Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clear Unsightly Blemishes: the Case of the Ballpoint Baby Doll

Blogging makes me weirder. My friend told me her son drew all over her childhood baby doll with a pen, and my first response was to excitedly ask "Could I borrow the doll?" I did have a legitimate reason for asking- we're testing a permanent ink remover for review and I had not yet tried it on a doll.

So wee Elizabeth came to visit (I can't say young Elizabeth as she's almost as old as I am). The young artist in residence had tattooed her with a giveaway ballpoint pen. He didn't just doodle a image here or there, we're talking full-pathology facial tattoos including eyelids (seriously, back away slowly from anyone with these), skull tattoos, leg tattoos, and marks on the hands and soles of the feet resembling stigmata.

I figured the inexpensive ink didn't have a chance against my long list of cleaning ideas. My friend's husband had tried a magic eraser which yielded no results.

The permanent ink remover did absolutely nothing against the ink. Across a week, I tried almost everything in my normal stain-removal arsenal (I skipped a couple things that seemed potentially damaging to the plastic/vinyl):
  • baking soda paste
  • 409
  • rubbing alcohol
  • vegetable oil
  • Murphy's oil soap
  • Simple Green
  • dishsoap
  • GoJo handsoap with pumice
  • toothpaste
  • CarpetAid+
  • waterless hand cleaner (works well on grease stains)
  • non-acetone nail polish remover
  • adhesive remover
  • evaporated milk (works like a charm lifting recent ink stains out of fabrics)
The ink's dye soaked deeply into the plastic, staining it so that no amount of surface scrubbing would remove it. Prolonged scrubbing with simple green could lighten it about 50-60% but that did little to improve the doll's overall appearance.

I trolled the Internet for answers and came up with one so insane I would normally have passed it up. Next thing I knew I was buying 10% benzyl peroxide acne cream for a doll. A toy collectors' forum suggested that acne cream and sunlight could remove the ink stains without bleaching the doll's skintone or removing painted accents.

On an overcast afternoon, I smeared a tiny bit on a test patch and left Elizabeth on our dining room table for the last hour and a half of sunlight. Having been disappointed by every other test, I didn't expect much from this solution with or without sunlight. When I checked Elizabeth, the test spot was entirely free of ink stains. Her plastic seemed otherwise unaltered by the cream.

Elizabeth spent yesterday sunbathing in the dining room. The darkest stains took around 4 hours of bright sunlight to disappear. Many of the lighter stains were gone in 2 hours.

The top of her head was shadowed by her body, so I used a small regular mirror (don't use a magnifying one for this!) and bounced sunlight to the top of her head while the rest of her graffitied body got full sun. It worked on the same timeline as direct sun exposure. Later, I moved the mirror to give additional illumination to her curving hands. The reflected light could reach some frequently shadowed places.

Elizabeth sat down for a quick photo shoot this morning before returning home.

Moral of the story? Don't leave pens unattended around toddlers -or- be very cautious about wearing acne cream in direct sunlight.

***This is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit. We have no affiliations with acne cream manufacturers. We are not chemists, skin care experts, nor professional cleaners, so take everything we say here with a grain of salt. (c) Baby Toolkit, 2007- all rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

Why not just use Goo Gone?

adrienne said...

I forgot it on the list of products I tried, but Goo Gone did not work either.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if anyone's mentioned this, but benzoyl peroxide, like the other peroxides, is a strong oxidizer. The sunlight speeds up the action - you're basically bleaching the ink away.
It should work on fabric as well, provided it's already white, and the cream is washed out after the marks have disappeared.
Very clever, though.

Anonymous said...

Any idea if it would work on stamp ink? I have an original cabbage patch kid that in my young days thought she could use some tattoos and used a cabbage patch kid stamp and blue ink all over her head. My mom was so mad - i don't think I thought it was permanent until he yelled.

Anonymous said...

