how to remove black scuff marks from shoes

My Take On Removing Black Scuff Marks

It is a very common issue in floor care… how to remove black scuff marks from shoes on finished floors. Lets face it, you see them on almost every finished floor. Nothing is more frustrating than to take the time to get a floor looking great with high shine and then walk in only to see back scuff marks everywhere.

Over the years, I have asked everyone from floor care experts with decades of experience to the chemists that create floor finish for the manufacturers, why these black marks are such a problem, but have gotten mixed answers.

In this post, I have taken all of those opinions and combined them with my experience to provide you with a quick explanation of what causes black scuff marks and how to remove them.

What Causes Black Scuff Marks?

Typically black scuff marks on a floor come from shoe sole rubber or rubber wheels . When the create friction with the floor, some of the rubber melts and is left on the floor. This is why even a highly polished floor will attract scuff marks. In fact, the extremely smooth surface of a glossy floor, is designed to provide maximum traction to prevent slip and falls, this friction ends up causing shoes to grab the surface of the floor and leave some of the shoe sole behind.

Because of this, you may have also noticed that scuff marks are easier to remove from a highly polished floor. It is kind of like peeling paint from a smooth surface rather than a textured one. The smoother the surface, the easier it is to peal. The residue from the shoe sole kind of works the same way on the floor.

Automatic Scrubbers and Black Scuff Marks

Automatic floor scrubbers are an absolutely invaluable resource when it comes to cleaning floors. They not only make the work much easier but also do a much better job removing dirt. That being said, it would seem that the scrubbing action and cleaning chemicals would be effective for removing scuff marks. Unfortunately though, this is not usually the case.

Often the agitation of the pad or brush and floor cleaning chemicals are not effective for removing black scuff marks. This is because the scuff marks, being residue from plastic soles, are not affected by the wet, plastic floor pads used for cleaning.

Automatic floor scrubbers are generally for removing organic and loose soils. Dirt that has been tracked in or surface film from other types of contaminates respond to the scrubbing action and/or react to the pH of the cleaner.

Remember, scuff marks are made up of melted rubber or plastic. Essentially, they are a solid substance that has melted and bonded to the floor. Because it is friction that left the mark on the floor, it will take friction to remove it.

When an automatic floor scrubber passes over these marks, the water that it applies to the floor reduces heat and friction. So the compounds from the shoe sole are not affected by the agitation of the brush or pad. Basically it passes right over them.

The  best manual method I have used is a slightly damp microfiber flat mop or magic sponge pad. Just simply wipe across the scuff and they disappear. This can be time consuming though. Whenever possible, use mechanized equipment to speed up the process.

Chemically Removing Scuff Marks

So if scrubbing the floor doesn’t work, why won’t the floor cleaning chemicals work? Well the short answer is some do. When you use a neutral floor cleaner, these chemicals are designed to loosen organic soils, not petroleum based soils. They virtually have no affect on plastic of rubber. This is why we use them. They don’t harm the floor finish, a.k.a. plastic coating.

Many cases the pH of a ‘heavy duty’ floor cleaner will be higher than neutral or ‘8.’ You will typically find them in the range of a 9 pH. This added alkalinity works well to remove oily films and will also some what work to dissolve the shoe sole residue, but there is a downside to using them as a regular cleaner.

They also soften the floor finish. Because floor stripper is also on the alkaline side of the pH scale, anything above a pH of 8, is breaking down the floor finish.
So if you use these ‘heavy duty’ floor cleaner very often, you will quickly see the finish begin to grab and hold dirt. This will shorten the re-coat cycle.

So How Do You Remove Black Marks?

The best way I have found to remove these scuff marks is with a high speed burnisher. Because the machine creates heat from the dryer conditions and higher speed, the black marks simply are rubbed away. There are even burnishing pads specifically designed for this, but I have found that as long as the floor has been cleaned ahead of time, a natural fiber pad works pretty well.

It is important to note that you should always dust mop the floor after burnishing, especially if you have a lot of black scuff marks. The fine, dry debris that is left after burnishing can not only damage the floor, but is breathable!

The reality of controlling scuff marks is to have a good floor maintenance program that focuses on keeping the floor clean. And one that is followed up with a regular burnishing program that not only keeps the floor shiny, but smooth to make scuff marks easy to remove.

