How to Recognize Asbestos Floor Tiles

By Stan G. in Construction

Asbestos is a toxic mineral which used to be employed on a large scale as a component in construction materials. Besides insulation, floor tiles were some of the most popular asbestos-containing materials manufactured a few decades ago.

Thanks to its great mechanical properties and fire-resistance, asbestos was added to a wide variety of materials, vinyl and linoleum included. The use of asbestos has been regulated since 1980, when its harmful effects on people's health were publically acknowledged, but it can still be found in a lot of houses built or renovated up to that year.

A Close Inspection Can Help You Determine Certain Physical Characteristics

The risk of getting exposed to asbestos in the comfort of your own house is hard to know just by looking at the floor tiles. However, there are some key indicators of asbestos floor tiles which might help you find out whether the harmful mineral is present in your house or not:

  • Age Of Floor Tiles - If the building you live in or the one in which you work was constructed before the 1980s, and particularly in the period between 1950 and the 1980s, there's a high probability that your flooring contains asbestos, as the interval matches the times of intense use of the mineral in building materials.
  • Tile Size - Asphalt asbestos, plastic asbestos, and vinyl asbestos floor tiles during this period were sold in 9"x9", 12" x 12" and in some years 18" x 18" sizes and were quite a bit thicker than most of the modern tiles.
  • Discoloration - An oily discoloration of the tiles in your home might indicate that they contain asbestos. Asphalt is one of the main materials used for the manufacturing of asbestos floor tiles and leakages of the oil incorporated in it can occur, causing the color of the tiles to fade.
  • Some of the flooring tiles have come off and you see thick black adhesive underneath. Black mastic, also known as cutback adhesive, was commonly used to glue the flooring tiles down. This type of adhesive was asphalt-based and most likely contains asbestos, whether or not the tiles themselves contain asbestos.

See if you can identify your floor tile collection name or model number; loosen a tile with a putty knife and wipe off the glue and drywall paper. There should be letters and numbers at the center of the back of the tile that indicates which one of the ceramic tile manufacturers in the U.S. made the product.

Manufacturers of asbestos flooring materials:

  • American Biltrite
  • Amtico Floors
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • Everwear Inc.
  • GAF Corporation
  • Kentile Floors
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Sears-Roebuck

The only sure way to know whether your tiles contain asbestos is to have a licensed asbestos inspector check your house and send a sample of the material to a certified laboratory. A clear and correct result will help you decide if your tiles need removal or not and will also help you live a peaceful life, knowing that you are safe in your own home.

If you decide to cut your own sample, make sure to wear a mask, put the piece of material in a plastic bag, and seal it extremely well. The cut area of the tile can then be covered with duct tape. You can find out more about how to safely collect samples of potentially asbestos-containing materials in our free, downloadable guide.

Are Asbestos floor tiles dangerous?

The answer is No, they are not. That is unless they're disturbed to release the fibers. Damaged and deteriorated tiles containing asbestos increase in friability as the exposed fibers break off into the surroundings. Some of the causes that may increase the friability of asbestos-containing materials are:

  • Physical damage resulting from drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the materials down making fiber release more likely
  • Water damage to the tiles
  • Physical aging of the tiles
  • Continuous vibration of the tiles

Flooring projects are common during home remodeling. If you really want to remove your asbestos vinyl tiles, follow these tips:

  • Seal the work area
  • You need to have protective gear such as a suit and respirator gloves, boots
  • Lift the vinyl tile gently - try to avoid breakage
  • Wet any asbestos paper tile backing as you lift the flooring
  • Gently scrape up adhering mastic
  • Place debris in the asbestos waste bag

Read our Asbestos Identification page for more information on how to determine if asbestos is present in your home and where it can be found.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.