Last anonymous is right--as anyone who's ever used this kind of acne cream and then slept on a colored sheet can tell you. It removes blemishes from your face and creates them on the pillowcase.

jgodsey said...

that's amazing...i too am in the ink removal business (from paper, books etc) and found that amodex doesn't work as well as people think. it all depends on the surface being cleaned. (and goo gone isn't good for much beyond taking labels off plastic)

but this is such an amazing demo, i am spreading the word.


Anonymous said...

It use to drive my mom crazy when I was a kid. I used Benzoyl Peroxide-based acne medication before going to bed and it would bleach certain coloured pillow cases. Namely blue, green and purple. Didn't seem to affect other colours though...

megret7 said...

I have a special affinity for this post because that doll is identical to one of my favorites from childhood!! It's not my children who've added ink to some of my dolls, but rather my younger sister when we were kids. I'll have to keep this in mind. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Elizabeth enjoyed her day at the spa, and we can't wait for her return home. I'm sure my daughters baby dolls haven't seen the last of the ink monster!

Knowing my son, I'm sure I will have future challenges for you to solve and blog!

Thank you so much for saving my most childhood toy!

Superdumb Supervillain said...

really good to know... thanks, baby toolkit!

MissoulaChick said...

Not only do I remember how badly Benzoyl peroxide bleached my shirts, pillowcases, etc, but as a teen I distinctly remember getting some of the worst sunburns of my life when I was trying out a new acne cream that contained it.

I ended up preferring zits to those burns. That stuff is really potent.

deryke said...

HAIRSPRaY and WD40 work as well

adrienne said...

hairspray's active cleaner is alcohol- so rubbing alcohol should have the same or better results.

WD40 eats through the heat shrouds on engines, so I didn't want to see what it might do to a doll- plus it goofs with people's nervous systems, so I didn't want it (even as residue) around kids.

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

I loved reading this post - so entertaining! And it's a good tip to boot - I'll have to keep this one in mind. :D

Angie said...

How cool! I almost wish I had an ink-covered doll to try this on!

Happy Holidays!

Unknown said...

Ball point pen marks are best removed by alcohol gel hand sanitizers. The gel form keeps the alcohol in contact with the ink longer than liquid rubbing alcohol, so it works many times better. I've used benzoyl peroxide as well as other bleaching agents, but only for the final traces after alcohol gel.

Jenna said...

:) Thanks... this was amusing to read, and potentially practical, too!

The Jerc said...

Haha, this is fantastic.

Not sure if you or someone else has mentioned this...but would this potentially work on pen marks on jeans or something like that? or is it only baby doll skin? haha.

adrienne said...

the Jerc:
Try soaking the pen marker portions of the fabric in evaporated milk for a few hours. It lifts out the ink. I think it's the condensed fats that do it, so don't use the fat free variety.

(My dad's an old-school engineer who has a habit of carrying pens in his shirt pocket. When the pocket protector went out of style, he started having loads of pen mishaps. I've seen many an ink stain removed this way.)

p.s. Jim reports that whole milk (and presumably evaporated milk also) removes ink stains from the mouth and teeth. Just one such pen explosion can reform most pen chewers.

Anonymous said...

That is super cool!

anne at

Sandy said...

the Jerc: Don't use benzoyl peroxide on your jeans unless you want them bleached! I've found the best way to get ballpoint pen and Sharpie (yes, Sharpie!) marks out of clothing is hairspray. Spray it on, wait a few minutes for it to dissolve, and rinse out. I haven't tried the rubbing alcohol, but I imagine that would work just as well.

The only ink I haven't been able to remove with hairspray is dry-erase marker from fabric. Can anybody help with this? How can you get it out?

adrienne said...


Rubbing alcohol might be too strong a concentration for cotton demin fabric. The hairspray is more diluted, so I'd stick to that.

The Jerc said...

everyone is helpful on this blog, haha. such good advice - thanks all!

The Chatty Housewife said...

Hair spray works amazing on materials. I guess it's the alcohol? I just spray it on, let it sit a bit, scrub a little and rise it out.

I am so glad you figured out something that works for the ink on doll skin- amazing! I always thought it was a lost cause.

