Asbestos in Wallpaper

Asbestos was used in a huge range of products between the 1900s and 1990s including as an additive to vinyl wallpaper. It was added because of its durability and fire-resistance and if you have an older property it’s important to understand how to identify it and the potential dangers and this is what I take a look at below.

Understanding Asbestos Wallpaper

Asbestos was used as an “additive” in various products including textured coatings, Artex, and a plethora of other building materials. Between the 1930s and 1980s it was added to wallpaper.

This was almost exclusively thicker vinyl wallpaper that was mainly used in rooms that had a higher moisture content such as kitchens and bathrooms. This is because the vinyl coating added an element of water resistance while the asbestos made it durable, less prone to wear and tear, and fire-resistant. 

Why Was Asbestos Used in Wallpaper?

Asbestos was added into vinyl wallpaper for its toughness and fire resistance. It was especially durable and it could withstand higher temperatures which made it suitable for use in kitchens. At the time, asbestos was mined in large quantities and it was easy to add to other products and mould into different shapes which made it a cost-effective option.

What Does Asbestos Wallpaper Look Like?

Asbestos wallpaper is difficult to identify but it was almost exclusively used in vinyl wallpaper and is typically thicker than modern wallpaper. The backing will be a paper/fibrous material and you could notice some curling of the wallpaper at the corners of the joints.

Other than that, it is difficult to identify asbestos wallpaper without getting it teted by a professional or using an asbestos testing kit. These home testing kits are widely available and give you all the tools you need including PPE and sampling bags to safely extract wallpaper samples to be sent off to a lab for analysis. In no time, you will get the results back and can determine explicitly if the wallpaper does contain asbestos.

Is Asbestos Wallpaper Still Common in the UK?

Asbestos wallpaper was most popular between the 1930s and 1980s but after this it faded out of use along with other asbestos products as the health dangers became apparent.

If your house was built before 1999 and you have rooms that haven’t been decorated for decades, there is a high possibility that it could contain asbestos wallpaper. Perhaps the old layers of wallpaper were never removed either and new wallpaper was simply plastered over the older sheets which means that asbestos wallpaper could be hidden. 

Asbestos wallpaper is more likely in abandoned houses, or properties that have recently been purchased and haven’t been lived in for decades. Most new houses now prefer plaster and paint as opposed to wallpaper and if your house was built after 1999, there is virtually no chance it will have asbestos wallpaper.

How Dangerous is Asbestos Wallpaper? 

If the asbestos wallpaper is in a good condition, then there is a lesser chance of exposure. However, the real health concerns arise if the wallpaper is old and brittle. This is when it turns into a friable state which means it can easily be crushed by hand pressure and thus there is a greater chance the fibres become airborne. 

If you have asbestos wallpaper and its deteriorated into a friable state, will require removal by a licensed asbestos removal company.

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.