Stiffed by a Fabric Pen

You’ve seen the commercials – dipped the tie in the salad dressing… drizzled a bit of gravy on the front of a blouse – so you reach for one of the commercial fabric pens. Voila! Stain’s gone and you can present your best-dressed self again!

Whoa! While un-scientific, we decided to test some of these pens to see if the results as ‘good’ as advertized.  Initially, we worked with four pens:  Tide-to-Go, Chlorox’s Bleach pen, Rexall’s Shine ‘N Glo, and  Shopper’s Life brand.  Fabrics tested included  100% cotton, rayon, poly georgette, and various blends of wool, rayon, spandex, cotton and polyester.

At the outset, both the Tide-to-Go, Rexall’s Shine ‘N Glo, and  Shopper’s Life brand proved easy to open – essential if you are stressing about the stain, and put out lots of liquid – which is good since it means less scrubbing.

But it became clear within the hour of drying time after the pens were used, that users of these pens better have a good idea of the fabric content of what they are wearing.  Stain removal success was totally dependent on fabric, as well as on the weave (the tighter, the less stain penetration and easier to remove), the density of the weave, and the stain removal methods used, post initial treatment.

All fabrics had about 5 mL of canola oil poured onto the fabric – since oil is often the most difficult stain to remove.  In the initial treatment:  the stain remover pen was applied according to package directions. Initial observations were made. Fabric was allowed 1 hour to dry to determine if stain was still present. If stain could still be seen, then the sample was subjected to pre-wash stain treatments – namely Shout, Life, Oxy-Gel stick treatment and Spray & Wash, which are readily available in the prairie marketplace. If the pen removed the stain, further treatments were not applied to the fabric

The Process: Applied stain solution to stain, rubbed fabric and allowed approx 2-3 minutes before washing under lukewarm water for about 20-30 seconds.  Some drying time was allowed before making and recording observations.


Chlorox’s Bleach pen was easy to use, but should only be used with caution, since it ruined many of the experimental fabrics. While the stain was removed on wool, or 50/50 wool/rayon blend, most other fabrics showed distinct bleach stains, blotches of white where dye was removed from fabric, or fabric that was ruined entirely.  This pen should be used with caution.

Tide-to-Go, removed the stain on the 50% wool, 100% poly georgette, the 50/50 wool/rayon blend, cotton/silk as well as nylon/polyester blends.  All other fabrics, when treated with a wash pre-treatment, the stain disappeared.   Fabric colour loss was only apparent with cotton and/or cotton blends.

Rexall’s Shine ‘N Glo and Shopper’s Life brand, reacted in a fairly similar fashion.  Both removed the stain on 100% polyester, the wool/rayon, the nylon/polyester, and the cotton/silk blends.  What was interesting, was that applying a pre-wash treatment to many of the fabrics, caused dye to run, or the stain to set and could be seen as a faint outline.  In some cases the fabrics felt ‘stiff’ to the touch.


Simone Demers Collins is a professional home economist, living in Edmonton Alberta. She has her own consulting business which focuses on media, marketing, public relations & project management. Follow her daily at @learncanola.