A Parent’s Guide On How To Get Permanent Marker Off Wood

It happens. You make a mistake, your kid gets ahold of a marker, your teen is careless. Whatever the reason, it happens to all of us. Permanent marker gets on wood and you need to know how to get a permanent marker off the wood.

Luckily, there are multiple substances and techniques that work wonders. Some work better than others, but some are also more dangerous than others. Read through each of them before making your decision. 

Types Of “Wood” 

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There are many types of wood furniture and hardwood floors. However, when it comes to mahogany, maple, etc, it all works the same when removing a permanent marker from it. What we’re talking about here is different. 

The only difference in types of wood as far as oak, birch, etc. goes, is that the harder the wood, the less absorbent it will be. Soft woods will absorb stains faster and deeper. However, this is only true for unfinished wood. More on that later. 

Real Wood Vs. Laminated Wood

This one is confusing for some people, and that’s understandable. Some countertops, cabinets, floors, and even furniture aren’t real wood, even if they look like it. Laminate, or laminated wood in some cases, is easier to deal with.

While finished wood has a stain on it, laminated wood has a layer of material that is separate from the wood. So when a permanent marker gets on it, you can usually remove it fairly easily without damaging it. 

Sometimes, laminated wood wipes off like a dry-erase board. If you have real wood instead of laminated wood then you have a bigger problem. But before you start removing the marker, you need to know if you have finished or unfinished wood.

Finished Vs. Unfinished Wood

Finished wood will be varnished, lacquered, and waxed. It is well protected and won’t absorb anything that is applied to it. This is great because the permanent marker won’t actually get to the wood itself.

However, it also means that when removing the marker, you have to be careful not to remove the finish. Try mild substances before stronger ones to prevent removing finishes. When it comes to unfinished wood, the rules change.

When wood isn’t finished, it absorbs whatever it touches. If it gets wet, it gets soaked. If it gets marked, the marker will bleed and seep. This means that it is harder to remove the marker, but not impossible.

You can be a little more intense with unfinished wood, but you also need to be careful not to damage the integrity of the wood. The same goes for painted vs. unpainted wood. Painted wood has protection but the paint can also be wiped away when cleaning. 

How To Get Permanent Marker Off Wood With Toothpaste

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There are many ways to remove permanent marker from wood. However, toothpaste has been proven to be the most effective and safest way to do so. If it works for your problem, then count yourself lucky!

Toothpaste is probably the safest way to get permanent marker off of wood. The texture helps to buff the wood and gently scrape the permanent marker. While the ingredients help lift the stains away.

This works especially well with toothpaste that contains baking soda. In fact, you can use pure baking soda and a little water, and have the same effects. Remember to avoid toothpaste with harsh crystals. 

Here is the best way to remove permanent marker from wood with toothpaste (or baking soda). 

Apply The Toothpaste

The first thing you want to do is apply toothpaste to the stain. Apply a generous amount as you can always remove more if there is too much. Let it soak for a moment while you move onto the next step.

Get A Damp Washcloth

You want to get a rag wet, but not sopping wet. It should be well-saturated, but ring it out so that it is damp and doesn’t drip on the floor. The water temperature doesn’t matter, so get whatever is comfortable for you. 

Rub Toothpaste In

Take the rag and rub the toothpaste in circular motions. Small, circular motions so as not to disturb the grain of the wood. Be as gentle as possible while still applying a bit of pressure. Do this until the stain starts to disappear. 

If you notice the wood becoming disturbed, immediately remove the toothpaste and dry the wood. Be gentle avoid any further damage. 

Get A Clean Cloth And Wash

After the stain appears to be gone, or if you have rubbed for more than five minutes, get another damp cloth. This time, wipe the toothpaste away in the direction of the grain of the wood. Remove all of the toothpaste. 

Feel free to get another clean cloth halfway through if you feel that the one you are using is getting too dirty. 

Dry And Repeat If Necessary

Get a third rag and dry the wood. Start by softly buffing the wood in a circular motion and end with wiping it back and forth, following the grain. If the stain is better but not gone, repeat the above steps again. 

Substances To Remove Permanent Marker From Wood

Toothpaste is a great way to remove permanent marker from wood. But it’s not always strong enough to do the job. These substances should do the trick. If they all fail, you can consult a professional or buy a strong wood cleaner. 

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is something that most homes have. That’s why it’s such a handy thing to use to remove permanent marker. It’s one of the stronger substances but if used correctly, it should be safe to use on wood. 

If you want to test it out more safely, you can dilute it with water before trying it at 100% strength. 


Hairspray is another great way to get rid of permanent marker stains on wood. Some hairsprays don’t work as well as others. Check the ingredients in the hairspray before using it. If alcohol is listed, then it should work well.

Fingernail Polish Remover

Acetone-based nail polish remover is a homemaker’s magic potion. It can remove just about anything from just about any surface. It is quite strong, however, so use it sparingly and only on wood surfaces that you feel comfortable using it on. 

Hand Sanitizer

As you may know, hand sanitizer has alcohol in it. It’s also in a gel form which is easier to use than liquid. So if you’re lucky enough to have some of this lying around, try using it like you do toothpaste.

Magic Eraser

This may be a parent favorite because of how easy it is to do. All you need to do is wet the magic eraser and wipe the marker away. It may take a tiny bit of elbow grease but it’s more effective than most other methods. Not to mention, it’s completely safe!

Dry-Erase Marker

Only use this method on finished surfaces and only if you’ve done it before. Or at least test it out. What you do is draw over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker. Then immediately erase it with a dry-erase eraser.

This works perfectly for some surfaces, but not all. The dry-erase marker lifts up the permanent marker stain while the eraser lifts up the dry-erase marker stain. Needless to say, this is a bold but effective method.

Warnings And Tips

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As with every home care technique, there are words to heed before starting to remove permanent marker from wood. Make sure you read through these tips before pouring nail polish remover all over your favorite rocker.


Sandpaper is a great way to help the substance along. Use it both before and after applying a substance to the wood. Just be careful as it can also remove paint and other finishes. The smaller the grain, the safer it is.

No Scrubbing

As tempting as it is to use a scrub brush, resist the urge. Scrubbing hard can remove stains and damage wood surfaces. If you want to scrub, scrub gently with a microfiber cloth or very soft, clean sponge. 


If you do use alcohol or scrub too hard and remove some of your stain or paint, don’t worry. You can always refinish the spot yourself. Use sandpaper to smooth the area and find out which paint or finish was originally used on the wood.

You can always consult a professional and they can let you know what color to buy. 


For best results, and to ease your mind, test each method out on a non-exposed area. This can be the backside of a cabinet, the bottom of a rocking chair, or the corner of hardwood flooring. Just make sure your method doesn’t damage your wood.

Gel Toothpaste

If you use the toothpaste method, make sure that the toothpaste you use is classic white toothpaste. Gel toothpaste won’t work well and can actually damage the wood. Soft, white toothpaste (not whitening toothpaste) is your best bet.

Don’t Forget The Skin

Chances are, permanent marker got on the floor because someone had an accident with the markers. While many of these substances may work on skin, they’re not all safe for skin, especially the skin of a toddler.

However, there is one tried and true method that is safe and genius. To remove permanent marker from skin safely, use makeup remover as instructed. Check the warnings on the bottle first and then get to work. 

Moms swear that it removes over 90% of the stains in minutes. Who knows, maybe it’s the new way to remove permanent marker from wood too!