Fiberglass vs Asbestos – Is It Just As Dangerous?

Researched & Written by Craig

It’s hardly a secret how dangerous asbestos is. More than 60 countries have banned asbestos, and asbestos exposure is the exclusive cause of mesothelioma and accounts for thousands of work-related deaths worldwide each year.

Before the dangers of asbestos became known, asbestos fibers were a common form of insulation. Today, many older homes and buildings still contain asbestos insulation. 

If you’re planning to re-insulate your home, it probably goes without saying that asbestos is out of the question ‒ and luckily, there’s no shortage of healthier alternatives. 

Despite all the different insulation materials on the market today, fiberglass insulation continues to reign as a cost-effective choice. When it comes down to fiberglass vs. asbestos, is fiberglass just as dangerous? 

Let’s find out!

Is Fiberglass Dangerous? 

Fiberglass is similar to asbestos in composition; however, fiberglass is safer than asbestos.

Example fiberglass insulation.

Before we explore the difference between fiberglass vs. asbestos, let’s first take a closer look at asbestos and why it is so dangerous.

What Is Asbestos & Why Is It Dangerous?

Asbestos contains naturally occurring, heat-resistant minerals, including chrysotile, that are mainly exported from Asian countries. Six kinds of asbestos can make up cloth, paper, and other building materials, and they are still present as a surface, insulation, and fireproofing material.

A (creepy-looking) example of asbestos insulation.

When inhaled or ingested, asbestos dust remains in the body, irritating the lungs, stomach, and other organs, and eventual scarring. This scarring leads to genetic changes and can progress into mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, stomach, and other organs.

It’s no wonder why asbestos is no longer used as a building and insulating material on an international scale. With all that said, what makes fiberglass the safer choice?

How Is Fiberglass Safer (& More Effective) Than Asbestos?

Man-made from reinforced glass fibers, asbestos provides better thermal insulating potential and higher tensile strength than asbestos WITHOUT the health risks. 

So, what makes fiberglass the safer choice? 

It is not abrasive like asbestos. If inhaled or ingested, fiberglass won’t irritate and cause scarring to the lungs and other internal organs. The lungs can absorb and filter out fiberglass more easily than asbestos.

As for its performance, fiberglass historically insulates spaces better and longer than asbestos. It also performs better in warmer climates. 

Additionally, fiberglass is one of the cheaper insulating materials and is relatively easy to DIY install! Though much safer than asbestos, installing fiberglass insulation does come with some hazards.

What Are the Dangers of Fiberglass Insulation?

Because tiny glass fibers make up fiberglass insulation, it can irritate and cut into unprotected skin, causing discomfort and itchiness.

If inhaled in large amounts, fiberglass can temporarily irritate the lungs and the tissues of other internal organs. Usually, this can result in an uncomfortable, itchy throat and nasal passages, which will eventually subside.

How to Safely Install Fiberglass Insulation

Despite the hazards that can arise by installing fiberglass insulation, there are ways to prevent skin, lung, and nasal irritation and itchiness. 

Here is a breakdown of how you can protect yourself when installing fiberglass insulation:

  1. Don’t leave your skin exposed ‒ Cover up with plenty of clothing! Wear long-sleeved tops, jeans or loose-fitting, work pants, hats, gloves, boots, and face masks.
  1. Moisturize your skin prior to installation. This can better protect your skin. Dry skin is more prone to cutting.
  1. Leaving a window or door open is important when installing fiberglass insulation, but make sure there isn’t too much of a draft. Excessive wind and airflow can cause the fibers to blow around, making you more susceptible to inhalation or ingestion. If you can, avoid installing the fiberglass on a windy day.

Should you develop itchiness after fiberglass exposure, avoid scratching, first and foremost. This will only worsen the itchiness and lead to abrasions. As soon as possible, jump in a hot shower, lather up with plenty of soap, and rinse thoroughly.

If you develop severe itchiness and skin irritation, you may benefit from taking an antihistamine.

Fiberglass vs. Asbestos: Understanding the Difference

When it concerns your health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others, fiberglass is by far the better and most obvious choice compared to asbestos.

But is fiberglass the best and most effective insulation material?

Some would argue that, though safer than asbestos, fiberglass is not as efficient as other insulation materials, such as spray foam insulation.

Are you considering installing new insulation in your home? Now is the time to start weighing your options in insulation materials. To help you decide, we’ve provided a quick comparison guide on spray foam vs. fiberglass insulation

Let us know which insulation material you choose for your upcoming project by sending us a message!