Old-fashioned Ways to Remove Ink Stains

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Thursday, March 30, 1911: I saw a rainbow this evening. I am trying to prepare myself for my final examinations. It’s a most difficult task when you don’t feel like it. I just happened to get a spot of ink on the bureau spread. I soon fixed it though.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

In the old days the top of a bureau (tall chest that held clothes) was covered with a decorative embroidered or crocheted cloth.  I suppose that Grandma was using a fountain pen—ball point pens won’t be invented for another forty years or so–to write the diary entry and a little ink dripped on the bureau cloth.

It can be tricky to successfully remove ink stains. A book published in the early 1900s explained how to get them out:

To Remove Ink Stains

Whenever ink is spilled, salt should be thrown upon it at once and renewed frequently until as much of the ink has been absorbed as is possible. It is impossible to give an unfailing rule for the removal of ink stains for the reason that the solvent to be applied varies with the composition of the ink. The following processes have, however, been pursued with success. . .

With Common Household Materials. Soak in lemon juice and salt, vinegar and salt, or pieplant juice and salt. [an aside: Pieplant is an archaic term for rhubarb.] Rub for a time, apply more salt, rub again, so continuing until the ink disappears. These acids may any of them exert a harmful action and should, therefore, in all cases, be tried upon a small sample of the goods, before being applied to the whole article.. . .

To Remove Ink Stains from Colored Goods. If ink is spilled on colored goods, wash in milk (either sweet or sour) and salt. Rub for a time, apply more salt, allow to soak, then rub again; continue this process until the stain disappears.

To Remove Purple Ink. Absorb all possible with blotting paper or salt, while the ink is fresh. Afterwards apply alcohol and glycerine in equal parts, and rub and sponge the stained spot with this mixture until the ink disappears.

Juanita Shepperd in Laundry Work for Use in Homes and School (1909)


The school year was shorter a hundred years ago than it is now.  Back then the school year ended in early April because families needed their children at home on the farm to help with the spring planting.

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