How To Tell The Difference Between Cellulose And Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos is a poisonous and cancer-causing material that was extensively used for insulation reasons a few years ago. After the dangers of asbestos were known to the people, its use was replaced with cellulose. A lot of older homes contain asbestos-based Insulation. How do you determine the Insulation in your home is asbestos? How can you tell the difference between asbestos insulation and that made of cellulose?

It’s hard to discern the distinction between asbestos and cellulose. But, Asbestos insulation is generally pebble-like, and it is greayish brown or solver-gold, While cellulose insulation is grayish and appears like shredded paper.

In addition, because the amounts of asbestos used in different insulations differ, so do their appearances. If you think that your house has asbestos insulation, it’s advised to consult an expert to assess the situation.

Differences Between Asbestos And Cellulose Insulation

Before we look at the distinctions between asbestos and cellulose, it is worthwhile to know their characteristics.

Asbestos Insulation

Most people are not aware that asbestos is an elemental mineral. Asbestos is generally soft and flexible but has excellent corrosion-resistant and heat-resistant properties. In the early 1950s, over more than forty years, the construction industry utilized asbestos as insulation material and a fire retardant. If you look at older structures and homes, you’ll still see asbestos in the drywall tiles and within the attic. There aren’t any damages or walls that expose asbestos fibers in living areas of the home, and it is considered in good health. However, it is an extremely serious health risk when asbestos particles are airborne and penetrate the spaces of the property you reside in.

Cellulose Insulation

As an alternative to asbestos, the Insulation derived from cellulose is created from various materials, like hemp, cardboard, straw newspaper, straw, and other diverse substances. When construction workers use a mix of cellulose and paper, they treat it with boric acid to provide it with characteristics of resistance to fire.

The two most popular types of cellulose insulation are dry cellulose. It is sometimes referred to by the name loose-fill Insulation. Using holes, builders can employ a blower to blow the cellulose inside the wall. It can also be utilized to fill up wall cavities. The wet spray is an option builder can apply to walls recently constructed. The main distinction between dry cellulose and wet spray is the addition of water to the spraying. It creates a stronger seal that will prevent heat loss.

As with asbestos, cellulose performs well inside walls, pipes, and wiring. It helps in reducing fires and also in creating Insulation for your home. Cellulose is also a recyclable material and is a major benefit for those who own buildings seeking to become green.

The Differences

If you now know the different ingredients, they look identical when examined. While it’s different Insulation, there are a lot of similar problems with vermiculite insulation, as it is an extremely difficult task to determine if asbestos is present within. The most effective thing to do is to avoid touching it but seek the assistance of a professional who will take certain samples and obtain confirmation of whether it has asbestos. If asbestos is present, it is recommended to consider implementing an asbestos management system or eliminating it.

Regarding the other distinctions, there is no doubt that asbestos and asbestos-filled insulation materials are dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. If you’re unsure if your building could contain asbestos, It is highly advised to hire expert contractors to assess your building and make the necessary changes to lessen or eliminate the chance of contamination and exposure.

Asbestos Paper

Advantages of Cellulose


One of the top reasons cellulose is currently a widely preferred and used insulation material is that it is environment-friendly. As previously mentioned, it is made from recycled and reused materials that could otherwise be put in landfills.

Low VOC Levels

According to a study from Healthy Building Science, Blown-in-cellulose has very low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) levels, a chemical that can be detrimental to the environment and the health of humans. In reality, its total VOC (TVOC) in this insulation type is considered considerably lower than that allowed in GREENGUARD-approved products.


Cellulose insulation is the perfect option for your residence if you live near railroad or highway tracks or prefer a quieter environment. Since it is denser than most materials for Insulation, it offers great soundproofing properties.

Disadvantages of Cellulose

Not waterproof

Cellulose isn’t waterproof by nature. It can be treated with different substances during construction to render it water-resistant to a certain extent. However, should it be exposed to moisture for long, it could lead to massive problems, such as mold.

Fire Hazard

Since the main component in the cellulose is recycled paper, it is dangerous to fire if it is not protected with fire repellants when it comes to Insulation. To eliminate the risk that all building codes across the nation require that the Insulation made of cellulose be coated with fire-repellants before it is used.

Advantages of Asbestos

  • Asbestos is a highly heat-resistant material Which means that it does not easily burn.
  • Because its thermal insulation capacity is very high, this can make an energy-efficient building.
  • Asbestos is also weatherproof.
  • It’s extremely robust, which is why you’ll still find asbestos insulation in older structures.
  • The material is more affordable.
  • It is simple to maintain and clean and also.

Disadvantages of Asbestos

  • As most of you likely are aware, asbestos poses a serious risk to the health of humans and the environment. When inhaled or swallowed, the fibrous microparticles found in the substance may cause various illnesses.


Asbestos creates microscopic fibers that can be swallowed or breathed in, which can cause a myriad of problems. Because it is extremely difficult for the body to degrade asbestos’s toxic fibers over time. It may result in lung inflammation, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma and genetic cell damage, and many more similar illnesses. Because of the risks associated with asbestos, all governments globally have prohibited its use as in Insulation. However, certain insulation materials are made of asbestos, such as vermiculite, that must be recognized and substituted.

What to Do With Suspicious Insulation?

If your Insulation is loose and conforms to the visual indications for vermiculite, The first thing you need to be aware of is the material from being disturbed. Asbestos fibers pose the greatest risk when they’re airborne and are inhaled. If Insulation is left unattended, it significantly reduces the chance of exposure.

It is possible to examine your Insulation to detect asbestos with the asbestos-testing kit or have samples tested by an approved laboratory for testing. If you discover that your Insulation contains asbestos, you can put it back in the area or remove it through a nearby asbestos removal firm.

For more details on dealing with vermiculite insulation, go to this site for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Related Article: What Does Asbestos Look Like And How To Identify It

About Waqar Ali

My name is Waqar and I am a Health and Safety Advisor at Laing O'Rourke, one of the leading construction companies in the UK. I have always been passionate about safety and have pursued a career in this field to make a positive impact on people's lives.

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