What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Sep 8, 2020

Living in the 21st century, it is very likely that you have seen a commercial or advertisement about asbestos-related illness or lawsuits. While the term asbestos has mainstream recognition, many aspects of it are not generally understood by the general public. Many will ask how does asbestos form? What does asbestos look like?  In this blog, we will provide some photos from the field to answer that question.  If you are interested in how asbestos is formed, please open the highlighted line above. Please note that this guide should not be used to determine if a material is asbestos-containing, rather it should be used as a guide for materials that may require testing. An asbestos-containing material can only be confirmed via laboratory analysis.

Thermal System Insulation (TSI)

Asbestos-containing thermal system insulation refers to pipe insulation, duct insulation, gaskets, among other materials. Among the most common of these materials is Air-Cell pipe insulation. This material often appears as a cast like material insulation over pipes. Magnesia block insulation appears as a solid white mass around a pipe. Below is a list of how asbestos-containing thermal system insulation appears.

Air Cell Pipe Insulation.Air Cell Pipe Insulation.
Air Cell Pipe Insulation.Air Cell Pipe Insulation.
Damaged Duct Insulation.Duct Insulation Tape.
Magnesia Furnace Insulation.Duct Insulation Inside Ductwork.

Flooring Materials

Common asbestos-containing flooring materials are 9”x 9” floor tile, 12” x 12” floor tile, sheet flooring, and flooring mastic (glue). Asbestos-containing materials can also appear under floors in the form of subfloor insulation or felt. Rarer asbestos-containing flooring is older ceramic floor tile grout and adhesive. Below is a list of suspected asbestos-containing flooring materials.

Various Asbestos Containing Tiles9” x 9” Vinyl Floor Tile
Sheet Flooring.Sheet Flooring.
Black Mastic.Black Mastic.
9” x 9” Vinyl Tiles and Black MasticFlooring Felt

Surfacing Materials

Surfacing materials are materials that are sprayed on or trolled on to surfaces. Common examples are plaster, popcorn ceiling, and textured paint. Below is a list of these materials.

Popcorn Ceiling.Popcorn Ceiling.
Popcorn Ceiling.Textured Ceiling
Plaster Wall.

Ceiling Tiles

An often-overlooked common asbestos-containing material is ceiling tiles. Asbestos was added to ceiling tiles for increased durability and acoustical properties. Below is a list of ceiling tiles.

Ceiling Tile.Ceiling Tile.

Vermiculite in Attics

Vermiculite is a mineral that is used as an insulating material commonly used in attics. Vermiculite appears as gold or silver-like in an attic.

Vermiculite Vermiculite.

Exterior Asbestos Containing Materials

Common exterior asbestos materials are usually related to siding, caulking, glazing, and roofing materials. Transite siding is a common asbestos-containing siding material on older homes and garages. Window and door caulking is another common exterior asbestos material.

Transite on Garage.Transite
Window Caulk.Door Caulk
Roofing Shingles.Roofing Shingles.

Asbestos Minerals

While it may be extremely rare to find raw asbestos in a property, below are photos of what some of the asbestos minerals look like.

Amosite Fibers.Crocidolite.


Hopefully, this list will be helpful in identifying suspect asbestos-containing materials. If a suspected material is damaged or will be impacted by a renovation, we recommend licensed asbestos professionals such as Indoor Science to sample the material to determine if it is asbestos-containing.