What does asbestos look like?

Asbestos use has a legacy that spans across decades. Millions of tonnes of raw asbestos fibre was imported and used to create thousands of asbestos containing products.

Being asbestos aware is about knowing what does asbestos look like.

Scroll down the page to see just some of the asbestos containing materials used in the UK.

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What does asbestos look like?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral, a chain silicate to be precise. Silicates are the earth most common minerals types. Asbestos is mined out of the ground in a similar process as commonly mined minerals such as coal and talc.

Once out of the ground the asbestos is crush and milled to produce the raw fibre which can be commercially utilised. The raw asbestos fibre was then added to thousands of materials to produce asbestos-containing materials.

It’s estimated that approximately 5,000 different asbestos products have been created. So on the page below, we answer the question "what does asbestos look like?"

Things to look for when identifying asbestos

Asbestos materials can be found both indoors and outdoors. Cement, insulating board, insulation, vinyls, resin, textured coatings and sprayed coatings are some of them. Asbestos ceased use in the United Kingdom in 1999. Any building constructed before that time has a possibility of containing asbestos in one form or another. The below list helps people identify common asbestos-containing materials throughout the following widely used products. Please note that the purpose of this page is to assist in the visual identification of suspected asbestos containing materials, answering what does asbestos look like. However, confirmation that the material contains asbestos fibre can only be confirmed through asbestos sample testing and analyse.

Loose Fill Asbestos

Loose-fill asbestos is pure 100% loose asbestos fibre.

Loose asbestos insulation or “loose-fill asbestos” is now very rare to find. This is simply down to the hazard it poses and most of it has been removed.

It was used to insulate lofts, placed as fire packing around cables and insulation between floors. Paper bags or paper sacks were filled with loose asbestos insulation, which was used for sound insulation between floors or walls.


Low density – Very soft material

High asbestos content – 100%

Mainly Crocidolite asbestos and Chrysotile asbestos used

Loose fill asbestos
Loose fill asbestos 1

Asbestos Sprayed Coating

Asbestos fibre was mixed with a Portland cement binder, which was spray applied onto surfaces.

Asbestos sprayed coatings were commonly used as thermal and anti-condensation insulation on the underside of roofs and sometimes the sides of industrial buildings and warehouses.

Asbestos sprayed coatings were commonly used as acoustic insulation in theatres and halls, as fire protection on steel and reinforced concrete beams/columns and on the underside of floors.

The spraying of this material on the application made it go everywhere. This often gets overlooked when trying to manage this material. Asbestos sprayed coatings are notoriously difficult to manage.


 Low density – Very soft material

 High asbestos content – 55% - 85%

All asbestos types were used but mainly Crocidolite asbestos and Amosite asbestos.

Asbestos Spray Coating 1
Asbestos Spray Coatings

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Asbestos Thermal Insulation

This asbestos material type covers many variants and is classified as any material that was used to provide thermal insulation to an item. A hand-applied/mixed insulation, which was applied to pipes and boilers.

Preformed insulation sections (similar in appearance to the modern fibreglass insulation sections) are referred to in the industry as “Sectional”.

There were preformed insulation blocks, corrugated paper (used on pipes), ropes, quilts and blankets.


 Generally low density – Soft materials

 Generally high asbestos content – 6 - 85%

 All asbestos types used

Asbestos Thermal Insulation
Asbestos Thermal Insulation 1

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Asbestos Insulating Board

Asbestos fibre mixed with calcium silicate.

Asbestos insulating board was commonly used everywhere and was a key product for providing fire stop protection.

It was used as ceiling board/ceiling tiles, walls, infill panels, firebreaks, fire door backing panels, roofs, boxings, risers, linings, soffits, canopies, packers, linings to safes/filing cabinets, boiler casings… to name just a few.


 Low density – Soft material

 High asbestos content – 15 - 40%

Crocidolite asbestos was used in early boards. Amosite asbestos was extensively used on its own or with a mix of Chrysotile asbestos.

Asbestos Insulating board
Asbestos Insulating board 1

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Asbestos Millboard

Asbestos fibre mixed with a matrix of clay and starch.

This material was used for general heat insulation and fire protection.

