for you. Thanks for taking the time to let us know. 🙂 Good luck with your studies!

      2. I I am kid but I accidentally put pink highlighter on my bed sheets and I only rubbed it with a bit of rubbing alcohol and came off right away!

    3. My daughter accidentally left the cap off on her pink highlighter and it leaked onto one of her favorite farm animal sheets! She was crushed. I tried this tip and it worked! There were about five splotches and this tip got all of them out except for one that turned a very, very, VERY light pink that you can hardly notice. Overall, This tip worked and my daughter is overjoyed.

      1. Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear your daughter had a highlighter accident but thrilled that this tip worked for you. I bet she is thrilled too!

        1. I had a yellow highlighter cap come off in the inside pocket of my new Vera Bradley weekender bag!! It left a stain the size of a butter plate. I placed a white towel behind the stain and saturated the spot with rubbing alcohol. Left it to sit about 5 minutes, removed the white towel, and washed the whole bag in the washer on cold. When I removed the bag, the spot was totally gone. I love Pintrest?

    4. Thank you so much!

      After falling asleep while working in bed, I awakened to a horror scene of several green spots of various sizes on my favorite soft cream colored sheets. Within twenty minutes of the alcohol method of highlighter removal, the stains were gone. It was such a moment of elation to see nothing but cream color again! :->


      1. I’m so very glad to hear this method worked great for you to save your favorite sheets. Hooray! Hooray! Thanks for taking the time to let us know.

        Best wishes,
        Carrie from Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

  2. 10/2014 It absolutely worked! My son stained his Dress Polo Shirt (Light Blue) with yellow highlighter. I did exactly what Kenarry said, except for the pins since it was easy to located the stains. Thanks!!!

    1. Oh yay! You are so welcome! Thank YOU for coming by and letting me know, Maruka. I’m thrilled it worked for you and saved your son’s dress shirt. Your comment made my day.

  3. My dog chewed up a yellow highlighter on top of a really nice sage-colored duvet cover. I thought for certain it was ruined forever. However, I found your tip. I laid a thick, white towel under the stain and began pouring small amounts of rubbing alcohol on small sections of the stain and blotted it up with another white rag. It absorbed from both sides. I did this until no more highlighter could be absorbed using this method. I rubbed a small amount of diluted detergent into the spot and laundered as normal. Came out perfectly clean after the first wash. Very surprised and very happy to say the least!

      1. I am so happy i found this, i got Hotpink highlighter all over my pottery barn quilt, it was very exspesive so i was mortified to see a huge pink stain. I did eactley what you said to do, and poured small amounts of alchol on the quilt with a towel underneath and used a paper towel to blot until all the color was removed, i am going to dry clean the quilt tomm and hopefully it will be good as new!
        THANK YOU!!!!!!!

        1. Dado, I’m so thrilled you found our tips for removing highlighter just in the knick of time. I hope your beautiful quilt is as good as new now. Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know how well this worked for you.

  4. Today I got a purple highlighter stain on my white comforter! I was scared because I just got this comforter a few weeks ago. The comforter is way to big to wash, and the stain was fresh, so I used just plain hot water and hand soap and it came out really good! I think it would only work on fresh stains though.

  5. Thank you for this article! I cannot believe how well it worked! I came into my bedroom to find a bright orange highlighter sitting in a 4 inch radius stain on my quilted bedspread. My stomach just sank. I dabbed with rubbing alcohol first. Then stain remover (Shout) and into the wash. It came out spotless! I cannot tell where it was at all. Fabulous!

    1. Hooray! I’m so glad it worked for you and made the highlighter disappear completely, Alba. I definitely know that sinking feeling when you find a highlighter leaked all over your bed! It’s awful.

  6. I was asleep when my blue highlighter lid was off and I was sleeping then when I wake up I see a blue stain on my shirt and my NEW Sheets thankful that came of !but I’m still sad because I can’t get it of my shirt:(. Thank you so much for helping me and something that was easy THanks Kenarry:);)!!

    1. Julyssa, we’re so thrilled it worked to get the blue highlighter off your sheets. Did you try the same method for your shirt? I would have thought it would have worked on that fabric too, unless your shirt is a different fabric? Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us to let us know our post was helpful to you!

  7. will this work on a sofa?? I can place the paper towel or white towel under the stain but it is not machine washable…….

    1. Hi Jane,
      That’s a great question. I’ve never tried this method on upholstery, but I think it could work especially if you can put a paper towel or white towel underneath to “catch” the highlighter liquid as it starts to come off the fabric. You may want to try putting a small drop of rubbing alcohol on a tiny unseen part of your upholstery first to test and make sure it doesn’t cause the dye in your upholstery to run.

      Also, I know you said the the sofa isn’t machine washable. But can you unzip the cover of that cushion to handwash it and hang it to dry? Or could you blot it with water after you get the stain out to rinse/remove the rubbing alcohol?

