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Cleaning, Maintaining, and Encapsulating Asbestos Tile

Posted by Briana Smith on Mar 14, 2013 12:30:00 PM
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By: Briana Smith  |  March 14, 2013

PLEASE NOTE: Be extremely careful if you see any broken tiles. Contact a professional in your area that handles asbestos tile remediation as soon as possible as airborne asbestos fibers can be very small, even invisible to the naked eye. The intent of this article is for educational purposes in cleaning existing asbestos tiles that are in good condition.

OSHA has a Fact Sheet on Protecting Workers from the Hazards of Asbestos-Containing Flooring Material Maintenance

Cleaning a facility that was built pre-1989? Chances are the flooring is asbestos tile. What is asbestos tile you might ask? It all starts with understanding what asbestos is. Keep in mind, asbestos tile is generally safe if the tiles are in good condition, but there are several things to keep in mind when cleaning or maintaining asbestos tile.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos has been around since the days of the Ancient Greeks & Romans and was prized for being fire-resistant. Asbestos is defined as being one of six types of naturally occurring silicate minerals. Asbestos was used a lot in building materials because it is great for sound absorption (think popcorn ceilings), insulation, its strength, and its resistance to heat, electrical and chemical damage. In fact asbestos means “inextinguishable” in Ancient Greek.

What are asbestos tiles?

The only way you can officially tell if your tile is asbestos tile is to get it tested. But typically you can make a fairly accurate guess if your building is older than 1980 (especially between the years 1920-1960) that has the original floor and your tiles are 9”x9” or 12”x12” (1960’s onward). Many of these tiles tend to be black, brown, gray or some combination of the three due to an asphalt binder, although it’s not unusual for them to be in other colors – none of which are all that pretty. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t ban asbestos until 1989, but for the most part, asbestos tile wasn’t used after 1980.

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What not to do when cleaning & maintaining asbestos flooring…

  • Do not buff or sand floors
  • Do not remove, disturb or damage the tiles in any way; asbestos tile is considered to be hazardous materials & there are regulations for it’s removal
  • Do not use a stripper with asbestos tile flooring
  • Do not clean with a high pH or butyl cleaner; these will melt the surface, cause the color to bleed and the tile will loose it’s gloss

You can clean asbestos tile with a neutral or all-purpose cleaner, such as...

  • Solution Station 243 WAXIE-Green Neutral Cleaner (PDC)
    #320007 3L     4/cs
  • WAXIE Balance Neutral-pH Hard Surface Cleaner & Odor Counteractant
    #320024 gl/cs    4/cs
    #320022 5/gl     pail
    #320025 55/gl     drum

How to reduce/limit your exposure to asbestos fibers?

Asbestos flooring has asbestos fibers that can cause various health problems if inhaled, so never do anything that can crack, break, disturb or damage the tiles, which may cause the fibers to become airborne. Generally health problems only occur in people who have had lots of contact with asbestos over a long period of time due to occupational exposure, but safety is always important and it’s better not to risk anyone’s health. If tiles are damaged or cracked, take care in removing them & dispose of them as hazardous material per local & state regulations. Properly encapsulating or sealing asbestos tiles will help greatly in preventing the asbestos from becoming airborne as the process of encapsulating or sealing will bind the fibers together. As long as the tiles are intact, there’s no health danger.

What to do if you have asbestos flooring?

Encapsulate or seal your asbestos tiles, which helps to prevent damage and breaking. Not only will this increase indoor air quality safety, but it’ll be less expensive, as hiring a licensed asbestos professional and hazardous waste removal can be rather costly, and just as safe. You can take up asbestos flooring yourself, although we highly discourage this, but remember you have to watch out for the tiles becoming friable. A tile is friable when it breaks into small pieces or is ground down to a powder or dust expelling into the air, which poses a health hazard due to inhalation. If your tiles become friable, some states require a special permit for removal & disposal. You also cannot encapsulate or seal friable tile. Removing the tile is your only option at that point.

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Two ways to go about encapsulating or sealing your asbestos flooring:

Encapsulation with a sealant
Encapsulation with a sealant is probably the easiest way to go. Purchase a good sealant that is made for vinyl flooring as asbestos tile is a type of vinyl flooring material. Make sure that you have a full face respirator, gloves and any other recommended personal protective equipment. Read the directions for using the sealant several times. Carefully check that the tiles are not loose or chipping off. The floors should be swept & cleaned of debris, dust, dirt or anything stuck to the tile that may prevent the sealant from adhering, then mop and let the floor dry before applying the sealant. With good ventilation lay down the sealer per the manufacturer’s instructions and let the floor dry for as long as proscribed. Now you can lay down other flooring types (new tile/carpeting/etc.) as desired, or leave sealed tile as is.

Encapsulation with a 2-part epoxy process
The process is very similar to encapsulation. Purchase the proper epoxy kit for your asbestos vinyl flooring. Get all your personal protective equipment. Clean the floor thoroughly before the application of the epoxy like you would for encapsulating with a sealant. Once again, read the instructions and the safety measures on the product label several times before starting. No one wants to have to fix an epoxy mistake, as that may prove more problematic than dealing with the asphalt tile in the first place. Make sure the room is well ventilated. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for applying the epoxy to the floor. Let dry for as long as indicated on the epoxy product label. Apply a second coat of epoxy, once again per label directions, and let dry. Leave flooring as is, or put down other flooring types above it making sure not to chip the tiles in the process.

As mentioned previously, asbestos tile is safe as long as the tile is in good condition, but it’s good to make sure it’s well maintained to prevent safety hazards, and watch what cleaning processes and products you use in your daily, interim and deep cleaning routines.

Read more:
General Knowledge - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos
EPA's Asbestos Info - http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/
Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis and Repair -
Princeton University: Asbestos Fact Sheet - http://web.princeton.edu/sites/ehs/workplacesafety/asbestosfactsheet.htm
Minnesota Department of Health: Asbestos Tile Removal in Commercial Flooring -

Topics: asbestos tiles, cleaning maintaining and encapsulating, hard floor care

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