Is Asbestos in paint on your walls / ceilings at home?
Asbestos was used as an additive in a wide range of construction and interior design products before it was banned in the UK in 1999. The beneficial properties of asbestos such as heat resistance and durability meant it could give an extra edge to things like adhesive, sealant, and even paint. Below, I explain how asbestos was used in paint, how to identify it, and if it poses a significant health risk.
How was Asbestos Used in Paint?
The painting industry had somewhat of a revolution with the discovery of asbestos and it was used as an additive in traditional paints – typically up to 20% in terms of the overall composition. From the mid-1900s until the 1980s, asbestos was used in paint in a variety of industries and buildings including:
- Ship building
- Chemical plants
- Aircraft building
- Interior design
- Public buildings like schools and hospitals
In terms of home use, asbestos could be found in both internal and external paint on walls, sidings, ceilings, and other surfaces. Common types of asbestos paint included:
- Standard wall paint (internal and external).
- Textured paint for ceilings.
- Paint patching compounds.
- Asbestos spray coatings for insulation.
Textured ceiling paints are often classified as a separate category (textured coatings) as products like Artex were technically a type of paint, but much thicker compared to the standard asbestos wall paints.
Why Was Asbestos Used in Paints?
While most of the time asbestos was added to products for its fire resistance and durability, it had a different effect when added to paint. Asbestos actually had the following benefits specifically with paint:
- The paint would spread better.
- Its sticking strength and suspension were improved.
- The paint would appear more opaque resulting in less required coats.
- Once stirred, the paint pigments would hold better which meant re-stirring wasn’t needed.
Asbestos did also toughen the paint and give it improved fire and corrosion resistance too but overall; it made paint more effective and easier to work with.
How to Identify Asbestos in Paint
It’s virtually impossible to identify asbestos paint visually because it was used as an additive and there was no pure asbestos paint. Therefore, the only way to properly identify it is to obtain samples using an asbestos testing kit and send them to a laboratory for analysis or have an asbestos surveyor come out and do the same.
There are home testing kits available that are safe to use, and allow you to get lab results back within around 24 hours or less. You can then get a certificate that shows the composition of the paint including the presence of any asbestos, the type, and quantity.
Is Asbestos Paint Still Common in the UK?
Standard asbestos wall paint became less popular from the 1950s onwards whereas textured asbestos paints and coatings persisted until the 1990s. Regardless, as asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, if your house or property was built before this, there is a chance it can contain asbestos, including asbestos paint.
Even if you have had your walls and ceilings re-decorated after the asbestos ban there could still be asbestos paint lurking underneath if it was not fully removed when the new decorating was done.
How Dangerous is Asbestos Paint?
If the asbestos paint is in good condition, then it poses a lower health risk. The real problem is if the paint has deteriorated and the asbestos is friable (it can be crushed into dust by hand). Over time, as the paint degrades, it can become brittle, weathered, and damaged. This increases the chance that airborne fibres or asbestos dust is inhaled which can then lead to irreversible lung damage.
If you find asbestos paint and it is in a relatively good condition, it can be classed as non-licensed work and you can get it removed by professionals who are trained but don’t need a license. However, if the paint is deteriorated and significantly broken, it may be classed as licensable work and notification may need to be given to the relevant people.
 – HSE – Asbestos Textured Coatings