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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 The black mastic was eventually superseded by yellow and clear based glues, which in rare cases may also contain asbestos.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.

Jordan Thomas

Jordan Thomas

Jordan Thomas is a Project Manager that performs indoor air quality assessments with a specialty in asbestos and lead. Mr. Thomas holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Earth Science from DePauw University. Jordan is an ACAC Council-Certified Indoor Environmentalist (CIE), Licensed Lead and Asbestos Inspector, Licensed Air Sampling Professional, and HAZWOPER certified. He also holds an asbestos microscopist certificate from the McCrone Research Institute. Prior to working at Indoor Science, Jordan worked as an Industrial Hygienist at Environmental Analysis, Inc and as an Asbestos/Lead Analyst at Metro Technology Laboratory. In his words… “While not in the field, I’m a Nu-Jazz and movie enthusiast.”

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13 thoughts on “Asbestos Floor Tile & Mastic

    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.