Asbestos is a harmful material that could cause breathing problems or even cancer if you’re exposed to it, so naturally, you want to protect yourself from that. It was used as a flame-resistant insulation and is commonly found in older buildings made before the 1970s. If you live or work in an old building that has asbestos in it, you have to take steps to avoid breathing in the debris and kicking dust into the air. Luckily, there are procedures in place to do just that. As long as you follow the right steps, you can safely be around asbestos without experiencing any harm.
General Safety Tips
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Bring in a professional to check for asbestos in older homes. Buildings and homes built after the 1970s shouldn’t contain any asbestos, but it’s possible that older homes might still have some. It’s not always obvious if something contains asbestos, and sometimes it’s tough to tell it apart from plain fiberglass insulation. If you’re not sure whether something in your home is asbestos, it’s best to bring in a professional contractor to test it. That way, you’ll know which areas of your home you have to be careful in.
Most states employ EPA-approved asbestos testers. You can find a full list here: https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/state-asbestos-contacts
Some materials, like pipes or insulation, have markings indicating whether or not they contain asbestos. However, you might have to move the material around to check, so this isn’t a good idea.
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Leave any undamaged material with asbestos alone. It’s important to remember that asbestos is usually not harmful if you don’t disturb it. The problem is when you disturb damaged asbestos materials, which sends fibers into the air. If there is anything in your home that has asbestos and it’s not falling apart or decaying, just leave it alone. Don’t touch it, and definitely keep any kids or pets away from it.
Asbestos materials are usually around furnaces, heating ducts, boilers, and heating pipes. It could also be in floor and ceiling tiles or patchwork.
Some older homes also have asbestos paint, but this was banned in 1977, so you should be okay if your home has been repainted since then.
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Clean around asbestos using only a wet mop or rag. This should pick up any dust or debris without damaging the asbestos material. Never use a vacuum or power tools around it. These could damage the asbestos and create dust.
Rinse the rag or mop thoroughly with water after cleaning. It’s best to reserve these particular mops and rags for the asbestos area so you don’t spread it around.
If the asbestos is damaged at all, wear a respirator mask while you’re cleaning around it.
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Inspect asbestos material for signs of damage regularly. Asbestos is dangerous when it starts to break down and send fibers into the air, so it’s important to monitor any asbestos materials for damage. Check for any cracks, flaking, abrasions, or water damage, which indicates that the asbestos is breaking down.
Don’t touch the material while you’re inspecting it. Just do a visual check.
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Block off any areas with damaged asbestos. Do all you can to avoid that area. Keep your kids and pets out of the room and only go in there when you have to. This should limit the amount of asbestos you’re exposed to.
If you can’t avoid the area completely, then at least block off the spots with asbestos using tape or ropes. That way, you won’t accidentally knock into it.
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Call a professional to repair or remove any damaged asbestos material. Getting rid of asbestos is a job for professionals, so don’t try to do it yourself. Bring in a professional contractor with asbestos-removal experience to get rid of any damaged asbestos in your home to keep yourself and your family safe.
You’ll probably have to leave your home for a few days during a full asbestos removal. This is so you don’t get exposed to any dust.
If the asbestos is only slightly damaged, a contractor may just be able to patch it. This is much easier and less expensive than a full removal.
You could also remove undamaged asbestos as a precaution if you want to.
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Wet the ground before working outside in an area with natural asbestos. Asbestos can also occur in nature, and some areas have high levels in the soil. If you live in an area with high asbestos, it’s important to avoid breathing in dust from the soil. Spray down your property with a hose before working or playing outside. This should prevent any dust from forming.
Also try to stay on paved roads and trails if you’re walking or running outside. Otherwise you could kick up dust.
Leave your shoes at the door so you don’t track asbestos into your home.
If you live in the US, you can check if your area has natural asbestos by visiting https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/noa/docs/usamap.pdf.
If you’re outside the US, see if your government keeps track of natural asbestos areas.
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Put on a HEPA-filtered respirator to protect your lungs. This is crucial to avoid breathing in dangerous asbestos particles. Get a respirator that forms a tight seal around your nose and mouth. Use HEPA filters or N-100, P-100 or R-100 NIOSH rated cartridges to block asbestos dust. Keep the mask on for the entire time that you’re in an area with asbestos.
A disposable P2 mask with a filter is not ideal, but it’s also an acceptable mask to wear around asbestos.
A regular dust mask from the hardware store is not enough protection for working around asbestos, so don’t try to use one of these as a substitute.
If you have a thick beard, the respirator might not fit properly. It’s very dangerous to work around asbestos if your mask doesn’t form a tight seal, so you might have to shave beforehand.
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Put on disposable coveralls to keep asbestos off your clothes and skin. Make sure the coveralls cover your entire body and have a hood to cover your head. Zip and seal the coveralls to cover all your exposed skin.
Coveralls are hot and probably uncomfortable, but they’re very important for protecting yourself.
If you don’t have coveralls, you could also wear old clothes that cover all your skin. Throw them out when you’re done working around the asbestos.
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Wear goggles to prevent asbestos from getting into your eyes. Any eye covering like safety glasses or work goggles will work fine. This is important for keeping asbestos dust out of your eyes.
Goggles are especially important for if you’re removing asbestos material, like ceiling tiles or floorboards.
Goggles aren’t as crucial if you’re not doing anything that will kick up dust, but they’re still a good safety precaution.
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Protect your feet with rubber boots and coverings. Good-quality boots are important so no nails or sharp objects can poke you. Make sure to cover the boots with the strong plastic on your coveralls so they don’t get contaminated with asbestos.
