If you want to remove permanent marker from plastics including plant tags, I’ll show you which products work. It’s not only frugal to reuse plant tags, but helps prevent plastics from going to waste when they are still useful.
I’ve also done tests to find out which markers last outdoors on plant tags and there is a clear winner.
Remove Permanent Marker from Plastic
One of the things that drives me crazy about gardening and the world in general is plastic waste.
If you have ever seen footage of the The Great Pacific Garbage Patch or images of beaches covered in (mostly plastic) debris that has washed in with the waves, you know how heartbreaking it is.
And, while all plastics can be a problem, it’s single-use plastics—that’s anything we use one-time or for a brief time before discarding it— that really fuel the problem.
Plastics play a huge role in gardening, and have really helped revolutionize it, but the cost in waste—single-use, non-decomposing plastic waste—is something we’re going to have to deal with.
With this in mind, any time you can extend the usefulness of a plastic item, it’s a good thing. Finding alternate, sustainable materials will be a longer-term solution.
I realize this project is not going to unclog the oceans or turn our fate, but it is one example of making a small effort to turn what might be a single-use item into a long-lasting item.
- Methyl hydrate and WD-40 work to remove water-based markers on plastic.
- Mineral spirits and WD-40 work to remove oil-based markers on plastic.
- Sometimes an abrasive item like baking soda or an abrasive cloth can also help speed it up.
Two Types of Marker
Before you grab a product, keep in mind that there are two basic types of markers: oil-based and (what we’ll call) water-based. I tested a bunch of household products and the results depend entirely on the type of marker.
- Sharpie Permanent Markers are a popular brand of marker used by gardeners. They are labelled as ‘permanent’, but they do fade in the sun, and, thankfully, are not truly permanent on plastic.
- Jiffy Artline 400 Paint Markers and other oil-based paint pens/markers are becoming popular with gardeners because they do not fade or weather when used outside.
I did a test for six months and oil-based markers are the clear winners. See the plant tag marker test results here.
Sharpie also makes oil-based paint markers. I have not tried them but it’s fair to assume they too are permanent and do not fade like other paint markers. .
The ideal is to have a marker stay vibrant as long as the tag is in use, yet easy to remove when you want to reuse the tag.
If you don’t know what type of marker you are removing, see if you can conduct small tests to see what works from the products listed below.
Also, because so many people report different products that work, be frugal and start by testing products you have around the house. No sense in buying something if you don’t need to (frugal mom speaking).
The Marker Removal Test
Before testing, I read dozens of tips for removing permanent markers with all sorts of suggestions. Out of curiosity, I gathered as many items as I could and tried them on both water-based and oil-based permanent marker on plastic surfaces. The samples I tested had been on the plastic for anywhere from hours to years.
Here’s what I tried:
- Rubbing alcohol (70%)
- Nail polish remover with acetone
- Baking soda
- Glycolic acid (7%)
- White vinegar (5%)
- Methyl hydrate (99.9%) – (also known as Methonal – see Wikipedia)
- Mineral spirits
- Varsol (contains mineral spirits)
- Toothpaste with fluoride mixed with baking soda
- Magic erase cleaning sponge
- Dish soap
In the end, there were just a few things that worked really well.
Watch Marker Removal Video
I filmed this while I was testing a range of products. It shows which ones worked best.
For the sake of the video, I applied the products with cotton swabs, simply so you could better see what I was doing.
You could also wear gloves and use a cloth or sponge.
Either way, a small amount of the product is rubbed onto the tag and wiped off with a cloth.
1Removing Sharpie Marker from Plastic
First, for regular Sharpie permanent markers or any similar water-based marker, two products worked consistently.
Methyl hydrate, and WD-40 are both found at home improvement stores.
Methyl hydrate is excellent for degreasing surfaces and removing greasy residue. I use it to prepare metal plant tags before applying labels or marker.
I tested both products on a bunch of tags where the marker had been on there for hours, weeks, or years, and the results varied. But, a combination of these two products always worked.
Runner Up: The only other thing I tried that worked (somewhat) was a combination of fluoride toothpaste and baking soda. When I rubbed those on with a brush, I was able to remove about 80% of the marker.
Not tried but reported to work:
- Soaking in bleach overnight.
- Scrubbing with Vim and a scouring pad.
- Brillo pads and warm water.
- CRC (similar to WD40)
2Removing Oil-Based Paint Pen Markers from Plastic
Next, I tested oil-based paint markers including Jiffy Artline 400 Paint Markers.
Again, sometimes the marker came off right away, other times I had to alternate the products a couple of times until the tag looked new again.
Tips for Cleaning Plant Tags
If you have a lot of plant tags, it’s easier to dispense the product (methyl hydrate or mineral spirits) into a container, dip the plastic in, and then rub with a rag, sponge, or swab.
Have a separate bowl for the WD-40 in case it’s needed.
Once your tags are marker-free, wash them thoroughly in dish soap until any trace of the other products is gone.
This has more tips for DIY plant tags.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