How to Remove Ballpoint Ink from a Doll (Using a Surprising Secret Ingredient!)

How to Remove Ballpoint Ink Stains from a Doll (Using a Secret Ingredient!)

Lydia received this little doll as a gift for her first birthday. It’s not really the kind of thing I would buy for her (a cheap product made in China and sold for $10 at Wal-Mart), but she has been fairly fond of it ever since.*

After all these years, of course the inevitable happened one day: she took a ballpoint pen to it.

How to remove ink from a doll

How to remove ink from a doll (head)

How to remove ink from a doll (side)

How to remove ink from a doll (hand)

At first I was relieved — finally, I can toss this cheap piece of junk — but then I thought that probably wasn’t the most responsible approach. Some poor, underpaid woman in a Chinese sweatshop already made the doll — I ought to honour her work and take good care of it, even if they weren’t the ideal conditions in which the doll came to me. It was still in great shape other than the pen marks. I decided to hang onto it for a while longer. I decided I should probably do my best to restore it, in the hopes that it would get many more years of use.

I tried a few easy, popular methods to remove the ink stains (e.g. soaking cotton pads in rubbing alcohol and nail polish remover and leaving them against the stains overnight) but they didn’t do much of anything. (In fact, my “before” pictures above are taken after these attempts.) I waited several months before doing anything else. So those ink stains were good and set.

Then I happened to come across this post on Pinterest. (I honestly wasn’t even looking, it just showed up in my feed.) The author uses a very surprising secret ingredient to remove ink stains: acne cream! Benzoyl peroxide, to be exact. I remembered using that stuff as a teenager for my acne to no avail . . . but it sure did bleach the family towels!

I was intrigued. The next time I was at my parents’ house, I peeked in their medicine cabinet. (Kids have lifelong free access to their parents’ medicine cabinets, right?). Sure enough, there was still an unopened tube of benzoyl peroxide that had expired five years ago in there. Bingo. I asked my mom if I could take it home for an experiment.

benzoyl peroxide - the secret ingredient to removing ink stains from vinyl(“Clears blemishes” . . . LIES.)

benzoyl peroxide - the secret ingredient to remove ink from doll skin(Active ingredient: 10% benzoyl peroxide. Perfect. You can get this from a dollar store in the US)

Here’s what you do:

Generously apply 10% benzoyl peroxide cream to the ink marks.

How to remove ink from a doll with this secret ingredient

Then, you put the doll out in the sunshine for a few hours. This is key. Try to face the areas with the pen markings towards the sun.

I first tried this on a slightly overcast day near evening and it didn’t do much. I tried again on a really sunny day in the afternoon, and that’s when the magic happened.

So benzoyl peroxide + bright sunshine = the magic formula.

Then simply rinse off the cream with water.

Take a look at the results!

How to Remove Ink Stains from a DollHow to Remove Ink Stains from a Doll 4

How to Remove Ink Stains from a Doll 2

OHow to Remove Ink Stains from a Doll 5

The ink is totally gone! And I definitely didn’t touch up the photos because I have no idea how.

The only places where ink remains are deep in the crevices where either the cream or the sunshine didn’t reach. (Also on the eyes which are made of a hard plastic). If I’d really loved the doll and wanted it to be perfect, I could have done this treatment a second time, being sure to get these areas. But for a cheapo doll I didn’t really care for in the first place, I was satisfied.

Note: you may notice that the doll is now missing an eyebrow. This treatment also removes the doll’s original painted accents. So be careful with these. In our case, my daughter had scribbled right over the eyebrow so I didn’t have much choice.

There you have it! A simple, inexpensive way to get rid of ink marks on your doll. IF ONLY I had known about this when I was a little girl and my sister had scribbled all over my precious dolly!

Warning: please use caution using this method on a really special or expensive doll. You might want to test a small patch in a hidden area before slathering acne cream all over your precious vintage doll. I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same results I had, or that it won’t damage your doll in some way!

Thanks to Baby Toolkit for the idea!

*[Updated to add: a few readers have pointed out how ungrateful I sound for the gift, and I apologize. They’re right. My objection to the doll is not the price nor the idea our family is “too good” for it. My objection to cheaply-made products from Wal-Mart is that they are almost certainly made via slave labour to keep costs down. I generally try to seek out ethically-sourced gifts when I can, knowing that this means fewer — but better quality — toys in the home. I am also averse to clutter, so I am often overly-eager to get rid of excess toys. The first to go are always the cheap ones.]

doll FelixLydia taking care of “her Felix,” now restored.





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  1. Katarina says:

    I can’t even tell you how timely this post is! This weekend my 2 year old drew all over Baby Eli, his darling baby doll that we spent way too much money on while on vacation. Poor Baby Eli looks like he has been heavily tatooed and my elbow grease did nothing to take it away.