      If you decide to risk it and give this method a try on your sofa, can you do me a big favor and come back and let us know if/how it worked for you? I think that would be very helpful to other readers. Thanks!

      Best wishes,
      Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

    2. Jane,

      I know this comes to you six months too late but if you use a wet vacuum to suck the alcohol or water from the couch it gives the same effect as putting something underneath. The process just takes a little longer is all. I hope this is helpful for future accidents.

  8. I was working on a paper for an education class and didn’t realize I layed the highlighter back down before recapping it. I had a new comforter set on my bed and it was a gift, so I was so upset at myself! THANK YOU SOO MUCH! This took a few minutes to get out, but it worked perfectly! I couldn’t believe how well it worked, actually. Thanks again for posting this!
    -Larissa Johnson
    -Richmond, VA

    1. Hi Larissa, thank you so much for taking the time to circle back and let us know how well this solution worked to help you remove highlighter from your comforter. We’re thrilled it did the trick and make your comforter like new again.

      Best wishes,
      Carrie from Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

  9. I did not know that a highlighter went into the washer. I ended up drying the cloths with the stains. Would this work if already dried through the dryer.

    1. Oh Paula… I’m so sorry to hear you accidentally washed your clothes with a highlighter and then ran them through the dryer too. You’ve asked an excellent question and unfortunately I do not know the answer. Typically once a stain of any kind goes through the dryer it’s usually set and becomes nearly impossible to remove. However, there’s certainly no harm in trying! Give this method a try on your clothes and see if by chance it works. You may need to let the rubbing alcohol soak on the stains for longer and repeat the process a few times, but it’s definitely worth a try before you throw the clothes away. Please come back and let us know if it works for you!

      Best wishes,
      Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

  10. We just purchased our new RV.. Class A with an overhead bunk. Since it’s just my husband and I on this last trip, we put the bunk down and set our “stuff” on it. One of the items set on it was my husbands work bag that contains laptop, paperwork, pens and highlighters. You all know what happened next…… we woke up the next morning to leave for work, he picked up his bag and there it was. Bright Green and larger than my hand. We didn’t have time or even know how to clean this so we set a good amount of paper towel on it and set a couple cans of soup on top of that for weight.
    I did my research and came across this post. So on my way home, I picked up some rubbing alcohol and because it was soaked into the bunk mattress pad, I stopped at home and grabbed the spot cleaner machine.
    At first we dabbed at it with alcohol to see how it was going to react and then we started to dump good amounts of rubbing alcohol on it and then quickly suck it up with spot cleaner. Once we could no longer see the highlighter stain, we repeated this method but with water instead of alcohol. Rinse and repeat!!
    This morning, I looked at the spot and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you the stain was even there to begin with.
    Thank you everyone for your help with this one…. my husband and I appreciate all the information.

    1. Wow, Tania! What a mess. I’m so glad to hear this method worked for you to remove the highlighter spot from the mattress. Amazing! Thanks for coming back to let us know!

      Best wishes,
      Carrie from Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

  11. It’s 1:00 a.m. as I write this, and was in a pretty intense studying session, wearing my favorite pullover hoodie. It’s a greyish cream color on the sleeves with little grey specks as a texture pattern. I’m in my zone going crazy with the colored highlighters until I hear the sound of it dragging across the sleeve of my hoodie when I was switching them (uncapped of course). Neon yellow on the inner and outer rim and a spot of it on the white cotton hoodie string too! I was terrified, but luckily they came out really quickly with a quick soak in a 50-50 warm water and rubbing alcohol solution (I was worried it would bleach my sleeve if undiluted). It didn’t take long at all for them to fade back to their pristine condition, and now I have them soaking in a detergent rinse for the next half-hour to get rid of the alcohol smell.

    You saved my favorite hoodie! Many thanks.

    1. Isabella,
      I’m so glad this method did the trick and fixed your favorite hoodie right up for you! Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know. That alcohol smell ought to wash right out the next time you launder your hoodie. Good luck with your class test, paper or whatever had you up late this weekend studying!

      Best wishes,
      Carrie from Ideas for the Home by Kenarry®

      P.S. If next time you’re up late and you accidentally write on that hoodie with a pen, you know hairspray will take that ink right out too? Have a great week!


  13. I put my grey hoodie in my backpack to take to school but when I took it out there was yellow highlighter on it. I was horrified. This tip worked for the most part, but there are still very light yellow spots on it that I just could not get out. This helped loads, thanks!

    1. Oh Ella! I’m so sorry to hear about your grey hoodie. Glad, though that this tip mostly worked for you. If you haven’t put the hoodie in the dryer yet, you could try dosing it with rubbing alcohol again and let it sit on the stain for an hour or two, see if that helps!
      Best wishes,

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