Asbestos Fire Doors

Although Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 it’s still important to understand the different types and where it can potentially be found and one product is the asbestos fire door.

Asbestos fire doors were especially popular during the 1960s and 1970s and if your house or premises was built before 1990 then there is a chance it could have asbestos fire doors. Below, I give you everything you need to know about asbestos fire doors and how to identify them.

Understanding Asbestos Fire Doors

Asbestos fire doors were not made entirely of asbestos. Instead, asbestos was used as insulation inside the door and it was typically sealed between the front and rear door panels which were usually made of wood or steel. Asbestos fire doors were common in the following areas:

  • The stairwells and access of residential buildings.
  • Commercial buildings.
  • Industrial buildings.
  • Power substations.
  • Switch-rooms.

Internal doors were usually made from wood with compressed asbestos inside, while external doors favoured steel panels and compressed asbestos.

Why Was Asbestos Used in Fire Doors?

Asbestos had excellent insulating properties which made it a great material for the inside of doors. The primary reason it was used in fire doors, however, was its fire-retardant qualities. It essentially made fire doors more effective and resistant to fire outbreaks. The fact that the fibres could be compressed and turned into sheets of insulation was also incredibly practical for use inside doors.

These doors were primarily used as a type of fire protection barrier with the idea that you escape via the fire door and close it behind you. The resistant properties of the asbestos inside the door would then act as a barrier and prevent the fire from spreading further. They do not provide a permanent fire barrier, but instead usually protect for around 30 minutes which gives ample time for a safe evacuation of the premises.

What Do Asbestos Fire Doors Look Like?

The problem with asbestos fire doors is that the asbestos is on the inside so from the outside it will look like a standard fire door. The only way to reliably tell is to access the inside of the door by removing the front, rear, or side panel which is not something you should do.

If the interion of the fire door is exposed, you should notice a white fibrous material – not the typical compressed wooden fibres that you would expect. The material may be crumbly and will have a white or greyish colour.

inside of an asbestos fire doorasbestos containing fire door in situfire door which could be asbestos containingtop of an AC fire doorPeeled back door from asbestosinside lock mechanism of asbestos fire door

If you find an exposed fire door with visible asbestos fibres you must take precautions and cordon off the area. If inhaled, the fibres can cause a myriad of health issues including mesothelioma and asbestosis. The HSE has guidelines on removing an asbestos fire door[1], but really this should be left to a qualified removal company. 

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Are Asbestos Fire Doors Still Common in the UK?

Asbestos fire doors were widely used as they were incredibly effective and the availability of asbestos meant they were cheaper to install. It is possible that your property could contain an asbestos fire door and you should base this off the following age periods of the premises: 

  • Built before 1970: A high chance of asbestos fire doors.
  • Built between 1970-1980: A smaller chance of asbestos fire doors.
  • Built after 1990: No chance of asbestos fire doors.

Typically, asbestos fire doors were most popular between the 1960s and 1970s and started to see a decline from the 1980s onwards until alternatives were introduced in the 1990s and when asbestos was banned.

How Dangerous Are Asbestos Fire Doors

Asbestos fire doors are classed as friable (the asbestos can easier crumble and thus there is a greater risk of releasing asbestos fibres into the air). As a result, they pose a relatively serious health risk if the wooden or metal panels are damaged and the asbestos insulation is exposed.

Asbestos fire doors tend to contain both Chrysotile & Amosite asbestos. However it can differ.

Because the doors are classed as friable, they can only be removed by a licensed asbestos contractor and you should never attempt to remove one yourself. It is classed as licensable work with asbestos[2] and it may also be necessary to hire an independent asbestos analyst to monitor the air conditions on the premises.


[1] – HSE – Removing a Door With Asbestos Insulating Board

[2] – HSE – Licensable Work With Asbestos

The content on this page/article was last updated on the 6th December 2023 by our team and was reviewed and fact checked by William Wright, DipNEBOSH on the 6th December 2023.

William is a qualified health & safety consultant who holds NEBOSH & IOSH certifications.