Water-soluble fabric marker: are you making this mistake when you use it?

Water-soluble fabric marker: are you making this mistake when you use it?

I think the issue of transferring patterns and designs to fabric is one of the most important ones that have to be addressed time after time, no matter how seasoned the stitcher is. Because a successful/not so successful/disastrous transferring will inevitably influence the final result of your embroidery. And none of us wants our efforts to go to waste, right? So, today I'd like to speak about one of the most popular choices for transferring embroidery designs to the fabric: water-soluble markers.

These pens have appeared on the market a long time ago and have since earned love of many stitchers and hate of many other stitchers. I belong to the first group, but I also understand the frustration that the second group has gone through – because I, myself, had sad experiences with washable markers. But now I know that the problem was not in the marker itself, but in my wrong way of using it! In this post I'm going to share my mistake, tell you how I came to realize it and how to fix it.

What is a water-soluble fabric marker?

Water soluble fabric marker is a tool designed specifically for marking the fabric – be it lines for quilting projects, clothes patterns or some intricate embroidery designs. The markers, which look like a regular pen on the outside, use a non permanent ink, normally of a blue color, which can be removed with water when needed. Some markers have two sides: one creates a thicker line, the other one creates a finer one.

THE PROS: Because the inks are not permanent, it gives you more freedom in embroidery. You can slightly change the lines, shapes, and make any other tweaks in your embroidery. You also don't need to fear if your stitching didn't cover the marker lines completely, because they will wash away anyway. Which is not the case with the permanent inks.

THE CONS: These markers can be used on medium or light colored fabrics, but not on the darker ones. Also, you have to wash your embroidery to remove the inks, which is not recommended for the wool and silk embroidery and can be dangerous when using hand-dyed fabrics and thread. Also, if not washed properly, the inks may come back.

How to wash away the marker correctly?

Now, this one is a VERY important thing! So, please, pay attention.

The inks will NOT wash away completely if you:

  • just rub it with a wet cotton swab or even with a wet cloth,
  • put it under running tap water for a bit,
  • apply water only on a part of the pattern/fabric,
  • spray it with water from a bottle.

In all of the cases above the inks will most likely REAPPEAR and maybe even in a new place. And it will ruin your mood and will serve as a huge frustration, because the embroidery you've been working on so hard has just been spoiled to the bits.

Sad, isn't it?

I've had this problem. I know how it feels. But the problem can be fixed. First of all, by washing your embroidery the correct way from the very start. Secondly, even if you already made a mistake and the inks have reappeared, you can still remove them by washing it again – the correct way. I'm not promising some miracles – I'm only telling about what has worked for me.

So, what is the CORRECT way of washing away the marker?

Take a clean bowl and fill it with a room-tempreture water (I actually like my water to be not very cold, just on the border to lukewarm, because I can't stand cold water). Add a modest portion of a mild soap or dishwashing liquid. Put the whole of your embroidered piece in the bowl and let it soak for a while. Be generous with the time – let it soak well. Rinse it gently, so that the soap gets into the fabric. Then dump out the soapy water from the bowl and run the cold water from the tap. Rinse your fabric gently under the running water until you are sure that there are no traces of soap left.

That's it. Now you can leave your embroidery to air dry. In the post on how to wash embroidery I already described the process in more details (including the test on the dye bleeding, which is also important to do).

So the two main ingredients for washing away the marker inks are: soaking the whole of the piece and a mild detergent.

It's not surprising that many of us make mistakes here, because the brands don't provide profound instructions on how to remove the inks of their wash-away pens the right way. At least I didn't find anything.

The positive thing is that if the first attempt of washing the marker away failed, you can try again.


Now, when the general questions are answered, let's take a look at the DOs and DON'Ts regarding the washable fabric pens.

1. Consider the choice of fabric and thread before using a water-soluble marker! It is not recommended to wash wool embroidery, silk embroidery and also you should be cautious of washing dyed fabric or thread. If you are using any of that, think of an alternative way to transfer embroidery designs, for example, iron-on pencils.

2. When buying a new marker search for the one that makes a crisp thin line. Also, it is better to stick to well-known brands.

3. With every new marker run a test: draw something on a small piece of waste fabric and then wash it as described above. There can be defective markers, after all. 

4. Don't iron your embroidery before you wash away the inks and let the piece air dry.

Personal insight

As to my own experience, I can tell a couple stories.

One time after I finished embroidering one of the pieces I washed it well and the marker's line disappeared. Everything was fine, but I decided to add beads to that piece, and to have a better idea of where to place them, I put tiny dots with the marker. After the thing was done, I rubbed the dots with a cotton swab. After all, they were just tiny dots?? But no, the inks reappeared after the fabric dried out.

There was also another piece, which I was reluctant to wash because I used hand-dyed ribbons there. So I decided to wet it with a spray bottle. As you may guess, this didn't wet the whole of the fabric, but only the embroidered part and even this part wasn't wet completely. As a result, the inks reappeared the next day – in the corner of my embroidery. Right on the place where the “wet part” bordered on the “dry part” the day before. It looked very ugly. Still reluctant to wash it, I sprayed water over it again and again. But the inks kept coming back. I didn't give up though, I kept persisting and spraying until the whole fabric was dripping wet – the same way as if you would soak it in a bowl. Only after that have the inks disappeared for good. To cut it short, I could've just soaked it from the very beginning. There wasn't any problem with the dyed ribbons either. 

