How to Tell the Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation


Asbestos was widely used for insulation until it was discovered to be carcinogenic. As people learned more about the perils of asbestos, it was phased out in favour of cellulose.

Asbestos-based insulation is commonly found in many older homes. How can you tell if the insulation in your house contains asbestos? If you have cellulose insulation and think it might be asbestos, how do you determine the difference?

How to Tell the Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation

Asbestos and cellulose look and feel very similar. In contrast to the grey appearance and shredded-paper-like appearance of cellulose insulation, the typical colour and texture of asbestos insulation are pebble-like and greayish brown or solver-gold.

Asbestos content also has a role in the visual distinctions between insulation types. You should have your home inspected by a professional if you suspect it has asbestos insulation.

Insulation Materials: Asbestos vs. Cellulose

It is helpful to understand the properties of both asbestos and cellulose before delving into the differences between the two.

Insulation Made With Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral, although few understand that. Although typically rather malleable, asbestos also possesses remarkable resistance to corrosion and high temperatures.

Asbestos was widely used for insulation and as a fire retardant in the construction sector from the early 1950s until the early 2000s. Asbestos can still be found in drywall tiles and attics of older buildings and homes.

The home is in good condition and poses no health risks because there are no visible signs of damage or broken walls that could release asbestos fibres into the air.

When asbestos fibres become airborne and spread throughout a building, however, the occupants’ health is put in grave danger.

Insulation Made From Cellulose

Insulation made from cellulose is a safer alternative to asbestos, and it may be made from a wide variety of plant and animal components. Boric acid is used by construction workers to give a cellulose and paper mixture fireproof qualities.

Dry cellulose insulation and wet cellulose insulation are the two most common forms. Loose-fill Insulation is another term for this material.

Using a blower, builders can insert the cellulose into the wall through precut holes. You can also use it to seal off any holes in your walls. Newly erected walls may be treated with a wet spray as an alternative treatment.

The addition of water to the spraying process is the primary differentiator between dry cellulose and wet spray. It makes a more secure fit, reducing heat loss.

Cellulose, like asbestos, is used for insulation and insulating pipe and electrical wiring. It’s useful for preventing house fires and making insulation. The fact that cellulose may be recycled is a huge plus for eco-conscious building owners.

What Sets These Two Apart

When inspected closely, they all seem the same unless you know what you’re looking for. Although vermiculite insulation is not the same as fibreglass, it presents many of the same challenges due to the difficulty in determining whether or not it contains asbestos.

The best course of action is to have an expert take samples to confirm the presence of asbestos without touching the material. If asbestos is found, taking steps to contain it or remove it should be considered.

Asbestos and other insulation materials that may contain asbestos should be avoided at all costs, regardless of the other characteristics.

It is strongly recommended that if you suspect that your building contains asbestos, you have professional contractors conduct an inspection and make any necessary adjustments.

Cellulose’s Many Pros


Cellulose’s low environmental impact is making it an increasingly popular insulating choice. To recap, it’s constructed entirely out of waste products that would have otherwise been discarded.

Concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds That Are Safely Below Limits

A report from Healthy Building Science found that blown-in cellulose emits negligible amounts of volatile organic compounds, which are known to be harmful to both human and environmental health. Total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) in this form of insulation are actually much lower than the limits set for GREENGUARD certified goods.


If you prefer a quieter home and/or live near a busy road or train, cellulose insulation is a great choice.

It has excellent soundproofing capabilities because it is denser than most Insulation materials.

Cellulose’s Drawbacks

It’s not watertight

Inherently, cellulose lacks the ability to withstand water. There are a variety of materials that can be used during construction to increase its resistance to water.

However, prolonged exposure to damp might cause serious complications including mould growth.

Embers of a Fire

Since recycled paper makes up the bulk of the cellulose, it poses a fire risk if it is not treated with fire retardants.

Cellulose insulation must be treated with fire-retardants to meet national building rules that aim to remove such hazards.

Asbestos’s Positive Features

  • Because of its remarkable resistance to heat, asbestos is rarely destroyed in fires.
  • This can be used to create an energy-saving structure due to its great thermal insulation capabilities.
  • Also, asbestos is impervious to the elements.
  • It’s highly resilient, which is why you’ll still see asbestos insulation in older structures.
  • The material is more inexpensive.
  • Furthermore, cleaning and upkeep are breezes.

Disadvantages Of Asbestos

  • As most of you presumably are aware, asbestos poses a major risk to the health of humans and the environment. When inhaled or ingested, the fibrous microparticles found in the material may induce numerous ailments.


Asbestos breaks down into tiny fibres that can be inhaled or ingested, leading to a host of health issues. Because the poisonous fibres in asbestos are very difficult for the body to breakdown over time.

It has been linked to a wide range of ailments, including inflammation of the lungs, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and damage to the DNA of cells.

Asbestos is so dangerous that every country on the planet has banned using it in insulation. However, vermiculite and other insulating materials must be avoided because they contain asbestos.

What Should I Do About Doubtful Insulation?

If your Insulation is loose and adheres to the visual signals for vermiculite, The first thing you need to be mindful of is the material from being disturbed.

Asbestos fibres provide the greatest harm when they’re airborne and are breathed. If Insulation is left untreated, it dramatically reduces the danger of exposure.

It is possible to analyse your Insulation to detect asbestos with the asbestos-testing kit or have samples tested by a recognised laboratory for testing.

If you discover that your Insulation has asbestos, you can put it back in the area or remove it using a reputable asbestos removal business.

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