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How to Tear Up Asbestos Tiles

Karie Lapham Fay

Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was a common construction material. Many linoleums and floor tiles contain the material.

Old linoleum and vinyl floors may contain asbestos.

While you can hire a professional asbestos removal company, Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality points out that nonfriable vinyl floor tiles containing asbestos are safe to remove yourself, as long as you follow precautions. Vinyl floor tiles are nonfriable since they do not crumble or degrade when smashed with the hand. The vinyl upper side and the floor underlayment beneath trap the asbestos layer. The glue underneath may also contain asbestos, but as long as you do not use power tools on the tile, both glue and tile can be removed safely.


  1. Prepare the area where you will remove asbestos tile. Lay plastic sheeting over cupboards and heat return vents, and nail or staple it over doorways. Isolate the area you are working in as much as possible. Eliminate any wind or air movement by closing windows, turning off ceiling fans or any other necessary measures.

  2. Put on all safety gear, including goggles, respirator, coveralls and rubber boots. Use paper coveralls if possible, since you can throw these away when done, eliminating exposure of asbestos to the laundry.

  3. Wet the flooring area well, using a water hose or spray bottle. Soak the floor at least two hours before you begin removal. Flood the floor overnight if the underlying floor is cement, but only a couple hours if it is wood.

Tile and Glue Removal

  1. Remove floor tile starting at a doorway or entrance, where you can find a tile edge. Pry up the edge of a tile gently, using a wide putty knife, pry bar or similar tool. Spray as you go with water to help asbestos remain in place, not airborne.

  2. Use a heat gun (not a hair dryer, as this may blow asbestos fibers loose), chemical solvent or apply dry ice to help loosen one to three tiles to make removal of the rest of the tiles easier. Heat and cold both loosen adhesion, making tile removal easier.

  3. Lift tiles up intact; if tiles begin to crumble, you should either call an asbestos removal specialist or remove the underlying flooring.

  4. Scrape away the glue remaining under the removed floor tiles, using a putty knife or floor scraper and wetting the glue before beginning. Avoid sanding. Consider prying up the floor underlayment, beginning again at a door entrance, if materials prove difficult to remove.

  5. Place all removed flooring material in trash bags and seal well. Vacuum the area thoroughly, preferably with a HEPA vacuum. Clean any other exposed materials well with soapy water.

  6. Warning

    Remember that asbestos is a harmful substance if inhaled, and always follow every safety precaution. Call a professional if tiles begin to break into several pieces and you can not remove the floor underlayment.