How to Fix Dried Out Markers Like Sharpies

Fix a dried out Sharpie or other permanent marker by adding alcohol to the ink strip.
Fix a dried out Sharpie or other permanent marker by adding alcohol to the ink strip. (photo: RRRST)

Permanent markers like Sharpies are great pens, but they quickly dry out if they are left uncapped or used a lot. You can recharge a dried out water-based marker by dipping the pen in water, but it won’t work with permanent ink. Fortunately, you can fix dried out markers using a simple life hack based on chemistry.

Permanent Marker Rescue Materials

All you need is a dried out marker and some rubbing alcohol:

  • Dried out permanent markers (like Sharpies)
  • Rubbing alcohol (denatured alcohol)

The reason you need rubbing alcohol is because permanent ink contains organic solvents. The solvent has a high vapor pressure, which is why it’s so easy to smell permanent markers and why they dry out faster than water-based markers. Choose rubbing alcohol that is 91%, 95%, or 99%. Alcohol that is 75% or lower concentration won’t work well because it contains too much water. It doesn’t matter whether the rubbing alcohol is based on isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, or a mixture of the two alcohols. If you don’t have alcohol, you can use acetone or xylene, but both chemicals are smelly and it’s not healthy to breathe their vapors.

Method 1: Emergency Dried Out Marker Fix

If you just need a quick fix to finish a project using a permanent marker, all you need to do is dampen the tip of the pen with alcohol. An easy way to do this is to pour a bit of rubbing alcohol into a small container and soak the pen tip in the liquid. Wipe the tip of the marker before you write with it or else the ink could be runny or look pale.

Method 2: Fix a Dried Out Marker for Good

If you have more time, it’s easy to restore a permanent marker so that it’s basically as good as new. To do this, you have to extract the ink pad from the pen and recharge it with alcohol.

  1. Hold the pen with one hand and use the other to pull it open. You may want to use a pair of pliers to get a good grip. Once you open the marker, you’ll see a long section containing the ink pad and pen and a shorter back section that contains the ink.
  2. Set the back part of the marker aside for now. Hold the longer part down, like you would if you were going to write with it.
  3. Drip alcohol (or another organic solvent) onto the top of the ink pad. This is the same piece as the pen, but the opposite side from the writing part. Continue to add liquid until the ink pad looks saturated.
  4. Put the marker back together again and cap the pen. Allow a few minutes for the solvent to work its way to the pen nib before using the marker. You can shake it if you like, but it won’t really make a difference.

The marker will be good as new. Just remember to put the cap back on when it’s not in use so you don’t have to fix it again!

Removing Permanent Marker Ink

There’s a good chance you got some ink on your hands if you weren’t careful. You can use rubbing alcohol to remove permanent marker ink stains. In a pinch, you can also use acetone, but it can damage some surfaces and synthetic fabrics. Dry erase markers also remove ink, since they contain solvents meant to dissolve it.