Rubber is best because it’s very easy to clean. You can reuse rubber boots as long as you properly wash them when you’re done.
Don’t wear your everyday shoes or boots around asbestos. Debris can get caught in them and you might track harmful dust into your home.
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Wear disposable cloth gloves to protect your hands. Make sure the gloves are strong enough to handle the work that you’re doing without tearing. Put the gloves on and pull the coverall sleeves up so there’s no skin showing.
Replace your gloves each day. Using the same ones can expose you to asbestos.
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Open all the windows in the area before you start working. If you’re doing any kind of work in an area with asbestos, ventilate it as well as you can. Open all the windows in the area to vent out any dust while you’re working.
Do not, however, open the windows on very windy days. This could kick up dust.
Don’t run a fan either. This could kick some asbestos dust into the air.
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Put up warning signs if you’re working in a area with asbestos. Even if you’re careful, you could kick up some dust if you’re doing any work in an area with asbestos. Put up large signs saying “WARNING – ASBESTOS” so no one enters accidentally and gets exposed.
If you’re working in your home, keep kids and pets out of the area.
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Wet any asbestos with a spray bottle and dish soap. Asbestos doesn’t kick into the air as much if it’s wet. Fill a spray bottle with water and add a few drops of dish soap. Spray everything that might contain asbestos before you start working to keep any harmful dust contained.
Never use a high-pressure hose or power washer around asbestos. This will kick dust into the air.
If you’re cleaning the area, throw away any rags or towels you use on asbestos materials.
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Avoid breaking or sanding anything that contains asbestos. Asbestos dust spreads into the air when fibers are broken, so be careful. Floor tiles and insulation sheets that are starting to degrade are major sources for asbestos. Don’t break up or use sandpaper on anything that could contain asbestos so you don’t send dust and debris into the air.
Be careful when you’re moving anything that could contain asbestos, like floor tiles. Set it down gently on the ground instead of dropping it so it doesn’t break.
If you do have to remove large pieces of asbestos and can’t avoid breaking them up, it’s best to call a professional removal crew instead.
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Don’t sweep or use power tools around asbestos. Both of these things will kick dust into the air and could cause exposure. Keep all of your power tools and brooms out of the asbestos area to prevent contamination.
If you need to do any cutting, use hand tools like a handsaw or manual drill instead.
For light cleaning, use a damp rag instead of a broom. Throw out the rag when you’re done.
Using a broom is also a bad idea because asbestos debris will get trapped in the hairs. If you use that broom somewhere else, you’ll spread asbestos around.
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Vacuum any asbestos up with a Type H vacuum. If you do have to clean around asbestos material, this is the only approved cleanup method. Type H vacuums are built with special filters that are designed to keep hazardous dust contained. You can get one from a normal hardware store.
Never use a regular household vacuum on asbestos, even if it has a HEPA filter. These aren’t equipped to handle asbestos and will send dust into the air.
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Double-bag any material so it doesn’t leak. If you’re getting rid of anything that might have asbestos in it, use 2 garbage bags. Seal both of them tightly to prevent any leaks or tears that could cause an asbestos spill.
Seal everything up before leaving the work area so no asbestos leaks out when you take the bags out.
Label the bags and dispose of them according to your county’s guidelines.
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Keep your respirator on while removing your clothes and equipment. When you’re done working, stay in the asbestos area. Remove your gloves, coveralls, and goggles while keeping your mask on so you don’t breathe any fumes in. Put the coveralls and gloves into a thick garbage bag and seal it with tape. Then leave the area and remove your mask.
Remember to double bag the clothes so nothing leaks.
Put reusable things like goggles and your mask in a separate bag for washing. If you used a cloth mask, throw that in the disposal bag too.
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Throw away any disposable clothes and gloves you wore. Anything you wore while working around asbestos is contaminated. Goggles, masks, and boots can be washed, but get rid of gloves and clothes. Throw them away with the other asbestos waste.
Label any bags with asbestos material so trash collectors know to handle it carefully.
If you wore regular clothes instead of coveralls, throw these out too.
Don’t try to launder any disposable equipment to reuse it. Getting asbestos out of fibers is very difficult and the clothing will get damaged in the process anyway.
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Wash reusable equipment with water. Wet a rag and carefully wipe down your boots, mask, and goggles. Rinse the rag regularly to avoid spreading too much asbestos around.
Check the tread of your boots for any asbestos debris. If you don’t get rid of that, you could track asbestos into your home.
Throw the rag away when you’re finished. Don’t reuse it.
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Take a shower when you’re done. Rinse and scrub your whole body, especially your hair. Flush any dust down the drain so it doesn’t stay in your shower. This should remove any asbestos dust and prevent exposure.
Be sure to clean your fingernails well, since asbestos dust could get trapped in here.
If you’re not sure whether or not something contains asbestos, it’s best to be safe and assume it does. That way, you can avoid accidental exposure.
If you’re going to be around asbestos for a few days in a row, wear fresh gloves, overalls, and clothing each day so you don’t expose yourself.
If you want to remove asbestos, it’s best to call in a professional. If you don’t have enough experience, you could expose yourself or others to dangerous chemicals.
Do not reuse any clothes that got exposed to asbestos. Get rid of them as soon as you’re done working.
Some states and localities have laws stating that you have to hire a professional to remove asbestos or get rid of it if you have people working in the area. This all depends on your local laws, so check these before taking any steps to remove asbestos yourself.