How To Tell The Difference Between Cellulose And Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos is a poisonous and cancer-causing material 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, grayish 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.

1. 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. Looking at older structures and homes, you’ll still see asbestos in the drywall tiles and 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 your property.

2. 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.

Difference Between Cellulose And Asbestos Insulation

Differences Between Asbestos And Cellulose Insulation

Asbestos and cellulose insulation are different insulation materials with distinct properties and characteristics. Here are the main differences between them:

Composition and Appearance:

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is soft and flexible yet resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion. It was extensively used in the construction industry for its insulation and fire-resistant properties. Asbestos insulation is generally pebble-like and can have a grayish-brown or silver-gold appearance.
  • Cellulose insulation, on the other hand, is made from plant-based materials such as recycled newspaper, cardboard, straw, and other similar substances. It is often treated with boric acid to enhance its fire-resistant properties. This type of insulation looks like grayish, shredded paper.

Health Effects:

  • Asbestos is harmful to human health. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne, and when inhaled, they can cause serious health conditions, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
  • Cellulose insulation is generally safe for human health. However, it can pose issues if improperly installed or if wet, leading to mold growth.

Environmental Impact:

  • Cellulose insulation is considered more eco-friendly as it is typically made from a high percentage of recycled content. It also helps reduce waste that would otherwise end up in landfills.
  • Asbestos has a negative environmental impact as it is non-biodegradable and can contaminate soil and water.

Fire Resistance:

  • Asbestos is naturally fire-resistant. It was commonly used in buildings for its ability to resist high temperatures and prevent the spread of fire.
  • Although not naturally fire-resistant, cellulose insulation is usually treated with fire retardants. Despite this, it’s less effective than asbestos in resisting high temperatures.

Removal and Disposal:

  • A certified professional should always remove asbestos due to its harmful health effects. Proper safety measures should be taken during removal, and the material must be disposed of following strict regulations.
  • Cellulose insulation can be removed more easily, making its disposal less complicated. However, it’s recommended to consult a professional for large-scale removal.
Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos And Cellulose Insulation – Advantages and Disadvantages

Let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of asbestos and cellulose insulation:

1. Asbestos Insulation:


  • Heat Resistant: Asbestos is highly heat-resistant, making it a good insulator. It doesn’t easily burn and can withstand high temperatures.
  • Durability: It’s incredibly robust, so many older structures still have asbestos insulation.
  • Cost-Effective: The material was relatively inexpensive and readily available, making it a cost-effective choice in the past.
  • Weatherproof: Asbestos is resistant to weather, enhancing the durability of the building structure.


Health Risks: The main drawback of asbestos is its severe health risks. When asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled, they can lead to serious diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

Disposal Issues: The removal and disposal of asbestos are highly regulated and should be done by a certified professional. This process is not only dangerous but also expensive.

2. Cellulose Insulation:


  • Environmentally Friendly: Cellulose is typically made from recycled paper products, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly option.
  • Soundproofing: Due to its dense composition, cellulose insulation has excellent soundproofing qualities.
  • Affordable: Compared to other types of insulation, cellulose is relatively affordable.
  • Energy-Efficient: Cellulose insulation provides excellent thermal performance, helping to lower energy costs.


  • Absorption of Moisture: Cellulose can absorb water, leading to mold and decay issues. This also reduces its insulating effectiveness.
  • Settling Over Time: Cellulose insulation can settle over time, potentially reducing its insulating capabilities. This means it may need to be topped up after some years.
  • Fire Hazard: Even though it is treated with fire retardants, cellulose insulation can pose a fire risk if exposed to an open flame.

While asbestos insulation has some advantages in terms of cost and durability, its severe health risks and the complications of its removal and disposal make it a highly undesirable choice today. Cellulose insulation, while not without its own disadvantages, is a safer, more environmentally-friendly alternative.


Determining the difference between asbestos and cellulose insulation can be challenging, given their similarities in appearance. However, there are some telltale signs to guide you. Asbestos insulation often has a pebble-like texture and can appear grayish-brown or silver-gold, while cellulose insulation, composed of plant-based materials like recycled newspaper, looks like grayish, shredded paper.

It’s important to remember that asbestos is a hazardous material associated with numerous health risks, and if suspected in your home, a professional should be consulted for safe identification and removal. Never try to handle or disturb potential asbestos materials yourself due to the danger of releasing harmful fibers into the air.