Asbestos Rope – Everything You need to Know
Asbestos was widely used in construction products from the 1950s to 1990s and despite it being banned in the UK, traces can still be found in many households. One produce that can still be found is asbestos rope or asbestos gaskets and in the below article I explain everything there is to know about this product including its dangers and how to identify it.
Understanding Asbestos Rope
Asbestos was easy to mould and shape and the fibres could be compressed and wound into asbestos rope. There was generally three distinct types of asbestos rope, each of which had a different appearance and these included:
- Twisted asbestos rope.
- Square asbestos rope.
- Asbestos lagging rope.
The twisted rope was made by twisted together several fibre strands which made it durable and dense. This type was commonly used for sealing and insulation. Square asbestos rope used a handful of fibres woven together to create a square shape and this was mainly used for heat insulation. Asbestos lagging was a dual-layered rope where the centre contained ceramic, and the outer layer was woven asbestos.
Asbestos rope was commonly used in the following applications:
- Boiler insulation.
- Pipe insulation.
- Sealant in both automotive and heating systems.
- Fireproofing seals in buildings.
- Pump packing material to prevent leaks.
- Seals and gaskets for some gas and electric heating appliances.
Because of its favourable qualities which I discuss below, it had a wide application and if you have older heating systems or piping in your home, there is a chance there could still be asbestos rope.
Why Was Asbestos Used to Create Rope?
Asbestos was known as a wonder mineral before people were aware of its dangers and its main qualities included fire resistance, durability, and the ease of which it could be mouled and worked with.
All these qualities meant it was ideal to be turned into rope. The fire-resistant property made it perfect for insulation and systems that included heat transferal like boilers. The durability meant that it worked amazingly for seals and as packing to hold up against pressure. Lastly, the fact that it was fibrous and easy to work with meant it was relatively easy to turn into rope.
What Does Asbestos Rope Look Like?
Most asbestos products are difficult to identify as the asbestos is usually combined with other items like cement but asbestos rope was essentially pure asbestos and thus has a more distinctive appearance compared to regular rope.
The weaving will either be twisted in a diamond pattern or square depending on the type, and it will be almost pure white in colour. Just note that over time, the whiteness becomes discoloured and older asbestos rope that has been used as insulation or for boiler seals could be frayed, and have a yellowish tinge.
Is Asbestos Rope Still Common in the UK Today?
Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 so properties build after this should not have any traces of asbestos rope. However, if your property was build before this period, there is a possibility.
We say as a general rule of thumb that the older the property, the higher the chance that it could contain asbestos ropes. The 1950s – 1970s were the peak decades for asbestos use and it started to tail off in the 1980s as the dangers were discovered.
If you do have an older property that falls in this time period, think logically too. For example, if you know that your plumbing and heating system has been replaced after 1999 then this greatly reduces the chance of asbestos rope, despite the property being older.
How Dangerous is Asbestos Rope?
Asbestos rope is not friable and as a result, work and removal of these products is not considered licensable asbestos removal. It can be carried out by non-licensed workers, but the HSE still advises that they should be fully trained.
Despite being non-friable, that doesn’t mean that asbestos rope isn’t dangerous. As with any asbestos product, the dangers arises if the item is damaged and there is a chance that fibres can become airborne. If you find asbestos ropes in your heating system or pipes, check the quality. If you see severe signs of wear and tear then it poses a danger and you should take precautions and aim to get it professionally removed.
 – Heatable.co.uk – Lifespan of Domestic Boilers in the UK
 – HSE – Asbestos Rope Seals and Gaskets