Anonymous said...

Could I use this on a darker-hued doll? I know (from sad, tragic personal experience) that spilling Clearasil onto new Jordache jeans ruins them (big bleachy stain--it was AWFUL)but would it lighten our doll as well?

Unknown said...

Regarding ballpen ink on fabric I have been successful for years in removing those stains - or accidents for Glycerin. You buy a tiny bottle in the pharmacy (overcounter) and use it for this purpose only - I keep it in same box as leather cleanser and leather nourisher. I have been successful in cleaning cashmere sweaters and jeans. Let the fabric at the stain soak the glycerin, rub with an old toothbrush and then wash in the washer or handwash the cashmere sweater or garment.
I wondered if glycerin would have worked on the doll as well - but I doubt...

adrienne said...

I was really worried that the cream would discolor the doll's skin tone- and it didn't.

With a darker doll- I would try an inconspicuous test patch (think tiny heart shape on the bottom) and leave it in direct sunlight for a full day (removing it immediately if you see signs of color loss).

If it doesn't fade, I'd try it on the ink. Always be careful to wash the cream off completely when finished.

Your glycerin trick sounds great! I'll try it next time we get ink on fabric.

Anonymous said...

i tried on the hairspray trick. but it won't work. how do i do it? do i just wait for it to remove the marks?

my soft leather bag's stained. :(

please help me :(

adrienne said...

hi anonymous-

I'm sorry about your handbag.

I know noting about leather care and cleaning.

For best results, please visit your local dry cleaning shop (one that does specialty cleaning of leather and suede) and see what the true professionals recommend. If you have the pen that left the marks take it along or tell them as much as you know. There's a big difference in ball point ink, gel ink, and permanent ink.

If they deem the bag a lost cause, then try a DIY solution as a last resort (as the experiment could ruin your bag entirely).

If it's a stray pen mark, I might just try leaving the bag bright sunshine for a few days to see if it fades.

If it's big mark- like an ink pen blow-up, then I would try the acne creme and sunlight (though it could leave greasy marks or bleach the leather's color).

Good luck! Please let us know how it turns out!

Anonymous said...

Hi My 2 year old daughter drew all over her Baby Annabel doll's head tried everything nothing worked seen your site and bought some 10%benzoyl peroxide acne cream from asda £2.29 and it worked, it's all gone. We would like to Thank you as the doll cost £35 and my daughter loves playing with her.
Thank you very much.

adrienne said...


I'm glad this trick worked for you too. We were so relieved when Elizabeth's (the vintage doll in our post) ink disappeared because we had tried over a dozen other techniques with no real success.

Alisa81617 said...

Can anyone tell me what is the best way to remove pen from a stuffed turtle? There is nothing on the tags to help with this.

Alisa81617 said...

Can anyone provide me with any ideas on what I can use to get pen off a stuffed turtle? The tags dont say anything at all.

Anonymous said...

Adrienne & anyone who might know?

Does Anyone know the product name of THAT baby doll?? --- I Have been searching everywhere to find it!

please contact me at

Anonymous said...

This really works! I tried it yesterday. I was skeptical after reading this blog, but I had tried everything to remove a ballpoint ink mark from the light gray vinyl interior of my Tacoma. The stray mark was left by a careless technician at the service center. I was fuming. I bought a tube of Clearasil at the grocery and took advantage of our sunny afternoon. I smeared some on the roughly 2-inch slash and waited. I checked after about 45 minutes and it was much lighter, so I applied again and let it sit about an hour. Joila! It was gone and I'm no longer stalking the dealership! (just kidding!) Lori in Cincinnati OH

adrienne said...

Yay, Lori!

I'm glad your seat is again blemish-free!

I understand your skepticism; I felt the same way when I first saw it, but I'd already tried oodles of wacky stuff (so what was one more failure?). This whole acne creme method just sounds like a old wive's tale.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what I would use to remove ink (from shopping bags) from the interior leather seats? Any ideas are greatly appreciated. B

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
joie513 said...


