Asbestos in Lino Flooring – The Complete Guide

Before asbestos was banned in the UK, it found its way into hundreds of different construction products and could be found in homes, factories and offices. While it was often combined with other products, sometimes it was used as a standalone product and added to things like linoleum as a backing. In this article, I take a look at how asbestos was used in Linoleum, its dangers, and how you can identify it. 

How was Asbestos Used in Linoleum?

Linoleum or Lino was an incredibly popular flooring solution and indeed it’s still popular today although it’s use has evolved somewhat. Lino is traditionally made from natural products like linseed oil , wood, and cork, and is laid onto floors as tiles or planks. It is stuck to the subfloor using adhesive and was made in a range of patterns, styles, and thicknesses.

Now, the lino itself would usually not contain an asbestos. However, it was the underlay or backing that was attached to the bottom side of the tiles that would contain asbestos. Oftentimes the backing would be pure asbestos – it was this underlay that was then stuck to the subfloor.

The underlay acts as an additional cushioning between the tile and the subfloor and makes the linoleum tiles more durable. 

Why Was Asbestos Used in Linoleum Products?

The backing and underlay for linoleum tiles had to be hard wearing and durable and this is exactly the qualities asbestos had. It also had excellent fire resistance which made it perfect for use with linoleum tiles in rooms with potential fire hazards like the kitchen.

How to Identify Asbestos in Linoleum Products

The difficulty in identifying asbestos in lino is the fact that it’s underneath the tiles. You can’t simply look at your lino floor and tell if its got asbestos without removing the tiles and checking the backing. This makes it potentially dangerous and I never advise trying to prise your lino tiles free to check for asbestos.

If the tiles are loose and can be lifted without excess force, the asbestos backing will typically have a white colour but it is probably discoloured over time and may have a yellow or greyish tinge. If asbestos bitumen was used, the backing may also be black.

The only way to be 100% sure is to get samples analysed of the tile underlay. For this, you can either get someone in, or use an asbestos sampling kit. These home testing kits have the PPE you need to take samples safely, together with instructions and bags to send the samples off to a UKAS lab.

Is Asbestos Lino Still Common in the UK?

Lino was incredibly popular during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s although it fell off in popularity somewhat after this. Combine this with the fact that asbestos wasn’t banned in the UK until 1999, and there are plenty of homes that still contain lino with asbestos.

To determine if your floors contain asbestos you have to identify the age of your house and your lino. First, if your house was built after 1999, it won’t contain asbestos lino. Second, even if you have an older house built before 1999, if your lino floors have been replaced since then, they won’t contain asbestos underlay. 

How Dangerous is Linoleum With Asbestos?

Because the asbestos backing is effectively sealed in place by the upper lino layer, the health risks are minimum when the lino is undamaged.

However, the health risk exponentially increases when your lino floor is damaged, or you are attempting to remove lino tiles that have an asbestos underlay. This is because the backing becomes exposed and there is a higher chance that the fibres can become airborne and inhaled.

If you have obtained samples and found your lino floor contains asbestos, we advise getting professionals to remove it. They will do the work efficiently and make sure that everyone in the premises is safe.

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.