Also used for insulation of electrical equipment and plants such as blow heaters.


 Low density – Soft material

 High asbestos content – 37 - 97%

Crocidolite asbestos was used for early boards. Mostly contained Chrysotile asbestos.

Asbestos Millboard

Asbestos Paper & Cardboard

Asbestos fibre mixed with water then compressed to form sheets of asbestos paper.

Asbestos paper was generally used to line secondary materials. It was used to insulate electrical and heat equipment.

It was used below fibreglass insulation on pipes, backing to floor covering, lining to combustible materials, such as fibreboard, below roof linings, etc.


 Low density – Soft material

 High asbestos content – mostly 100%

 Chrysotile asbestos used

Asbestos paper 1
Asbestos paper

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Asbestos Textiles, Ropes & Strings

Asbestos fibre spun and woven.

Woven materials were used to create ropes and strings, which had many uses.

Rope gaskets to boilers, skylights, safes, caulking in brickwork and jointing.

Cloths were used to insulate boilers, pipes, exhausts, curtains, gloves, aprons and clothing.


 Low density – Soft material

 High asbestos content – mostly 100%

 Chrysotile asbestos used

Asbestos rope
Asbestos rope 1

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Asbestos Gaskets

Asbestos fibre mixed with secondary materials and compressed.

Gaskets have been used on a wide variety of boilers, heating systems and tanks including domestic, commercial and industrial.

Asbestos gaskets have been used on machinery, appliances and products extensively.

Some asbestos gasket materials continued to be used after asbestos prohibition in 1999 (through exemption).


 Generally low density – Soft Material

 High asbestos content – up to 90%

 Mostly always Chrysotile used. Some Crocidolite used

Asbestos Gaskets
Asbestos Gaskets 1

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Asbestos Friction Products

Asbestos fibre bound within either resin or rubber.

Resin-based materials were used as brake and clutch shoes, pads or plates on transport vehicles, machinery and lifts.

Rubber-based materials were used as drive belts or conveyor belts on engines and conveyors.


 Generally high density – Hard material

 High asbestos content – 30 - 70%

Chrysotile asbestos used

Asbestos brake shoes

Asbestos Cement

Asbestos fibre mixed with cement.

Asbestos cement was extensively used and there were many applications of it.

Asbestos cement profile sheets for roofing wall cladding, shuttering, etc. Asbestos cement compressed sheets, panels, tiles, slates, boards.

Asbestos cement preform/moulded products included pipes, cisterns, tanks, drains, gutters, windowsills, bath panels. Asbestos cement draining board extractor hoods, coping and promenade tiles.


High density – Hard material

Low asbestos content. Mostly 10 - 25%. Some were as little as 4%. Industrial applications up to 50%

All asbestos types used but most commonly Chrysotile

Asbestos cement
Asbestos Cement 1

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Asbestos Composites

Asbestos fibre bonded with secondary material.

Asbestos Composites are generally two materials mixed together at the manufacturing stage, asbestos and another, which are then set or become one material.

Asbestos textured coatings – 3-5% Chrysotile asbestos mixed with coatings. Asbestos textured coatings were usually applied to walls and ceilings but may be found on any surface.

Asbestos friction Products - 30-70% Chrysotile asbestos bound in resins or rubber used for brakes and clutch plates in transport, machinery and lifts.

Asbestos bitumen and felt products – Chrysotile asbestos fibre (or asbestos paper) in bitumen, asbestos content usually contain asbestos content 3 to 8%. Roofing felt, damp proof course, bitumen coatings, mastics and adhesives.

Asbestos thermoplastic floor tiles - contain asbestos content up to 25% Chrysotile asbestos. PVC flooring and vinyl tiles normally contained 7% Chrysotile.

Asbestos plastics and resins usually contain asbestos content 1-10% Chrysotile, however some amphiboles were used. Toilet cisterns, bakelite products, car battery's, resin stair nosings etc.


 High density – Hard material

 Generally low asbestos content – 1 - 50%

All types of asbestos have been used but mainly Chrysotile

Asbestos textured coating
Asbestos vinyl tiles and bitumen adhesive
Asbestos reinforced resin
Asbestos resin

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