I searched high-and-low for a great off-white tote bag. I found one at Limited at 1/2 off the price. So, I was heartbroken when a lady at the bank accidentally put a pen line on the bag.

After reading the hints on this blog, I had a light-bulb moment!
I took my skin lightener (for age spots :( that is expensive) and lightly brushed it on the penline.
I put the bag out in the sun for a few hours.

Now it is GONE! Make sure, if you use this hint, that you wipe the lightener off with clear water on a cotton ball.


Terry said...

Hi Adrienne

I recently bought a new Jaguar XF motor car with light beige trim. Unfortunately my friend managed to mark the trim with a biro. The guy at the Jaguer dealer said it would come off with a damp cloth. It didn't. I found your blog. The acne cream solution worked like a dream. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, am so glad I decided to look on internet. My daughter has drawn all over baby annabels face and I couldn't remove it with anything. Can't wait to get to the shops tomorrow to buy some acne cream!! Thank you soooooo much Adrienne.

Anonymous said...


Ghod Dhammit said...

I found this page this morning, while trying to find a way to remove ballpoint ink from a photo ID badge. I tried glass cleaner, antiseptic wash, ammonia, dry paper towel, fingernail, basic black magic marker......and finally, a black Sharpie, followed by a white vinyl eraser.

If I'd been thinking, the Sharpie would've been one of the first things I tried. I was able to return the badge to the amazed employee nearly like new.

At some future date, I plan to also try using the Prismacolor clear blender marker...I'll bet it will leave less mess than the Sharpie.

Anonymous said...

It would appeal to know marks and the name to me of the photographed big doll. thanks
Excuse for my English, but I'm Italian! Hello. Donatella

Anonymous said...

The benzoyl peroxide and sunlight worked wonders! My niece accidentally wrote on her $60 baby doll. My sister would have gone crazy if she'd seen it! Mymom and I tried everything--bleach, 409, Comet, Nail Polish Remover, etc. Every house hold cleaner available. As a last resort, I put some face cream on it and set it outside for the morning. We came home, and the "birthmark" was gone! The only evidence that might show is the slight dulling of the skin, a result of all of the scrubbing and house hold cleaners we used. Good as New. Thank you!!

The Mom-tage said...

Man will I be putting this to the test today. My 6 year old (too old for this mess) named about 10 of her baby dolls and barbie dolls yesterday and wrote their names on their foreheads! I should be able to get this done today in time to investigate therapy for her!

The really sad thing is that her destiny will be a lifetime in bedroom since I told her she was only coming out for school until she gets the ink off of those dolls and I'm not about to turn her loose with peroxide! Now can you give me a suggestion for an alternative punishment?

I will be post soon on The Mom-tage with before and after pictures linked to you! Thanks so much! And, yay for having a new blog to read!

Dana at "The Mom-tage"

Anonymous said...

My daughter wanted a baby alive doll for Christmas, but the new model doesn't move its mouth, which is the main reason she wanted it. I spent days searching eBay and eventually found a used one in good condition. When it arrived I washed it and hid it away in a bag so she wouldn't find it. The only problem is when I took it out of the back its face was all stained- I guess the colour off the lining of the bag must have rubbed off on it. I am in the process of trying the acne cream now, but it's been on about 90 mins and so far no signs of fading, although her cheek looks slightly bleached. Is there anything else I can try?

adrienne said...

Anonymous- I'm so sorry to hear it's not pulling off the unwanted color.

I've never seen a Baby Alive doll, so I can't say if it looks like the same plastic in the dolls I have tried.

Any technique/compound may disrupt, distort, or destroy the plastic- so test in an inconspicuous area.

If it looks like it's on the surface of the doll (not bled in like the ink), light abrasion might do it (paste style toothpaste, baking soda with a bit of water, or magic eraser). These can scratch the surface of the doll, so work slowly applying very light pressure.

I'll often start with (and you probably already have tried) Clorox wipes.

Other options are alcohol-based (hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, hair spray).

There are also acetone (nail polish remover) and peroxide.

