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Asbestos Floor Tile & Mastic

asbestos tile

Buying or remodeling an older property can be exciting. However, one item that can be uncovered is vinyl floor tile installed before the late 1970s. Vinyl floor tiles made before this time period could potentially contain asbestos and derail a major housing project. In this blog, we will discuss vinyl floor tile and how to manage the material.

Introduction to Vinyl Floor Tiles

Vinyl floor tiles (VFT), which are also known as vinyl composite tiles (VCT), are flooring materials that are created from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The tiles became more well known after being displayed at the 1933 “A Century of Progress International Exposition” in Chicago, IL. Earlier floor tiles used asphalt as a binder while more modern tiles use a vinyl resin. The vinyl tiles are created in sheets and cut into their desired sizes such as 9” x 9” or 12” x 12”. Asbestos, known for adding durability, was mixed into the materials typically between a 1-10% range which strengthens the tiles so that they would not easily break. 

Floor Tile Size and Mastic

The most infamous vinyl floor tile is the 9” x 9” variety which was a popular size during its peak and is typically associated with being an asbestos-containing material. The more modern 12” x 12” vinyl floor tiles may also contain asbestos if installed prior to the late 1970s. In my prior position as an asbestos microscopist, the vast majority of 9” x 9” floor tiles I analyzed did contain some asbestos, typically in the 1-5% and sometimes the 5-10% range. In rare cases, the 9” x 9” tile did not contain asbestos. In cases where the tile is not asbestos-containing, one item that is overlooked is the underlying glue also known as mastic. Mastic that is black in color is a “primary suspect” for asbestos-containing materials much like the 9” x 9” vinyl floor tiles.  From my laboratory experience, old black mastic often contains 1-5% asbestos. The asphalt binder results in its appearance as black. The black mastic was eventually superseded by yellow and clear based glues, which in rare cases may also contain asbestos.

Yellow and Black Mastic
Black Mastic

Managing Asbestos-Containing Floor Tile

Once the asbestos floor tile or mastic is uncovered and tested by a licensed professional asbestos inspector, the question arises of what to do with it. The first option is to leave it in place. If the tile will not be affected by a renovation, it is relatively safe to keep the tiles in a place as long as the material is in good condition. Floor tile and mastic are considered to be non-friable materials, which means they don’t release their fibers easily (technically, they cannot be ground into a powder with hand pressure when dry). As long as the material remains in its stable non-friable condition, the tile or mastic will not emit its asbestos fibers. Sanding or grinding tiles or mastic that contain asbestos may release its fibers. The second option is to encapsulate the flooring. This can be done by spraying a special encapsulant on the material or placing another material on top of the tiles that will not disturb it. The final option, which is the most expensive, is to have the material removed by licensed asbestos professionals. The removal process typically includes either heat or gross removal of the tile along with using a chemical mastic remover. 

In conclusion, while asbestos-containing floor tile and mastic can be a daunting sight when working on a remodel project or a real estate transaction, they can be managed. We recommend having the material tested, before conducting any activities which may disturb the tile. For more information about where to find asbestos in a home, feel free to check out our previous blog on the subject.

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”

15 thoughts on “Asbestos Floor Tile & Mastic

    Hi Jordan. I was hoping you could give me some advice on an experience I had with asbestos recently. Sorry in advance for this being long.

    A couple years ago I moved in with my elderly grandparents to help take care of them. There were two bedrooms in their basement and I lived in one of them. One day after a heavy storm the second bedroom flooded. The carpet was ruined and the floor tiles underneath were ruined as well. In a clueless attempt to help my grandparents, I took out the carpet and threw out most of the tiles. The tiles were completely wet. Most were already loose, the rest peeled up with ease. There was black adhesive underneath. I was concerned about mold from the rainwater, so I dumped water with a little bit of bleach on the floors, opened the windows, and shut the door for a few days as it dried. Afterwards, I covered the floor completely with several big rugs, but the old black adhesive was still underneath. Another family member moved into that room for about a year. The floor was left as it was with the rugs covering it up.

