Asbestos Paper & Felt Underlayment: A Complete Guide

Asbestos creates durable, heat- and fire-resistant materials that made it popular in construction and manufacturing, but it also can cause serious diseases like mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos paper and felt were used extensively in these industries until the mid-1980s, exposing workers to its dangers. If you’re concerned about exposure to asbestos felt and paper products, learn more here.

Use of Asbestos Paper & Felt

Asbestos is an extremely versatile mineral. In addition to being used in products like drywall and insulation, it could also be formed into a thin paper or woven into felt, a type of textile that’s made of compressed, matted fibers. The construction and milling industries used these materials extensively.

Strict regulations and increasing consumer awareness led to companies phasing out materials containing asbestos starting in 1980. But with no requirement to replace existing asbestos materials, they can still be found in many buildings constructed before then.

Paper & Paper Mills

Asbestos paper was used as insulation or as a lining on fiberboard and drywall. It was even used to make cardboard storage boxes stronger. Asbestos was mixed with the wet paper pulp, then made into thin sheets and dried into the final product. When this paper was ripped, it could release asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos felt was also used in paper mills. As part of the drying process, the wet paper pulp was laid out on slabs covered in asbestos felt. It could then be dried at an extremely high temperature, speeding up the production process.


Asbestos felt is a heavy-duty material that’s resistant to both moisture and heat, helping to prevent rotting and over-drying. It was often used in roofing to provide protection and insulation. Asbestos felt underlayment was used as a lining underneath shingle roofs, one of the most common residential roof types in the U.S. Asbestos was even sometimes mixed into the shingles themselves, which were made of asphalt.

Asbestos felt was also used without shingles. It could be layered on a flat-topped roof and covered in tar to keep out moisture, a method that was popular on commercial buildings all over the U.S. until the 1980s. Like shingles, asbestos was also mixed directly into the tar.


Another common use of asbestos paper was in flooring. Tile, linoleum and vinyl flooring often had backings of asbestos paper or felt to make it more durable and fire-resistant and to provide a moisture barrier. The adhesive used to stick the material to the floor also often contained asbestos. Black mastic, which was used with tile floors, is especially hazardous.

Asbestos flooring felt is one of the only asbestos products banned in the U.S., along with sprays and wall-patching compounds. However, it wasn’t banned until 1989, and while its use decreased before that, it can still be found in homes, offices and other buildings.

Health Risks of Asbestos Paper & Felt

Asbestos paper and felt were something of a miracle product for the construction industry, creating durable, affordable products. But asbestos companies were hiding a secret—it can cause serious disease.

When you damage or disturb asbestos products, for example, by tearing a piece of paper, sanding a roof or ripping up asbestos felt underlayment, the dust releases tiny, microscopic fibers. If you inhale asbestos fibers, they can become lodged in your lung tissue and even travel to other parts of your body. Over time, they cause scarring, inflammation and changes to your DNA. These changes result in asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

At-Risk Occupations

The health risks of asbestos paper and felt multiply the longer you’re exposed to the fibers. Workers in certain at-risk occupations have the highest risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases:

  • Cable installers
  • Chimney installers and cleaners
  • Construction workers
  • Demolition crews
  • Firefighters
  • Flooring installers
  • Paper mill employees
  • Renovation workers
  • Roofers

If you worked in one of these occupations before 1980, you could have a higher risk of exposure from asbestos felt and paper. Since the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have put protections in place. Still, workers continue to be exposed to old asbestos products even today.

What to Do With Asbestos in Your Home

Before the 1980s, many homes and residential buildings throughout the U.S. were built with paper and felt in the flooring and roofing. Asbestos paper often has a corrugated, rough look, like cardboard, but it can be white instead of brown when used as a lining. Asbestos felt may also appear rough or fuzzy and is often black.

Picture of broken asbestos felt

Keep in mind that it’s impossible to confirm whether paper or felt contains asbestos by sight alone. It’s safest to assume that any felt or paper products installed before the mid-1980s contain asbestos, but the only way to be sure is to have it tested by a professional testing company.

Most asbestos paper and felt in homes today is enclosed underneath flooring or roofing, and typically isn’t hazardous unless it’s disturbed. If you’re planning on making renovations or repairs that involve felt underlayment or paper products, first test the material. If it contains asbestos, call in an asbestos abatement contractor to take care of the work.

Beyond the typical dangers and costs of asbestos abatement, there are two special reasons to leave asbestos paper and felt to the professionals. First, the way these materials were constructed makes them especially friable, which means they crumble easily and are especially hazardous. Plus, they were used in floors and roofs over very large areas, meaning you’ll have a lot of material to dispose of. Because the EPA regulates the handling and disposal of asbestos, big projects like these are typically more trouble than they’re worth for homeowners.

Compensation for Those Exposed to Asbestos

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s important to know that asbestos exposure is the sole cause of this disease. In the past, many companies knew about the dangers of asbestos and covered it up. If your case falls within the statute of limitations, you could be entitled to compensation that can help cover your medical bills and other costs of mesothelioma.

At Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney and Meisenkothen, we’ve won mesothelioma compensation for numerous workers who were likely exposed to asbestos paper and felt, including $7.6 million for a carpenter in California and $4.8 million for a mill worker in South Carolina.

Contact us today to speak with one of our advocates and start your free case evaluation. We’ll get you the compensation you deserve.


What is asbestos paper used for?

Asbestos paper was used as backing for linoleum and vinyl flooring, lining for fiberboard and drywall and for insulation, especially on steam pipes. It was very common in building materials from the early 1900s to the mid-1980s. Asbestos was also mixed in with paper wood pulp to create sturdier cardboard storage boxes. Today, asbestos paper is no longer used in the U.S.

How can I identify asbestos paper?

Because of the properties of the fibers, asbestos paper often has a rough or fuzzy look. It may resemble cardboard, although it can be white instead of brown. However, the only sure way to identify asbestos paper is to have it tested by a professional testing company.

How should I handle asbestos paper safely?

Asbestos paper is very difficult to handle safely. It’s extremely friable, which means it breaks down easily and releases its deadly fibers into the air. It’s also used over large areas, which means you’ll be dealing with large amounts of asbestos. Proper handling involves special respirators, goggles and other protective gear, plus knowledge of removal techniques. Because of the cost and expertise involved, it’s best to call a professional asbestos abatement company.

Is asbestos felt still used today?

No, asbestos felt is no longer used in the construction and roofing industries. In fact, asbestos flooring felt is one of the few products that has been banned outright in the U.S. Other uses of felt have declined due to regulation and consumer awareness. However, buildings that were built before the mid-1980s may still contain these products.

Request a Free Case Evaluation

Request a free case evaluation now if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The evaluation will cost you nothing. Our lawyers will travel to visit you at your convenience or conference call with you over the phone. We understand how difficult a time this is for you and will assist in any way that we can. You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-336-0086 at any time.