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Asbestos: What does it look like?

We're put together the perfect guide for homeowners, DIYers and tradesmen to help spot the signs of asbestos.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Asbestos was widely used in construction projects across the UK for decades. This is until it was made illegal prior to the turn of the millennium. It was discovered that the substance is harmful when breathed in and therefore could no longer be used. In fact, asbestos can be fatal if enough of it enters the lungs.

While the illnesses caused by asbestos may not strike immediately, they can lead to lasting damage that gets progressively worse over time. Lung cancer and various associated ailments can develop. This is why asbestos particles need to be avoided at all cost.

Older buildings eventually need some form of renovation or improvement. When this essential maintenance work begins, it usually leads to walls and ceilings being opened up and broken into. This is where the problems start.

Asbestos was used in so many projects, large and small, that it could be anywhere. At least in buildings that were constructed before it was banned. Many of these buildings may not have been improved or renovated since they were constructed, meaning the asbestos is likely still there.

Just because asbestos was made illegal doesn’t mean the risks it posed ceased to exist or that the substance itself disappeared. All this did was prevent any more of it from being used.

Asbestos that had already been used then became a problem, one that would need to be dealt with one day in the future. Even today, a vast amount of it remains undisturbed. In a way this is a good thing, as undisturbed asbestos poses little to no danger to those nearby.

It’s safely secured within the building's masonry and is unlikely to ever be a problem. Although if renovation work is ever required (and it will be eventually), the asbestos needs to be located.

To locate the asbestos, we first need to know what it looks like. 

Identifying Asbestos

Here’s where things get tricky. Asbestos can be hard to locate with the naked eye because it is usually secured within building masonry along with other materials. Asbestos could be found on/in cement, tiles, flooring, roofing, wall insulation and so many other things.

Meaning unless you’re a trained expert who knows what to look for, identifying asbestos can be difficult. Not to mention dangerous. We’d never encourage anyone who’s untrained in asbestos removal to try and identify it without professional, qualified assistance.

However, there are ways to test an area for asbestos if its presence is suspected. With our asbestos testing kits. This way, you can safely and quickly detect asbestos in your home or any other building you occupy.

Our tests allow you to safely collect an asbestos sample and send it to us for analysis. If the material you send us contains asbestos fibres, we can advise you and recommend what to do next.

This is always the recommended method of detecting asbestos, but we can offer some guidance when it comes to knowing what it looks like. After all, knowing how to spot it could be essential; this way, you’ll know how to avoid it and call in the professionals for safe extraction.

Knowing How to Spot Asbestos?

As we said above, asbestos that is secured within the masonry is very hard to detect without a full survey or testing kit. But sometimes asbestos may be encountered in other scenarios.

For example, a building may be damaged or undergoing demolition. Asbestos that has already been removed could have been dumped and left out in the open. This is why it’s often wise to have some understanding of what asbestos looks like.

Here’s what to look out for: 

Asbestos Sprayed Coating 

One of the easiest forms of asbestos to detect, this is asbestos that has been sprayed onto or into certain places. Asbestos could be sprayed onto steelwork such as piping or ceiling insulation. This has been done to prevent the build-up of moisture and is one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos as it could be sitting in plain sight or behind some panels.

What does asbestos sprayed coating look like?
It often appears to look like a lumpy white/grey concrete-like substance, visibly sprayed onto certain surfaces.

Asbestos Artex / Textured Coating / Popcorn Ceiling

Artex is a textured ceiling coating that was popular in interior design several decades ago. Much of it has been removed or replaced since it was widely used, but it still exists in many buildings across the UK today. Read more about artex

What does artex coating look like?
It can be identified by its bumpy, swirly design. If you have something resembling this in your home or office, then make sure you test for asbestos before disturbing the ceiling. 

Full Asbestos Testing Kit
Full Asbestos Testing Kit
Full Asbestos Testing Kit

Full Asbestos Testing Kit

£49.95
Sample Only Kit
Sample Only Kit

Sample Only Kit

£29.95

Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB)

Often abbreviated to AIB, asbestos insulation boards are large boards of asbestos that were often used in partition walls, ceiling tiles, soffits, and various other places. They are usually square or rectangle panels of asbestos that are worked into the masonry. Due to how widely they were used, and in so many different ways, they are still common today. AIB is very often found in internal garage ceilings.

What does asbestos insulation board (AIB) look like?

AIB can slightly resemble polystyrene or general plaster / insulation boarding at first glance, but it’s vital not to confuse the two. When disturbed, asbestos fibres can become airborne, which is dangerous for anyone in the vicinity. If you suspect there may be a AIB in your home, always get it tested to verify before touching the material.  AIB is considered a high risk asbestos product and should only be removed by a licensed contractor.

