How to Identify Asbestos Floor Tiles

loosened, broken tiles with asbestos
  • 1 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 10
What You'll Need
Utility Knife
Plastic bag
Duct tape
What You'll Need
Utility Knife
Plastic bag
Duct tape

It’s now common knowledge that residing in or around environments where asbestos is present is harmful to your and your friend's and family's health. Even though you may hear people talk about asbestos or see buildings being treated for asbestos, it’s not some infestation like mold that develops over time.

Asbestos is actually a silicate-based material that used to be commonly used in building construction for surfaces as common as walls or floor tiles. The risk for many people who live or work in buildings with old flooring is it is hard to know if the building has asbestos floor tiles just by looking at the tiles, without testing the material.

While it can be costly to test the materials that may be infested with asbestos, the safest course of action is to assume there is in fact asbestos in your tiles and get it treated, especially if your floor was installed in the 1980s or before, the heyday of asbestos tiling.

If you are hoping to identify asbestos floor tiling yourself, however, here are a few tips and tricks that should help you out.

1. Examine the Tiles Closely for Decay

You should start off by examining the material, in this case, the floor tiles, closely to determine its condition. Asbestos will not be harmful if the tiles are fully intact and in good condition. It’s when the material is broken up that you risk releasing the dangerous asbestos fibers into the air, which can then be inhaled and create health risks.

So, if you find the asbestos-laded tiles is in a bad condition or if there is any kind break in the impacted tiles, it would be best for you to contact an asbestos professional and have them come in to remove the materials before you begin the work of putting in a new floor.

Intact Tiles

If you don’t find out that there is any cracking or other signs of decay in your tile floors, you can most likely safely build over the asbestos with a different material. Again, the stuff isn’t wildly radioactive or anything, just harmful when broken down and inhaled. However, if you can seal intact asbestos underneath a fresh layer of flooring, the overall effect is about as safe as removing the tiles all together. It also has the benefit of being cheaper than hiring a company to remove the tiles.

In fact, replacement may be even safer than removal if you can vouch that the old tiles are in good condition, since the process of removing them runs the risk of breaking the tiles and releasing the harmful fibers into the air.

If you have never laid tile before, however, and are concerned you may break the asbestos-infected tiles in the process, you should preemptively pay the professionals to remove them instead to be extra careful.

2. Check for Discoloration

slate colored floor tiles

When inspecting the tiles, look for parts that are grayish brown, dark gray, dark brown, or black. Vinyl or asphalt tiles that have these colors in them have a high likelihood of asbestos fibers. One of the main ingredients used in old asbestos tiles was asphalt, so they were primarily made in dark colors only.

3. Date the Tiles

Another time period asbestos floors were popular was between the years of 1920 and 1960. The flooring during this period was usually made in nine-inch squares and is quite a bit thicker than most of the more modern vinyl tiles. Keep in mind the mastic used as an adhesive for these older tiles might also contain some asbestos.

4. Laboratory Testing

You can easily eliminate all doubt about whether there is asbestos in your title floors by sending a sample of any tiles you suspect to contain asbestos to a special laboratory for testing. The lab will usually require you to send at least three samples.

Use a utility knife to cut your samples free and put them into a plastic bag. Then seal it very tightly before sending it out. You can cover the area you cut the sample out of with a large piece of duct tape.

Since there is still a chance asbestos is present in this case, be sure to use a mask when you’re cutting out your samples. A word of warning, though, cutting into the tiles can cause asbestos to be released into the air so if the lab you send your sample to finds asbestos in the sample, you will need to remove the rest of the flooring right away.

Alternatively, they do sell home testing kits, but given that if the tiles are intact, you’re going to have to make an incision to test either way, the lab may just make more sense.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral. There are six different types of asbestos. Asbestos was a flooring option of choice for many because of its affordability and resistance to heat, that's why it was also used in fire resistant clothes for firefighters.

What Years Was Asbestos Used in Flooring?

Asbestos floor tiling was popular before the 1980s. Its heyday is considered by many to be between the 1950s and 1980s, but it was actually used even earlier and was popular during the 1920s.

If you have an older home or a home that was remodeled before 1980, your chances of having asbestos somewhere in the home are high.

The Environmental Agency banned the use of asbestos as of August 25, 1989 which is why homes built or remodeled after the 1980s will not have asbestos products, even though it was a popular material in prior building cycles.

What Are the First Signs of Asbestos Exposure?

