How to Remove Sharpie from Plastic

How Do You Remove Sharpie Marker From Plastic?

The easiest way to remove sharpie from plastic is with rubbing alcohol. This turns the dried marker ink on the surface of the plastic back into liquid ink. We can now remove it with cotton wool balls, soft cloths, or Q tips.

In this guide, I will explain exactly why it works, how to do this method, and expose some urban myths about using substances such as WD 40, 3 in 1 oil, toothpaste, etc.

1. To Cleanly Erase A Sharpie First Understand How it Makes a Permanent Mark

To remove a sharpie marker, you first need to understand how a sharpie works when marking plastics, including folders, phone cases, and toys.

Sharpies are primarily alcohol-based markers which are sometimes mixed with ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and Perchrome ink.

When a Sharpie marker is used to mark a plastic surface, the alcohol evaporates over time and the ink dries to leave a permanent mark.

You may have noticed that with Sharpie and other alcohol-based permanent markers, it may still be possible to smudge it while the ink is still wet as the alcohol dries out.

2. How to Remove a Sharpie Marker From Plastic

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

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To remove Sharpie marker from plastic surfaces, we need to turn the dried marker back into liquid ink. We can now wipe the ink off its surface.

The best way to achieve this is with Isopropyl alcohol, which is also known as rubbing alcohol.

I promised a step-by-step tutorial, so here goes:

  • Pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol into a dish or bowl
  • Dip a cotton wool ball into the alcohol
  • Rub the cotton wool ball over the dried sharpie in a circular motion to turn it back into a liquid.
  • Repeat as necessary with fresh cotton wool balls until the surface is clean.
  • Finally, give the plastic surface a wipe-over with a damp cloth and some soapy water.
  • This also works on getting ink stains out of clothes.

If you don’t have access to rubbing alcohol, then try nail polish remover, but be careful as it is more aggressive and may damage the surface.

3. 10 Household Substances That Won’t Remove Sharpie From Plastic

There are 10 household substances that are often cited as being an effective way to remove Sharpie from plastic.

Unfortunately, these are urban myths and the following are not very effective in removing or erasing sharpie marks from plastic.

  1. 3 in 1 oil,
  2. Baking Soda
  3. Goo Gone
  4. Lemon Juice
  5. Overwrite with another marker
  6. Soapy Water
  7. Sunscreen 
  8. Toothpaste
  9. Vinegar
  10. WD 40

I know that there are websites on the first page of Google demonstrating these substances being used to remove a permanent marker.

However, there are a couple of things to remember.

They are not using a Sharpie marker, and not all markers are of the same quality.

The marker ink is still very wet, therefore a lot easier to remove.

No one is showing it on an aged Sharpie mark and you have to ask yourself why?

If you are reading this you probably already know the answer. Once a Sharpie or other good quality marker has dried out and baked onto the surface of the plastic, it can be extremely hard to remove.

Even with rubbing alcohol, which is the most effective way and a lot of elbows grease, sometimes it is nearly impossible to completely remove it.

Rubbing alcohol is chemically changing the dried marker ink back into its original wet form, where it can be effectively manipulated with cotton wool or cloth.

Whereas all the other methods are trying to get the ink wet enough to rub off the surface of the plastic.

It is worth bearing in mind that:

Sharpie classifies a permanent marker as one that uses dyes or pigments, adheres to most surfaces, and/or is water-resistant.

4. How to Revive a Dried Sharpie

It is also possible to rehydrate a dried Sharpie and get a little extra life out of it with a little rubbing alcohol top-up.

Check out our guide How to revive a Sharpie for more information. This also helps to explain why rubbing alcohol works better at erasing dried sharpie markers compared to using a household substance.

5. Summary

Sharpie Permanent markers are great for marking our personal stuff to keep wandering hands off them. But there comes a time when you realize that writing little Johnny’s name on the back of his Portable Nintendo DS was maybe not such a good idea now you want to trade it in for the latest must-have toy a Nintendo 3DS.

You have whipped out the good old soapy water and that stubborn sharpie is remaining put. So what do you do now? Don’t worry by following this guide and using rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover you will be able to easily remove sharpie from plastic.

There are lots of people that will claim they can magically remove sharpie and other permanent markers with anything from toothpaste to WD 40 and even commercial products such as Goo Gone. 

All of which are great at what they do but not so good at removing marks from plastic made by a sharpie permanent marker.

Interestingly enough, Sharpies are not truly permanent and will fade over time.

If you have used this method yourself to remove Sharpie or any other permanent marker from a plastic surface. We love to hear how you got on leave a comment below.


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Using Rubbing Alcohol Safely

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Peter Warrior: Pen & Pencil Expert

With nearly a decade of experience in the pen industry, I successfully ran an online pen business for 9 years. My deep-rooted passion for pens and pencils led me to become a part-time blogger, where I've dedicated myself to sharing the wealth of knowledge I've amassed over the years. I'm a firm believer in the power of the written word, as echoed by Malcolm Forbes: "Putting pen to paper lights more fire than matches ever will." My expertise is not just rooted in business, but in the genuine appreciation and understanding of the art of writing instruments.

2 thoughts on “How to Remove Sharpie from Plastic”

  1. Your statement “Rubbing alcohol is chemically changing the dried marker ink back into its original wet form…” is factually incorrect. Rubbing alcohol simply dissolves the dried marker ink. Dissolution is not a chemical change. It is a physical change. Chemical and physical changes are VERY different processes.

    – Jas Geferson, Bioorganic Chemist

  2. I tried to remove some small blue Sharpie marks from the front panel of a Netgear Orbi router (which is white matte finish plastic. Using 70% rubbing alcohol on a Mr Clean style ceramic pad helped lighten the marks. However, using 91% rubbing alcohol on the same type of pad got rid of the marks completely.


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