I've even read claims that mayonnaise can lift unwanted color from surfaces.

Good luck- and let me know if you hit upon an easily solution.

Supermom said...

Oh my goodness am I going out to buy acne cream tomorrow! I have spent the entire day trying everything to remove ballpoint pen from 3 dolls! Thanks for your blog, hopefully your discovery works for me too!

A3 said...

I owe you a huge plate of chocolate chip cookies.

When I was in 4th grade, my Mom FINALLY relented and bought me a Berjusa baby doll that I had been eyeing for a couple years. I remember it was really expensive, but I wanted it so bad.

I played with that doll for years and years. I took very good care of it. It is in awesome condition. It was one of the few childhood toys I kept in my hope chest after I left home and got married.

My 7 year old daughter and her friend found the doll in my hope chest in the spare bedroom. Her friend grabbed a blue ball point pen and scribbled on the doll's cheeks and hid it under the bed. I found it a few months later. I was absolutely heartbroken.

I have tried: nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, hairspray, goo gone, goof-off, all-purpose cleaner, magic eraser, wd 40, a few different "green" cleaners, the stuff the door-to-door salesman suckered me into buying a few years ago, baking soda & water - EVERYTHING.

AND NOTHING WORKED. i couldn't even lighten the stain. i was so mad! i put the doll in the top of my closet and forgot about it.

a few days ago i stumbled on your post after linking to it from pinterest. luckily - i already had some 10% bpo cream in my makeup bag, all i needed was a sunny day.

today was beautiful outside. my doll spent the afternoon sunning on my back deck. she was out there for about 4.5 hours.

i was almost nervous when i started to wipe off the bpo cream . . . . HOLY CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THE MARKS ARE GONE!

there is a TINY little dark smudge on either cheek, but you can't even tell. now i'm wising i had taken before/after pictures to show everyone!

i cannot explain to you how thrilled i am. i thought for sure it was a lost cause. thank you, thank you for posting this. and so long ago too!

thanks again!


Nic said...

When my 13-month baby drew all over the headrest in my Toyota Tacoma, I had no idea how to clean it up. I tried all the household cleaning supplies we had, including bleach-based bathroom cleaners. I also tried rubbing alcohol, but nothing worked. Then, I found this solution on your blog (and on Tip Junkie). I'm happy to say that it works on plastic headrests as well!

Treasures By Brenda said...

Great post, thank you for sharing your experience. I'll share a post to your blog on my Facebook group, Treasures By Brenda.

Lizzy Ford said...

So great to know! Thanks so much.
And, OH MY GOODNESS... I have this same exact baby doll! I love it so much! I probably have some ink marks on my baby (who is sadly nameless or I have forgotten its name)so I will have to try this out on it.

Jessica said...

That's great! I'll give it a try on my dolls sometime, and give them a good clean-up.

SingleMomDes said...

Would this fix work on a barbie doll without removing it's natural make-up? Also, would you have any ideas on how to take marker off a Barbie's hair? My daughter gave her dolls make-overs, I think she was trying to turn them into Monster High dolls.

adrienne said...

Hi SingleMomDes!

We didn't see any change in the painted colors when we did this, but I've never tried it on a Barbie.

I don't have anything good for removing marker from hair beyond using shampoo or dish soap.

SingleMomDes said...

Thank you, I'll give it a try, worse that can happen is that I'll have to toss the already pretty much destroyed doll lol. I'll let you know how it goes.

Katie B said...

I will have to try this. My daughter just did this to her doll a few days ago. We'll see how it goes.

Nettie said...

Hi, I am a HUGE doll lover/collector! Of course, my dolls are only displayed, never played with (I have three nieces). Well, I was changing the dolls' outfits one day and noticed a horrible purple stain creeping all over her little body! Like the others, I tried everything to no avail! I happened to stubble across this strange solution and decided to give it a try! It took about 3 applications and sunbathing sessions but she is back to her original, beautiful state! A word of advice...cover her hair with a towel as too much sun exposure can fry synthetic hair. Also, after you apply the cream, cover the area with clear plastic wrap. This way, the sun won't dry out the cream and the bleaching process works quicker and more effectively. Thanks for your solution and I hope the additional info is helpful!!! Rock on, doll lovers!!!

Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog on the internet. My wife and I have a flea market business. We sell toys, stuffed animals, figures, dolls etc. I have been scouring the internet trying to find a good safe way to remove ink pen marks and permanent marker from toys without ruining the toy. (especially Littlest Pet Shop - the real ones that are made of rubber, I think)
I was wondering if you know of a way to get the set in ink or permanent marker from the LPS toys.
Any information on this would be greatly appreciated.
thanks and God bless

adrienne said...

Tigger27: Have you tried the acne creme? I've used it with success on a crazy array of stuff. It even took maker stains out of the polyurethane coating on my wooden table. I'd try one of low value and see how it works. People have reported this to work well on the 80s M.U.S.C.L.E. toys which were rubber-like vinyl.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Adrienne, I have a tube of Clearasil with 10% benzoyl peroxide, I'm just waiting on a little sunshine to try it.

Anonymous said...

Trying this now after trying everything else today (wipes, hairspray, antibacterial hand lotion, napisan, sard, eucalyptus, Mr sheen...list goes on). I Only have 2.5% benzoyl, babys face only has a few marks so hoping it still works. Baby is on top of the fridge now with it on and I'll hang on line later if not working without sunlight. Hope this works!!!

Unknown said...

Do you know if they still sell dolls like this? I used to have 1 when I was younger and would love to get 1 for my baby

Unknown said...

Do you know if they still sell dolls like this? I used to have 1 when I was younger and would love to get 1 for my baby

Anonymous said...

Yes, just search ebay for Berengeur and Berjusa dolls. They range from about 20 to 75 dollars.

Anonymous said...

Just want to address the young lady that made a remark about WD-40, Do your home work, google that product and you will find out what you said about it eating into paint whatever is just not true.
There is a list on line of over forty ways this product can be used. In Alaska all the boats have a can of it to spray on the bait before put overboard to fish, really works. The University of Alaska did a very through research on the product before this was started so they knew for sure it wasn't doing any harm to the ecosystem.
It only has three products init and can be ingested by mouth with no harm, sprayed on your skin to help with arthritis.
It is scary when people are so misinformed and put out bad or totally not true information about a wonderful product.

adrienne said...

Dear anonymous,

If you've ever looked at a radiator shroud, they aren't painted- they're plastic. Lots of plastics can be destabilized by alcohols and other petrochemicals (because they're near cousins). I was worried about a long term baby doll melt rather than paint removal. Can you imagine your child's beloved toy's face melting off? Nightmare stuff. And this specific doll is an early 1970s vinyl- which makes it a real grab bag for quality and material composition.

As for safety, if you look at WD40's Material Safety Data Sheet (, they still do not recommend bare skin exposure or use in an unventilated space.

When you start the discussion about "the young lady" (me! also the blog writer) it seems to suggest my biology might diminish my ability to post about removing ink from a baby doll or discussing chemical compounds. This is a form of subtle insistence that diminishes women's voices, and I hope you won't do that. Whether you intend it or not, labeling looks like an attempt to invalidate someone.

But, anonymous reader, YOU ARE RIGHT- upon spending more time with MSDS, I did make the wrong call on nervous system impact. It's considered a low VOC product.

As it does bear inhalation and skin contact risks, I still don't want it lingering on my kids' toys- particularly not one they might sleep with.

Thanks for reading the post and so many of the comments. I do appreciate your defense of a product you like- and I have a can of it on my tool bench. It's great for a lot of things.

Ariel said...

Can you please tell me what this baby was called

Ruby said...

I had one just like this when I was little and my 3yr old completely covered it in ink "tattoos". Thanks for posting! Also, ours is named Elizabeth too!!! I thought I had named it that as a child but now I'm wondering is that the name that the doll came with or just a weird coincidence??