As already mentioned, asbestos exposure can be extremely dangerous to human health. One of the reasons asbestos can be so dangerous is how long it takes to affect people. It can actually take 20 or even 30 years for exposure to asbestos to affect people meaning that you could be breathing in asbestos for decades before realizing it.

Symptoms of asbestos exposure include shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough, chest pain, dry sounds in your lungs, and clubbing fingers.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers for a prolonged period of time. It can cause the above mentioned symptoms but can range in severity.

How Long Do You Have to be Exposed to Asbestos to Get Ill with It?

There is no clear safe level of asbestos exposure before you get ill. As previously mentioned, it can take decades to feel the effects so it is better that you are not exposed to asbestos at all.

Can You Tell if You Breathe in Asbestos?

You might be wondering if you can tell if you breathe in asbestos. The answer is no, at least not right away. Asbestos can take years to affect you, so you will not know right away if you have breathed it on were exposed to asbestos.
This is part of what makes it so dangerous--it is impossible to know if you have been exposed to asbestos just by looking at a piece of flooring.

Removing Asbestos Floor Tiles

If you have identified asbestos floor tiles in your home, your best bet is to have them professionally removed. As already mentioned, asbestos is incredibly dangerous and can cause major illnesses, even cancer.
Some jurisdictions have strict laws about the removal and disposal of asbestos, so make sure you understand the rules and regulations in your area before taking on any asbestos-related projects yourself.

1. Isolate the Area

If you do decide to remove the asbestos tile floors yourself, do not start until you have properly sealed off the area where the tiles currently are. If tiles break while you are removing them, this will offer some protection. Make sure to not only seal the area off from other rooms but also protect things that will stay in the room while you work. For example, you will need to put plastic covers over cabinets in the areas.

Do not forget about windows and vents. Make sure these are sealed off so that the asbestos does not travel to other areas of your home and risk infecting you.

Use plastic and duct tape to seal off the areas.

Do not, under any circumstances, break the tiles when you remove them as this can cause asbestos to get in the air. Keep the pieces of tile whole.

2. Put On Your Protective Gear

After you have sealed of the area, you may be itching to start your project. You can not do so, however, until you have put on your protective gear. While working on the project, you must wear a dust mask, goggles, gloves, and boots. These are not negotiable and are absolutely necessary to protect you from harm during the course of the project.

Invest in good quality items to be extra safe so that no harm comes to you during the course of the project. As already mentioned, it will take years for you to know if you have been exposed to asbestos so do not risk it just because you feel fine in the moment.

3. Prepare the Flooring for Removal

Once you have sealed off the area and put on your protective material, you can take out a utility knife and cut the asbestos into pieces so that area is easier to manage.

4. Prepare the Flooring for Removal

You can now start to lift the asbestos vinyl tiles. Make sure you have a scraper on hand to help you separate the tiles from the floor.

Once you have lifted the pieces up, put them in a bag and seal it tightly. This will seal in the asbestos so you are not affected. Make sure the bags have no holes in them and are not kept somewhere where they can break and release asbestos particles into the air.

5. Clean

Once you have removed all of the tiles, it is time to clean the area. Grab a wet towel and use it on the floors to remove any dust and asbestos in the area.

After you remove any major areas of dust, you can mop the entire area using a mop.

Make sure you are using clean water to clean the area. You may want to clean the area more than once, changing the water in between cleanings, to ensure the area is fully cleaned and safe.

6. Safely Dispose of the Asbestos Flooring Debris

Your project is not completed until you have gotten rid of the asbestos materials. Since it is a dangerous material, it has to be disposed of carefully. Make sure you understand local ordinances regarding asbestos. You can not simply throw the tiles into a dumpster.

You may be able to hire a company to haul away the asbestos safely. Do not take the asbestos tiles out of the sealed-off room until you are getting rid of it. Make sure to continue to use safety measures when you haul the material away.

7. Test

Now that your home is free of the asbestos tiles, you may want to test the air to make sure there is no asbestos that has become airborne. Once you ensure the area is safe, you can unseal the room that had the asbestos tiles.

Once you have done so, you can install new, updated flooring in the area for you and your loved ones to enjoy for years to come.


Since asbestos can be so dangerous, it is of the utmost importance that you understand if your home has any asbestos, and if it does, deal with it right away. It is not worth the risk to leave older tiles in place just because they look pretty.

Taking the above steps or calling in a professional will leave you with peace of mind and ensure the health of everyone who lives in your home for years to come.