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 — Oh good, I can get rid of it . . . We have plenty of dolls, and this one’s already had a few years of use — 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 even 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

    • Elaine Haemker says

      I scour the second hand shops in our area. Often I find benzoyl peroxide there for a quarter. Yep, just 25 cents. Twice the package was unopened. I use this method to refurbish used dolls.

      • Hi Elaine
        I saw your post about refurbishing dolls. May I be so bold to ask you what you do it for? The reason I ask is because I have come up with an idea to do that here in Zimbabwe for the orphanages. I would love to make contact with you to find out any tips and tricks you can share with me.
        many thanks

  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. 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.

    • I feel she made it pretty clear in the post that it was because it was made in China that she objected to it, not because it didn’t cost much. “It’s not really the kind of thing I would buy for her (a cheap product made in China” and ” 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.” There was no need to go on attack like that. She never said she was ungrateful for the gift. Only that she didn’t like to have things made in China. This is an ethical choice. Woukld you buy a leather wallet for a vegan? I know several people who don’t buy things made in China. You are the rude person!

    • How dare you talk to someone like that!? You are a very rude person.

    • Too rude 😣

  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!!!

    • Well, Lena, actually she was pretty clear the doll was cheap junk, that she would have preferred to throw away. It was a gift, as she said, she would never buy some so cheap, made in Walmart and made in China. It’s quite easy to make the short hop to she wished her daughter had not received the junky doll. You say the comments concerning the dresser were unnecessary, so was the background story on this incredibly hideous doll her daughter received, that she somehow felt guilt over a lady in China slaving over. I think the blogger was trying to be funny, and isn’t. I gladly would have saved several minutes of reading about her disgust over the doll and just get to the point. Good tip, terrible story teller.

    • Ms Manners says

      When reading this super helpful post, all I could imagine is if I were the person who thought of her child and purchased a gift just to have the blogger post so many negative comments. We would not have a good relationship after that. I imagine she would have respected her daughter getting an expensive American Girl doll that cost ten times as much. However, let me assure you that AG dolls are also MADE IN CHINA.

      • I do regret talking about the doll that way. It was unkind and ungrateful. But it’s not the cost of the doll that I primarily take issue with, but rather the working conditions of the factories in which such dolls are made and the amount of waste they create. I haven’t researched American Girl dolls so I don’t know if they’re any better. I personally bought my daughter a doll handmade in Canada with natural, locally-sourced materials. It was expensive, but I would rather she had one good doll I could feel good about than twenty cheap ones that would eventually end up in the landfill.

        • Thank you so much for the tip and please don’t mind the rude comments! We all received things we hated and wished we could throw away and felt guilty about it. So what if you didn’t like the doll? It doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human. They need to take a chill pill. Also, there’s no way you can please everyone, that’s just the way people are, they will judge you no matter what. Like in that story with the donkey. :)

        • Ah Kathleen, the comments remind me of the aesops fable about the donkey and the men. No matter what you say someone will take offense. Too bad and you are right it is better to buy the local made dolls than the ones that can have harmful chemicals from you know where. Pay no heed to the hacklers they have nothing better to do.

    • All I know, is if I were the person that bought the doll in the first place, and came across her post? I would fing the statement very rude and never talk to her again. Any statement past, It is a doll my daughter loves and the cure for the problem, is unwarranted, reguardless, of honoring the poor factory worker, which is really just patting herself on the back.

  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 !?

    • When you say that she has bleach, do you mean it has taken off the paint and is now the color of the original vinyl? The peroxide works like bleach in that it bleaches off the ink or whatever stain the doll has. You may have to somehow get it repainted.

  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!

  23. Mother Wolf says

    Thank you so much! My 3 year old is fascinated with my tattoos and wants to put some on EVERYONE, including my step-daughter’s doll which their mother had received from her mother when she was only 3. Needless to say, it is one of their favorite heirlooms and they were devastated to see the pen all over Timothy.Now, in the past I had my own baby doll, Cinderella (one of those glow-worm dolls from the days of old lol) and I got ink on her face and nothing worked. None of us knew about this treatment so they tried everything from laundry soap and nail polish remover to bleach and rubbing alcohol. It’s no wonder people get so upset when their pen explodes or leaks in their pocket!

  24. Sophia and Stephanie sure are judgmental. Perhaps they have no sense if humor. Probably in need of a good dicking

  25. I can not WAIT to try this! I bought some dolls in bulk at a flea market and one has ink all over her face. Yay for bargain saves!