Pipe Insulation and Lagging

The appearance of asbestos on pipes and lagging can vary. It was used extensively to insulate pipework and protect it from cold / heat. 

What does asbestos pipe insulation /  pipe lagging look like?
It can often appear like a fluffy or smooth white coating. Or it could look like lumpy dried cement or even a build-up of dust. If you notice anything like this on pipes or lagging, call a specialist and don’t interact with it yourself. Remember, asbestos insulation can also appear like paper, card or even felt. 

Asbestos Cement

Asbestos cement is a mixture of cement and asbestos but looks a lot like ordinary cement when dried. It can be used in roof sheeting, inside ceiling panels, and even used on pipework and lagging. This form of asbestos is harder to spot with the naked eye when used in cement roof sheets, so before you begin any work, be sure to order an asbestos testing kit for peace of mind.

What does asbestos cement look like?
Asbestos cement looks identical to any cement product. When broken sometimes it may look to have small fibres within it. Its important to test any suspect cement materials manufactured pre 2000. Read more about asbestos cement

Asbestos Cement Roofing Sheets

/Asbestos roof sheeting is usually an asbestos cement product, but one that is located outside on the roofs of various buildings. Like with all asbestos cement products, it can be hard to spot but it does have some tell-tale signs. If you’re replacing your roof on or doing some renovation work that will disturb the roof sheeting, use an asbestos testing kit first. This way you’ll know if it’s safe to proceed and what to do next.

What does asbestos cement roofing look like?

The roof panels are normally a cloudy grey colour and look like a blend of different materials. They are most commonly corrugated (wavy) sheeting like the attached picture.

Asbestos Containing Storage Heaters

Storage heaters are known sometimes to contain asbestos. The problem is, heaters like this are usually part of a building’s fixtures and fittings, built into a wall or floor. The asbestos within may not be much of a risk at all, but it could be if disturbed. It’s also hard to detect from sight alone as the heater will need to be taken apart to remove the asbestos.

What do asbestos storage heaters look like?
Unfortunately there is no tell-tale signs that a storage heater contains asbestos, the only way to know would be to take it apart and test any suspect material inside. Alternatively you could try to find the manufacturers details online and research whether asbestos was used in your model.

Full Asbestos Garage

It’s likely that if you own a full asbestos garage and already know about it. You may have been advised about it when you bought the building following the mandatory survey. This may not be the case if you’ve owned it since before 1999, so if that’s the case, we’d recommend testing its sides and roof to verify the existence of any asbestos. Especially if you’re considering any renovation work. A testing kit may also serve the same purpose.


What does an asbestos garage look like?
Asbestos garages are made up of cement / concrete looking panels to the sides and roof.  The wall panels are commonly white accompanied by a corrugated cement roof,

Asbestos Rope

Asbestos was also applied to rope for a variety of reasons, such as to serve as a seal on a boiler or on string gaskets between metal sheets. When renovating a building it can usually be identified quite easily. 

What does asbestos rope look like?
The rope will often be strained white, and the coating will be crystallised. If you notice this, then call in the experts and don’t go near it. If you need to verify the presence of asbestos, then use a testing kit.

Asbestos in Fuse Boxes

Asbestos has also been used in a variety of devices and gadgets like fuse boxes and other products. If in good condition the asbestos can be rather hard to spot, but the good news is, if this is the case, it’s probably safe. This is unless you start removing parts of the fittings. Use a testing kit to verify if asbestos is there or not . If however, you can see frayed insulation and the tell-tale signs of asbestos, call the experts and don’t approach it. 

What does asbestos in a fuse box look like?
Fabric / rope looking asbestos can be seen usually in the centre of the fuses as the picture to the left shows 

Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation

Loose-fill insulation is one of the most dangerous forms of material containing asbestos. The good news is it’s relatively easy to identify. If you notice this loose-fill insulation in your building, call a removal team and do not touch it yourself. We also wouldn’t recommend approaching it with a testing kit, as more than likely, you are looking at asbestos. Contact an asbestos surveyor or removal specialist to investigate further.

What does asbestos loose-fill insulation look like?
It has a fluffy yet solid appearance and usually is grey/white with a blue tinge

Full Asbestos Testing Kit
Full Asbestos Testing Kit
Full Asbestos Testing Kit

Full Asbestos Testing Kit

£49.95

Our test kits have been developed to enable a safe, simple and cost effective way of testing suspect material around your home or commercial property.

All our kits come with simple step-by-step instructions, HSE approved PPE, sample bags and pre-paid test at the UKAS approved laboratory.

All orders placed before 2:30pm are despatched on the same day, samples results will usually be available by close of business the day they are received.

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