Want to clean marking pen off plastic? We tested various household products on plastic plant tags to see which ones would remove both markings and stains created by Sharpies and more.
If you are looking for markers that last outdoors on plant tags without fading, be sure to get oil-based marking pens, not water-based.
Get Rid of Marker on Plastic
While there is not one product that works for removing marker from any and all plastics, there are a few household items that can work in many circumstances.
Your options for removing marking pen from plastic like plant tags depends both on the type of marking pen and the type of plastic.
Marking pens fall into two basic groups: water-based and oil-based.
If you do not know which type of marker was used, the Summary lists products that (in most instances) should work for both types of pens.
If not, scroll down to Marking Pens Removal Tests for a list of every household product I tested and how they performed to see other possibilities.
Keep in mind that any of these suggestions could alter the plastic, creating buff marks, or alter some colors of plastic, so use everything at your own risk. This likely won’t matter for plant tags but you might not like it for a plastic binder or toy doll and other items I did not test.
The nice part is, once you find what works, you can get a lot of life out of the same plastics instead of tossing them and contributing to the plastic waste problem.
In general, on a variety different plastic plant tags:
- Methyl hydrate and WD-40 each separately worked to remove water-based markers.
- Mineral spirits and WD-40 each separately worked to remove oil-based markers.
- Adding an abrasive item like baking soda can also speed things up.
Two Types of Marker
Water-based markers are generally not truly “permanent” despite the label on the package and instead will fade in the sun and harsh weather conditions.
It gets confusing because brands like Sharpie sell water-based markers labelled as “permanent” but they also sell oil-based markers which really are permanent unless intentionally removed.
For future reference, if you want a truly permanent marker, be sure it is oil-based.
Example of water-based marker
- Sharpie Permanent Markers are a popular brand. They are labelled as “permanent” but do fade on plant tags outdoors over time. They are useful for temporary or indoor tags.
Oil-based markers are a top pick for things like writing on plastic plant tags kept in the garden because they do not fade in the sun or wear down in harsh weather like snow, sleet, or rain.
Example of oil-based marker
- Jiffy Artline 400 Paint Markers and other oil-based paint pens/markers are becoming popular with gardeners because they do not fade from sun or exposure to harsh weather conditions. If you want something that lasts for years, go with any known brand of oil-based marker.
Marking Pen Removal Tests
When I did these tests, I used several different brands of markers (both water-based and oil-based) and an assortment of plastic plants tags created days, months, and years ago, so it was a good sampling.
Sometimes a solution would work great on one specific combination but not others.
Since originally publishing this article, Empress of Dirt readers have reported success with some of the items listed like Magic Erase sponges that gave me inconsistent results at best.
But, since only your results matter, it’s worth testing different products what you have on hand just in case. Before starting, read product labels and warnings.
Here’s what I tried:
- Rubbing alcohol (70%)
- Nail polish remover with acetone
- Baking soda
- Glycolic acid (7%)
- Hand sanitizer
- Household vinegar (5%)
- Methyl hydrate (99.9%) – (also known as Methonal – see Wikipedia)
- Mineral spirits
- Paint thinner
- Varsol (contains mineral spirits)
- Toothpaste with fluoride mixed with baking soda
- Magic eraser 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.
Removing Water-Based Marking Pen
First, for regular Sharpie “permanent” markers or any similar water-based marker, two products worked consistently. I applied them separately, not together. Sometimes one worked completely, other times I needed the other product to complete the job.
Methyl hydrate and WD-40 (or CRC) 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.
Runner Up: The only other thing I tried that worked (somewhat) was a combination of fluoride toothpaste and baking soda—together. When I rubbed those on with a brush, I was able to remove about 80% of the marker but there was still some staining.
- Dry eraser applied to the marker followed by microfiber cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not.
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)
Removing Oil-Based Marking Pen
Next, I tested oil-based paint markers including Jiffy Artline 400 Paint Markers using each item listed above.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although water-based Sharpie markers are sold as “permament,” it is possible to remove both water-based and oil-based Sharpies from some plastic surfaces like plant tags. Along with WD-40 (or CRC), you might have success with a combination of toothpaste or rubbing alcohol and baking soda.
Two products most likely to remove water-based Sharpie marker are WD-40 (or CRC) and methyl hydrate. If the Sharpie pen is oil-based, mineral spirits can also work. There are also other household products that can work depending on the type of marker, the type of plastic, and how long the marker has been there.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