    I moved out of that house last year, but recently my grandparents mentioned something about asbestos tiles in the basement. I googled to find out what they were talking about and was hit with all this information about asbestos in the tiles and adhesive. I’ve been panicking about this for quite a few days – terrified about how I so casually removed the tiles and afraid of how this could affect my health and the health of the family member that lived in there. I’ve never owned a house, so I didn’t know anything about it.

    So I wanted to write to you to see what your perspective is on this situation. Honestly after everything I’ve read online I’m terrified that I’ve been given some kind of death sentence or I’m just counting the years until I start having serious health problems… When I took the tiles up, I never hammered, or broke, or chipped away at them. They peeled up right off the floor because they were soaking wet and I put them in a box to throw away. When I cleaned the floors as well they were completely wet, and when I left the windows open to dry out the room, the door to the room was closed the entire time. I’m just so incredibly worried about how we put rugs over the top of the black adhesive and kept on living there for about a year.

    I’m so sorry this is so long. I just have a lot of worries I guess, and I’ve been crying about this ever since I found out. I am absolutely NOT asking you for any medical/health advice or anything like that. I’m just trying to understand how worried I should be about this. I was hoping you could tell me if this was a dangerous situation to be in or if it counts as a limited, short-term exposure type thing. There was never any cloud of dust and I never chiseled at the tiles or adhesive to get it up. But it worries me that maybe it was lingering in the air or something? I don’t know.

    Thank you in advance. I really appreciate it.

    Hello Andrea,

    The tiles are most hazard when powderized. If the tiles were both damp and intact when they were picked up, then there would be minimal exposure.

    I have called around to discover somebody who can test the air in my home. So far no karma.. any assistance would be valued. Pneumonia more than once is having the opportunity to be upsetting. Much obliged.

    Hello Jordan!
    Is it likely that black or yellow asphalt mastic used in Eastern-Europe, Hungary to glue wood parquet to the concrete floor might contain asbestos too? The wood parquet was installed around the 80’s laid with hot bitumen.

    Hello Levi,

    I’m not too familiar with Eastern-European building materials but black and yellow mastics used in the US may contain asbestos. I would recommend it being tested by an asbestos professional to confirm.

    Jordan if you are selling a 1948 property that has the 9 x 9 tiles similar to on your site where would you get that tested?

    Also if the loose tiles have been removed from half of the basement and the rest are down solid stuck to floor but mastic in areas remain what covering types would you suggest are best to encapsulate like a rolled vinyl sheet goods or something else?

    Thanks for your expertise


    Hello Pauletta,

    You would want to have a licensed asbestos professional test the tile. Rolled vinyl can be a good encapsulating as long as it doesn’t disturb the underlying tiles while it is being installed.

    In some cases, it can contain asbestos, but usually in rare circumstances. The best way to tell is to have the material sampled by a licensed professional.

    Great information on the site!

    I have a question that should be easy for you to answer and would give me some peace of mind. I just had a pro remove a title floor in the basement, mastic and all. They used plastic around the area, sealed it off, used large air filtration machines. They finished the removal in one day staeting at 830 am and finishing around 4pm, left the machines running for 24 hours, but contacted me the next day at 930 saying the report showed a clean air sampling. Is it possible to have a clear air test that fast without taking a filter from the air system after it running for awhile?

    Hello David,

    It is possible to have results that fast if a prior arrangement were set up with the laboratory or if samples were read onsite. The HEPA air scrubber or negative air machines would continuously run even after samples were collected until the area has been determined to meet clearance criteria. At that point, the machines would be turned off.

    I think I need an inspector, I have called around to find someone who can test the air in my house.
    so far no luck.. any help would be appreciated. Pneumonia more than once is getting to be disturbing. Thanks.