How to Remove Ballpoint Pen Ink from a Car's Headliner

by Laure Justice

It is usually possible to get ballpoint pen ink out of your car's headliner fabric, but if you do it incorrectly, you can end up with an even bigger permanent stain.


These directions are for removing ballpoint pen ink from a cloth headliner. For vinyl headliners with ink stains, use a commercial ink stain remover.

Ballpoint Pen Ink vs. Your Headliner

Ballpoint pen ink is a combination stain. The ink is made of an oily, or waxy, substance combined with a dye. That means to get rid of the stain, you have to remove the waxy part first, then treat the dye stain. To avoid causing more damage, you have to get through both steps without scrubbing in a side-to-side pattern or saturating the area.

With ballpoint pen ink on garments, you can just treat the waxy part with a solvent, then coat it with laundry detergent and toss it in the washer. You can't toss a headliner in the washer, though, so you have to address the dye part of the stain differently than you would to clean a garment.

Ballpoint Pen Ink Stain Removers

Before you get started on the actual stain removing steps, you'll need to select the cleaning products. You can use either rubbing alcohol or dry cleaning solvents, such as perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene, to remove the waxy portion of the stain.

To remove the dye portion of the stain, you will need a spray upholstery cleaner labeled for ink removal. Not all types of upholstery cleaner contain the chemicals needed to remove ink, so check the label to ensure that you have one that removes ink.


Know the type of ink you are removing before applying a cleaning solvent. Cleaning solvents that work on one type of ink, such as nail polish remover on permanent ink, will smear another type of ink and set the stain.

Removing the Ink


  • Test the cleaning solvent in an inconspicuous spot on the headliner to ensure it does not discolor your headliner before proceeding.
  • Be careful not to saturate the area around the stain, because the ink can spread in wet solvent.

Apply Solvent

Use a cotton swab or artist's paintbrush to apply the cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol directly to the ballpoint ink stain.

Work Solvent Into the Stain

Work the solvent gently into the ink stain using the cotton swab or the tip of an artist's paintbrush.

Blot Soiled Area

Press a clean white terry cloth against the stain to absorb the ink and solvent. This will occasionally remove all the ink, but typically, you have to keep working to get rid of the entire stain.

Reapply Solvent

Repeat the first steps two or three times until no more ink lifts out and absorbs into the clean cloth.

If you still see the ink stain, shake the upholstery cleaner and spray a thin line of cleaner directly on the stain. Use an old toothbrush to work the cleaner into the fibers of the headliner fabric, but avoid scrubbing in a way that makes the stain bigger. Apply more spray as needed, then allow the cleaner to dry and use a handheld vacuum to suck the residue out of the headliner fabric.

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