There were a couple more failures I went through, but all of them are tied with the fact: whenever I washed my embroidery the correct way, by soaking it completely and applying some kind of a mild detergent, the inks were removed perfectly. Whenever I did any of the mistakes and “Don'ts” listed above, problems happened.

What about you? Do you use washable fabric pens? Have you experienced any problems connected with it?  


  1. Thank you for imparting the details regarding your experiences with water soluble markers! It is especially appreciated because, as you mentioned, most manufacturers don't provide sufficient directions and also because the user feedback/tutorials on blogs on this topic are scant, and despite being an important topic, it most craft bloggers have neglected it (probably because it is rather daunting!!)! So thanks!

    I just hope your method works with my pen (Clover Water Erasable Marker (Fine) #515) because the directions specify NOT to use ANY "detergent, bleach or solvent. Use water or Clover Eraser Pen."

    Any suggestions? Should I go ahead and use a mild hand laundering detergent like Soak?

    1. Yeah, a mild one for hands should be okay I think. But it is always better to test it on a spare piece of fabric first!

    2. I also came here to say that some pens will become permanent if you iron them! Wash, THEN iron for safety.

    3. Good news/bad news: I have been using Janlynn #997-1803 transfer marker for embroidery projects this past, super craft busy covid year with NO residual markings. It TOTALLY washes away in cool water, even when just dabbed on.
      The bad news is I didn't see it in their current catalog.
      If we all ask them for it, maybe we can get them to bring it back!

  2. Thanks so much for the valuable insights! Especially since there is so little info on removing water soluble ink online, and, as you mentioned, the directions manufacturers provide with their products are too brief and vague!

    1. I relate. If there are any directions at all, it's already a win! 😄 Happy you found it helpful :)

    2. I was SO happy to get your advice which WORKED when I used a lovely, sharp pen that I found at a second hand store with no directions that would NOT come out! You saved me from having to do my who project again. Thanks SO much!

  3. I just replaced my water soluble blue fabric marker last week with one purchased at a local craft store. I was almost finished sewing a dress for my granddaughter and wanted to take out the gathering threads, as well as the blue marks I make on the fabric as a sewing guide. There is one area on the back of the dress where the bodice attaches to the skirt (under left armhole) that did not come out when I splashed water on it. I think this is a "new" brand that the craft store is carrying. I'm wondering if this particular area of fabric was the first place I used this marker. I am soaking the troubled spot as I type this and praying it erases completely!
    -Frustrated :(

    1. Oh, I'm sorry this happened to you :(

      Sprikning and soaking in water just one spot might not be enough, unfortunetaly, as the inks tend to travel to the border of the soaked spot and stay there. You might have to soak the whole piece (dress, in this case) to get rid of the inks.

  4. I am giving a gift to a neighbor - a table cloth that people sign and then having someone embroider it. What brand of pen will work best? Clover Water Erasable Marker?

    1. I live in Russia and get my pen from local stores, I'm afraid I can't help with any particular brand for you! Wish you success with the gift!

    2. Question to Lori Perrault: Did Amina's washing method work with the Clover Water Erasable Marker?

  5. I have a quilt that has pen bleed. The quult has already been put together and quilted. Some water was accidently spilt on one block and it has made such a mess of a small part of the block. Only one block though. Help 😥😥😥😥

    1. Hi! Don't be sad please. As I understood, a water was spilt accidentally and then you didn't do anything else after that? Well then, you need to soak the whole thing in cold water.

      It happened to me as well, when I didn't soak the whole thing in water, the ink would still stay and form a blop somewhere. You need to soak the WHOLE thing.

      Hope this helps :)

  6. Just followed these tips on my embroidery and it worked perfectly! Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this post. I didn't understand how the blue would "move" after I misted it. Now I am soaking the whole project for a bit. Where does it disappear to now that the whole project is wet? Ha ha. Mystery.

  8. I did what you said but once dried the markings are back! :( any ideas of what I can do?

    1. Hi, Lauren! When I had the same problem (of inks reappearing) I soaked my embroidery fully in the water again. For one project, it took me several times of soaking it until the inks were completely washed away. Hope this helps :)

  9. I did what you said but once dried the markings are back! :( any ideas of what I can do?

  10. I did what you said but once dried the markings are back! :( any ideas of what I can do?

  11. The current project I am working on is linen overlayered with tulle and I draw on the linen with a blue water soluble pen before adding the tulle on top. When I soak the embroidered fabric, the blue comes off of the linen and leaves a yellow ring around the edges of the tulle. I am in the third soak now and the yellow is fading a little everytime. Anyone else ever run into this kind of problem?

  12. Thank you for the tips! Would this method cause staining of the blue ink to white embroidery threads once put in the water? Or is that not an issue?

  13. I used Mark-b-Gone with blue ink. It usually washes off perfectly from my crossstitch with mild detergent and water. This time I used Oxyclean and detergent and it left yellow-greenish marks where the blue used to be. Is there any way to get this off?

    I'm currently smoking it on water with mild detergent and its (barely) getting better.

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