  26. Sarah Hendricks says

    My adult daughter and I are refacing Barbies, Monster High, etc. dolls. I found a particularly lovely doll with ink on her face. I ran out and purchased a tube of acne cream with benzyl peroxide, put it on her face, let it sit, washed it off and NOTHING HAPPENED. I was kind of disappointed, so I went back to this site and read the instructions again. The magic is laying it out in the sun for a period of time. I put on more acne cream, laid her on a chair on my front deck in the sun and went shopping. I just got back home, washed the acne cream off, and VOILA! the ink stain is gone except for a tiny bit in the inner corner of the eyes, so she’s out front again and I fully expect to find an ink free doll when I go get her!

    • Hooray! Isn’t it so neat how the sun plays an essential role?

    • Marilyn Barnard says

      The sun does help; however, it will also sometimes fade the facial features, like blush. I prefer to just be patient and let it take the time it needs indoors. I’ve been working on a permanent red marker on a vintage Shirley Temple doll for about 8 months now. It is the most stubborn stain I’ve ever come across, but it is barely visable now. The acne cream WILL work, but sometimes it takes a very long time. I also removed blue ink from a doll that I scribbled on more than 50 years ago and you can’t even see a trace of it. That stain didn’t take long to remove. It is pretty amazing what the acne cream can do.

  27. You can also use hairspray on a cotton ball. Takes lots of hairspray and rubbing.

  28. Iris wallis says

    Can I thank the person that said use the acne cream. We could only get 5% acne cream but I put it on the doll and put it on the windowsill and the pen came off the doll within a few days.

  29. I love this! I recently found an American girl doll for &1 at a flea market but her condition somewhat reflected the price. She has pen, highlighter, permanent marker, and dry erase marker marks allll over her face and colored hair. I’m going to try this and I’m praying it will work, I’ve had some amazing moms give me tons of advice and this was the number 1 way to remove the marks! Wish I would have tried this before I did the alcohol since I completely took off her eyelids *yikes* pleasssee ignore the people who didn’t quite get what you were saying, not too sure as to how that could have happened but ehhh someone always gotta be upset… I totally understand what you meant and it’s true! Cheap toys are made that way, and they don’t last as long and properly made ones, and so on…

  30. If I tries this but being in England I have no sun which other way would I do it as ppl r saying u need the sun to help get stains out

  31. Linda Schneider says

    I just removed set in ink from my vinyl couch in seconds. I only had the acne cream with salycic acid and put a thin ribbon on the pen marks. They dissolved instantly. Alcohol did nothing for them. I used Clean & Clear acne spot treatment.

  32. has anyone tried this on colored material like my little ponies?

  33. I really enjoyed your very careful instructions Thank you— PS> I would not buy an expensive doll for a small child ,just because of what you said happened to your DD’s doll–Now I wish someone would tell –how to replace hair that a beginning”barber” pacticed on LOL

    • You can purchase new wigs on Etsy or Ebay, take off the old ones and use Tacky Glue to put on the new ones. Lots of You Tube videos to show you how.

  34. I’m 70, and my Posie doll is 65. 55+ years ago my own kid sister drew on her cheek with ball point. I’ve off and on for at least 50 years tried to remove it. Each time I failed, I’d put her back in her box, to try again later. She is in perfect condition except for the ink on her cheek.

    Just about a year ago I tried my go-to spot & adhesive remover Ronsonol (sold in an 8 oz. plastic bottle to refill old fashioned cigarette lighters) and nothing happened. So back in her box she went. About 3 months ago I took her out again – and miracle – no more ink on her cheek! It must have just taken time for the Ronsonol to work. It did not remove any coloring from her cheek either.

    My only child was a son, and he now has a 5 year old daughter. I had the best time making clothes and a doll bed for my Posie doll to be my grandaughter’s Christmas present!

    • Nice when you can give your old dolls to grandkids. My granddaughter never liked mine said they were creepy LOL

  35. Lisa Brown says

    Thank you so much for the advise!!! Santa just brought my 3 yr old a $100 babydoll in which she wrote on her face with a black pen. I used magic eraser, nail polish remover etc… but the acne tx cream worked great. Thanks for sharing!!!!!

