What Does Asbestos Smell Like? – Remodel On Point


    Demolition and remediation workers may sometimes say they know what asbestos smells like and it is distinct from other materials. In fact this is not true and scientific understanding of what is asbestos can help up answer this question.

    Asbestos does not have any smell and any association of smell with asbestos contaminated material is wrong statement. You have to be foolish to think asbestos micro fibers that are added to substance for insulation and strengthening can change smell of that material.

    You may never know that your house has materials with asbestos fibers or how dangerous they are when airborne. Without disturbance and demolition of these materials you have nothing to worry about, but it’s better to stay informed of potential hazards.

    Here is a list of average home materials that may have asbestos:

    • Drywall Popcorn
    • Soundproof or Pipe Insulation
    • Wall and Ceiling Plaster
    • Vinyl Tiles
    • Cement Roofing and Siding

    These specific materials may or may not contain asbestos particles. The smell will be the same regardless of verdict. The only way to tell for sure is to call professional remediation company and perform lab testing before removal of those materials.

    People Claim to Smell Asbestos at Remediation or Disposal Process

    Even remediation workers themselves understand that asbestos smell is a complete myth but still claim to have some association with scents that are present during demolition.

    Reasons why people may think asbestos has smell:

    Specific Material or Chemical Smell – Although we have already established that asbestos does not have smell, it is possible workers can be exposed to materials or chemicals at job site and believe it has to do with asbestos.

    For example working around the same city for demolition and remediation company will create similar types of projects all the time. Same age rotten lumber, treatment chemicals, insulation materials and simply poorly ventilated rooms with old smell may be mistaken for asbestos.

    It’s easy to get into situation where everything around work is repeated. Similar job types every day with same smell and knowledge of present asbestos. All these factors link up together in person’s mind to assume asbestos has unique distinct smell, which is not true.

    Imagination and Belief Asbestos has Smell – No matter how many scientific facts we provide, if person strongly believes asbestos has smell, his opinion will not change. It can be compared to any other imaginary or self-invoked belief. Let’s not compare it to anything the reason of not provoking our readers.

    Imaginary smell can originate from two points in our life. The first one is personal experience and as we stated before work related smells that are mistaken for asbestos contamination.

    Second way of assuming incorrect fact about asbestos having scent is from any other source. It may be fellow workers or informational resource such as press release. Back in the days many things were believed to be true.

    Association Triggers Scent – besides strong believe asbestos remediation related work can have association that react on brain triggering reflects. One of them could be smell. Let’s break down this point so you understand what we mean.

    Imagine group of workers is specialized in asbestos remediation or demolition of old plaster or contaminated insulation. From years of experience they can almost predict existence of designated substance.

    Seeing what is believed to be asbestos contaminated material can trigger false smell. Like seeing an apple in front of you and brain gives you memory of its smell. This effect can borrow work related scents from past.

    Never Try to Smell Asbestos During Demolition

    The worst possible way to test materials for asbestos is trying to smell them. Asbestos fibers are most dangerous when entered humans’ body through nose or moth into lungs. Inhaling dust with asbestos does not trigger any scent reflexes and can cause variety of life threatening diseases.

    List of diseases can be caused by smelling and inhaling asbestos:

    • Asbestosis
    • Lung Cancer
    • Pleural Infusion
    • Mesothelioma
    • Scarred Lungs

    Always treat materials with caution assuming the worst. Almost 100 000 people die every year due to asbestos related diseases. It does not happen instantly. Many cases are discovered 10,20 or even 30 years after exposure to parts of asbestos. Fibres accumulate in lungs and never leave, constantly damaging lungs from inside.

    Instead of Smelling Asbestos Send it to Lab

    Uneducated people in demolition industry always make crucial mistakes that causes work related diseases and even death. Without certainty of weather materials are dangerous or not it always makes sense to prioritize safety and perform lab test for designated substance.

    Instead of following logical and only safe suggestion people around the country continue use unethical asbestos testing that does not lead to anything but harm.

    List of wrong testing applications for presence of asbestos:

    Trying to smell or taste materials – asbestos fibers added to construction materials for strength do not have smell. Anything that you may feel when in contact with asbestos materials only relates to surroundings and materials next to contamination.

    Breaking up material to see fibers – for centuries construction industry experimented with adding different fibers, horse hair and similar materials to tighten compounds. You will not be able to distinct asbestos from other materials and can only open up potential for inhaling dangerous substance.

    Relying on opinion of others – do not believe anyone whether area is dangerous or safe to work at in relations to dangerous substances. It is your health and life at stake when working out there.

    Comparing materials by looks or location – Just because main floor plaster does not have asbestos particles in it, doesn’t mean second floor is exactly the same. Actually some bylaws require extended testing for designated substances with increase of square footage per house.

    Remodel On Point strongly suggest relying only on reputable lab testing and never ever to smell asbestos at work. Contact local firms and abatement professionals for assistance even if local bylaw does not require any testing. We have list of experienced companies in every state, so reach out to our team to get contact information.

    Steven H.
    Steven H.
    General Contractor and Home Builder with over 20 years of experience. Write and Edit educational posts for several Remodeling Blogs. Specialize in trade management and technical construction details.

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