  2. Skha Ndlovu says:

    I spent hours to clean my granddaughter’s stained doll with bleach to no success. I had to Google this and came to this post. I’m now heading to the pharmacy to buy acne treatment to try it

  3. Thank you soo much! My daughter drew a “violin bow” that looks very much like a male member right on her 18″ doll’s forehead and I’ve tried everything to get it off. I’m off to cvs to use your trick this afternoon.

  4. Great information! I am going to try this out on a doll I recently rescued.

  5. Just little TLC goes a long way!

  6. Thank you!! This saved my girls favorite doll!! I was so sad it had to happen to the most expensive doll we own ( a crying/talking Corolle doll).

  7. Naseema says:

    Got a Barbie dat has blackened hair n face coz it apparently fell in2 black paint…gna try dis

  8. I have used this method on American Girl dolls with great success. Sometimes it takes more than one application. It will work indoors, without sunshine, but it takes longer. I worked on one doll for 4 days. PS: I laughed out loud at your caption: ‘Removes blemishes…LIES’ haha!

  9. Nice trick. Many pharma products have such chemical ingredients that can do cleaning jobs. I read somewhere that even plain white toothpaste can be used to lift certain stains, but never tried it myself.

  10. Thank you so very much for sharing this info. I am very grateful!!!

  11. I have used Vademecum mouthwash. It does not harm, but it smells much until it is washed away. I wash in clean water. I wonder if your treatment is better?

  12. Ali Browning says:

    you can draw a new eye brow carefully with a thin marker pen. I had to do that when I cleaned an old doll with acetone nail polish remover and took off her eye brow, got another old doll with pen on her I intend to use this trick with but this being the UK sun is scarce, its a warm, damp island at best.

  13. You are a complete ass. Self centered and rude. How dare you complain about a gift someone got for your child? You would never buy something so cheap, huh? But your nails are looking raggedy as hell and so is that cheap looking dresser, table or whatever that is in the background. I can’t stand ungrateful people like you. I hope your child is more appreciative of gifts than you are and not judge the quality of it behind people’s back.

    • Wow that was over the top. I understand that you didn’t like the comment about the cheap doll, but you didn’t need to be so rude & mean.

  14. I agree Sophia, how rude! I was ALWAYS taught that it’s the thought that counts, not the price!

    • thanks so much for the information, very helpful. too bad you made a comment on the price of a gift someone gave to your daughter, remember no one has the obligation of giving us anything. I think you must be grateful instead.

  15. Sophia and Stephanie, get over your judgemental selves. It’s one thing to have an opinion, it’s another to be insulting. What does the dresser have to do with the doll! ( I like the up cycled dresser.) And I think it is great that the doll got a new lease on life rather than buried in a land fill site. Bravo Kathleen! PS. at no time did Kathleen suggest that she was ungrateful for the gift. We all have our own tastes and preferences. And I am quite confident in thinking that the gift was graciously accepted. Remember the point here – how to rescue the doll!!!

  16. Thanks for the anti dote for ink on rubber. My mother was a doll collector and one of the dolls was rubber instead of the porcelain so I gave it to my grand daughter…big mistake!!! Purple ink all over her head and face. I wanted to cry BC my mom passed away 3 years ago and it was hers. So Ty again for the remedy.

  17. Going to try this! I’ll reply to my comment after the 3-4 days to let you all know if it worked–I’m just testing this on my doll’s hands for now (which also have some dye on them). My doll’s hands and face have dye on them–on the cheeks and nose and upper lips.

  18. OH! I wish I known this 30 years ago!

  19. Thanks for this advice it really does work . I bought my granddaughter an American girl bitty baby and she drew all over it , so I went on the net to see what I could use to remove the ink as I try all house hold cleaning products which didn’t touch it , benzoyl peroxide amazing results .

  20. hi my reborn toddler by Reva shick has bleach on her feet and hands i had her for about 5 months and i got her on ebay nothing seems to work what should i do !?

  21. nice, good idea, it´s help me a lot, thanks for share with us, I have same dolls that I have recover.

  22. I can’t thank you enough for this! I’m an avid barbie collector, and after I received a doll in the mail today, I noticed after taking her out of the package that she had black streaks of what looked like grease or ink on her legs. I was very upset after a couple of failed attempts with plain soap and water and rubbing alcohol did nothing. I even thought about taking the doll back to the store until I thought about googling ways to get ink and grease off dolls. Yours was the first article that popped up, and I figured since I have acne cream in my bathroom, I’d give it a try. Wow! I could not believe how that stuff worked! It’s amazing! I left a generous amount of cream on the spot for about 5 minutes or so, and as I rubbed it, the spot got smaller and lighter until it was completely gone! I was kinda afraid since the cream has benzoyl peroxide in it that it would bleach the dolls legs, but it didn’t harm it one bit! :-) I’m so pleased and especially grateful I found your article! Thank you SO much! This is awesome!

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