How to Identify Asbestos in Wallpaper

By Stan G. in Removal

The late 80s were a turning point for the construction industry because that is when studies came out on the dangers of asbestos which before was used in many building materials. If the wallpaper was installed in pre-1980 there is a strong possibility that it contains asbestos, as the mineral was added to make this product even stronger and to withstand high temperatures. Specially designated to suit all areas of the house, you are most likely to find vinyl wallpaper in your kitchen and bathrooms as this type of wallpaper is fairly resistant to grease and water stains and can be wiped down easily.

It's important to accurately identify asbestos within your home, especially if you plan on doing renovations which may disturb the asbestos-containing material. While you can do your walk-through, it's important to realize that asbestos can be found in many different materials, some of which may not be obvious.

Wallpaper - One of the Earliest Vinyl Products That Contain Asbestos

Vinyl coated wallpaper is often favored for everyday use because it is more durable and easier to clean than other wallpaper types, especially in moisture-prone areas such as kitchens and bathrooms as the vinyl coat protects the walls from water damage. Vinyl wallpapers used in homes built between 1930 and 1980 may contain asbestos.

Flame retardant was a big concern for wallpaper manufacturers, and today, most wall coverings in older homes built before modern-day regulations were put in place, are either vinyl-coated paper or solid vinyl with a cloth backing.

Companies that manufactured vinyl wallpaper that contain asbestos:

  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • GAF Corporation
  • Synkoloid Corporation
  • American Biltrite
  • EverWear
  • Kentile Floors
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Sears-Roebuck

Can Wallpapers Material Containing Asbestos Be Easily Identified?

Given the relative dangers of asbestos, it's prudent to take extreme caution if you plan on removing or remodeling wallpaper installed in homes built between 1930 and 1980. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to help you spot and safely deal with asbestos in your home. For example, labels provide clear information about the product by answering two simple questions: Where does a product come from? What is it made of? Thus, always consult the product label to determine if it contains asbestos.

You should assume the possibility of asbestos in the wallpaper, when:

  • The product manufacturing label has a date from between 1940 and 1980
  • The home was built before 1980
  • Have a few flexible "curls" in the upper corners
  • Looks like a vinyl/plastic coating with a paper fibery backing
  • You can't identify the specific brand-name

When Removing Asbestos-Based Wallpapers You Must Minimize the Risk of Releasing Fibers That Can Become Airborne

Many people who have looked to buy or rent an older home have ruled out choices because of old-fashioned wall coverings. Removing layers of old paper that have adhered to walls for decades can expose workers and occupants to harmful health effects. The good news is there are safe ways to undertake wallpaper removal. Asbestos fibers are so small that individual fibers cannot be seen by the naked eye in the air if you look at the wallpaper or even the backing, therefore, treat any pre-1980s wallpaper as though it contains asbestos.

Fortunately, it is extremely difficult for asbestos fibers to escape into the air if the asbestos-based wallpaper is still in good condition, and may be considered as not presenting a danger. That's until it became old and brittle. Dried asbestos fibers in vinyl wallpaper can broke down and crumble. This friable state can turn to dust and release millions of microscopic asbestos fibers into the room. However, if the wallpaper is in a high traffic area or touched frequently, it's a good idea to remove it as this is likely to cause exposure.

If you decide to do it yourself, you should wear protective clothing and an appropriate mask or respirator. Disposal of the used wallpaper needs to be done with extreme care and caution, with everything sealed up airtight before leaving the protected space.

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.