  36. Chris Dent says

    This results of this tip were beyond my wildest expectations and I can’t thank you enough.
    I had tried everything I could pay my hands on – Eucalyptus oil, bleach, petrol, turpentine, citrus stain remover, nail polish remover, Gumption and maybe more – so when I read the post, I was sceptical, but there was nothing to lose as I had the right pimple cream in the bathroom. When it worked I was gobsmacked!!!! Thank you a million times.
    Chris (Australia)

  37. Tracy Nelson says

    I’ll be trying this one… I’ve been attempting refacing dolls, and a few from the second hand store are inked up… Never knew ink pen fangs and forehead tattoos were so popular!!!

  38. Thank you so much for this post. It worked like a charm and saved my daughter’s favorite dolly. I’m so grateful.

  39. Oh my goodness…I see I’m late to this party but boy I just tried this today and wow did it work great!! I gave my granddaughter a Bitty Baby doll and for some reason she can’t explain she gave her a dark purple marker line all the way down the right leg. I have tried about 10 things to get it off to no avail. I was searching for something else when I saw the words INK STAINS and clicked on it. I bought Benzoyl Peroxide today and gave it a try in 91 degree heat. It took 2 tries because I got anxious after about half an hour and brought the doll inside to see if it worked. It was light but not gone so I applied the stuff again and left her outside (I covered her face with a towel just in case) for 2 hours and you can NOT see a speck of the permanent marker at all…just like magic. I did read that you can put the doll in front of a sunny window and it works too. I am going to try it on other used toys now. Amazing

  40. Thank you for your advice. I will also be trying it on a doll I bought at a garage sale. I’d also like to offer you a friendly reminder. I work on a pediatric unit and have cared for many low income children. If your child recieves gifts that are undesirable, please consider donating them to hospital or homeless shelter. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

  41. hello I have a same problem. my daughters american girl is drawed by our guests kids.I bought this cream but didnt worked indoor as currently istanbul not sunny. so in door how long you wait to clean. thanks for your reply.

  42. Has anyone tried hairspray to remove these ink stains? I know it works on vinyl purses…

  43. Try tooth-paste. Much cheaper and not that harmfull.

  44. OMG! I was gong to trash this beautiful doll my Grand daughter had marked up (on the face) with ball point pen. Works like a miracle! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  45. MaryIsabel says

    Thanks for the solution for a problem that befalls most dolls. However, my biggest take-away is that children are not influenced by brand and price – or even country of origin. It did leave a little sour feeling in my gut. I think instead of trying to justify your comment, you should maybe just edit your post.

  46. Hayley c says

    Hi all
    Has anyone tried using the cream and then using a hair dryer instead of the sun?
    I live in the uk which as someone else mentioned is a muggy damp island x

  47. I live in north of France. Can the summer from a winter day be enough? Or shall I wait summer?
    Also it will be funny…I am using a sexual doll…but that’s for my clothing photos…I left too long a black dress on the doll and it is all black now.

  48. Just wanted to thank you Maam for posting this, You might not expect a guy to comment on here, but my beautiful baby sister passed away 3 years ago at the age of 28, and some of her childhood toys that were recently found and were given to me, including 3 of her Barbie dolls, Im restoring them to close as new condition as i can, buying accessories for the one known model (a 96 Olympic Gymnast Barbie) and outfits for the naked unknowns, to display them with some GI Joe toys of my big brother who we lost to childhood cancer in the 80s when i was little. As you might have guessed one of the Barbies is covered in pen marks on her right leg, Im an artist and obsess about detail so even if i got it an outfit that covered the leg it still annoyed me that the marks would still be there, so tried rubbing alcohol to no avail, i will definitely try this next, I live in the U.S. state of Georgia so we are in no shortage of sun here. Im sure my baby sister is laughing up in Heaven at her 40 yr old big brother totally lost but trying to fix her Barbies. Thanks so much again and God Bless.

  49. Thank you for sharing. I restore vintage Cabbage Patch dolls. This will come handy. I would have erased the other eyebrow. It will make look even.

  50. Aqua net Hair spray—extra-hold—in the purple can—works, when removing ink; too! Spray and blot with a clean cloth!

  51. How to Remove dark spot on face and neck ·
    Apply aloe vera juice or natural aloe vera gel directly to the dark spots for 30 minutes and hour and hour.

  52. It works! It works! It really works! I had washed and dried a tee shirt that I just bought about two weeks ago and had washed an ink pen in my wash. Damn I thought I just wasted $. thanks that I found this info
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  1. […] you read this correctly, zit cream.  Not just any zit cream though, it has to contain at least 10% benzoyl peroxide for it to be […]

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