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20 replies
  1. Larry Fagan
    Larry Fagan says:

    Great summary bald guy! I think you hit a nail on the head with the high speed machine with the pads designed for removing marks.your bald and I’m old! So I would like to share a view from an old guy to a bald guy, with love! Understanding the consept of the friction causing the rubber to burn off of the shoe and a to the floor I have always found the if you used a high quality low VOC,U.L. Approved dust mop dressing used EXACTLY according to directions actually is very helpfull in allowing the heat and friction to dissipate through the dust mop treatment thus allowing the marks to appear less frequently and the marks that do appear remove very easily. Usually with a neutral PH cleaner applied a bit heavier allowed to sit just for moments and with a tightly wrung out mop a gentle rub with the mop head and the marks jump off of the floor.

  2. Shaun P
    Shaun P says:

    I simply walk around with a Tennis Ball on the end of an old broom stick and rub the black marks off. Works like a charm except on the high heel marks that get embedded right into the floor finish.

    • Ryan F
      Ryan F says:

      Shaun, I use the same technique. For the tougher marks I have a spray bottle with the chemical you use in your scrubber. Spray it on let it set for a few seconds, and it should come off.. Only downfall is now you have chemical on your tennis ball, and you may have to replace it sooner.

  3. jkm
    jkm says:

    We recently moved 2 heavy commercial refrigerators over our PVC decking and it made horrible black marks from the wheels. We have tried the white sponge, baking soda and toothpaste and it is not budging. I cant imagine that a tennis ball would work. I am fearful of trying any strong chemicals, WD 40 or goo gone. I don’t want to ruin the finish or damage it any more than it already is. Any suggestions?

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Hi Sebastian. Thanks for the question. Rubber floors are a little different, but since it has finish on it, it should be easier to clean than if it were just bare. The process is the same as with other finished floors. Scrub the floor and then burnish. If you are still having issues, there may not be enough finish on the floor. A synthetic rubber floor is very porous, more so than a vinyl floor. They take more finish. I usually use a floor sealer that is specifically designed for rubber floors. The sealer will fill in the pores of the floor faster and be more durable.
      Hope this helps. Let me know how it turns out!

  4. Mick Northrop
    Mick Northrop says:

    I have a white floor that always looks terrible and is full of scuff marks from the Q-Ball floor protectors on the bottom of our chairs. I’ve tried everything to clean the marks off but it seems like I usually end up removing the wax in the process. I am tempted to try our high speed burnisher like suggested to see if that helps. Does anybody else have suggestions? Does anyone else have problems with black marks from Q-Balls?

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Mick, thanks for your comment. The chair protectors are great as long as they are clean. When they get dirty though, they actually work against you. I have found that they can get dirty very quickly. Many people use carpeted chair protectors. We all know that carpet will hold a lot of dirt. That dirt gets ground into the floor finish. Best option is to keep the chair protectors clean and replace them every few years.

  5. Drew
    Drew says:

    Hello all, I am a maintenance director for an elementary school. I have been using chair leg glides which are called “chair slippers”. They are basically tennis balls with a slit cut in them, you simply squeeze it in order to open it and slip it over the foot of the chair or desk leg. Even though they tend to collect hair and dust over time I am a believer in them. I have implemented a monthly chair slipper cleaning program in order to keep them clean. I have yet to have any issues with them leaving marks on our waxed floors.

  6. troy
    troy says:

    Hi, i am trying to clean a white resin floor with the black fleck in it that they sprinkle over,
    it is in a gym and has years of shoe scuff marks in the one area, i have tried numerous cleaning products machines, tennis balls etc but it won’t budge. as it is a rough surface it is hard to buff it as well. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • BaldGuyClean
      BaldGuyClean says:

      Hi Troy. Thank you for your question. I can sympathize with your situation. My suggestion would be to apply a neutral cleaner and let it soak for 5-10 minutes. Then re-scrub the floor. This will give the solution more time to work. If that still does not break down the soils, step up to a more aggressive cleaner. Maybe more of an industrial degreaser. Just be careful to not use anything too aggressive that may damage the coating itself. Try a small area, that is out of the way first as a test. Good luck! Keep me posted on your progress.

        • BaldGuyClean
          BaldGuyClean says:

          Hi Charlotte. Thank you for your question. Water is typically the most common neutral cleaner. (In most cases, it is really all you need). But in the case of floor cleaners, neutral is the term used for any cleaner that has a pH of about 7. This can vary some, depending on the cleaner. Most neutral cleaners are going to be between 7-8, making them slightly alkaline. This makes them better cleaners, but not strong enough to damage floor sealers, flooring surfaces or most importantly, you. Here is an example of a branded neutral floor cleaner.


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