Does your home have asbestos siding? 

Anytime anyone mentions the word asbestos, it can be enough to sound the alarms in your mind. After all, the harmful effects of asbestos are no secret: Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and other organs.

Many older buildings and homes still contain insulation and construction materials made from asbestos, including pipe wrapping, paint, and siding. 

Removing asbestos can be an arduous, expensive, and risky task that requires the help of professionals.

Often, owners choose not to remove the asbestos and leave it be. But what if you have asbestos siding and want to paint your home? Is painting asbestos safe? 

When it comes to painting asbestos-cement siding, it is a doable DIY project for a homeowner ‒ although it does come with safety precautions. Painting asbestos-cement siding can even serve as a better, safer, and more cost-effective alternative to removing it altogether.

If you’re planning to paint asbestos siding, here’s everything you need to know to get the job done safely and efficiently.

What Is Asbestos?

Before we discuss how to paint asbestos siding, let’s go over some basics.

Asbestos is a group of thin mineral fibers that are resistant to heat. Asbestos’s high heat resistance has long made it an ideal fireproofing and insulation material in homes and buildings.

Asbestos dust remains in the body once inhaled or ingested, so it’s dangerous when asbestos fibers become airborne. Because asbestos never leaves the body, the thin, sharp fibers can irritate the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organ linings. Years of irritation can eventually lead to cancerous mutations.

When Should You Remove Asbestos?

It’s always safe to assume any older home or building built before the 1980s contains asbestos. In the US, where asbestos is still legal, sellers don’t have to disclose when their property contains asbestos. But because asbestos is such a health hazard and a widespread public concern, sellers have more incentive to have their homes tested for asbestos and provide full disclosure on their property.

Not sure if your property contains asbestos? Don’t panic. Have your home professionally tested for asbestos before starting any remodeling or renovating. 

While dated, asbestos siding can still look modern. Source: CraftsmanBlog

Even if a property has asbestos-containing materials, it’s not always necessary to remove them. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends not removing the materials if they’re in good condition. 

Only when these materials disintegrate or become damaged or disturbed does the asbestos dust pose a risk. When in doubt, get a professional to help you decide whether it’s worth removing asbestos-containing materials or not.

Can You Paint over Asbestos Siding?

When dealing with any asbestos-containing materials, whether siding, insulation, pipe wrapping, or roof shingles, you SHOULD practice safety and caution no matter what. 

While effective as a material, asbestos is tricky to clean or paint. Source: SignatureMore

Generally speaking, painting over asbestos-cement siding isn’t nearly as dangerous as removing it altogether. In fact, if you’re concerned about your asbestos-cement siding, painting over it is a safer and more cost-effective option than professional removal. That’s because painting over asbestos-cement siding won’t disrupt the asbestos fibers and cause them to become airborne. 

However, because painting often requires preparation of the surface, like sanding, pressure washing, ripping, or removing cracked or peeling areas, herein lies the potential risk for asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-cement siding is also prone to chipping and cracking, which is something to be aware of if you plan to paint your home. Fortunately, there are safe ways to prepare and paint asbestos-cement siding, which we’ll explore next.

Can You Pressure Wash Asbestos Siding?

Anytime you paint the exterior of a home, it’s good to give the siding a thorough pressure washing beforehand. After all, pressure washing removes stubborn dirt, grime, and soot, making any home look good as new.

However, pressure washing asbestos-cement siding on a high setting can cause potential chips, cracks, and the subsequent release of airborne particles. It can also cause moisture intrusion. It can also cause moisture intrusion.

Some experts and homeowners believe it’s safe to pressure wash asbestos siding when using the lowest and softest setting. The gentler the pressure wash setting, the fewer particles will become airborne. 

If you decide to pressure wash asbestos siding, wear personal protective equipment. Wear a filter respirator mask as opposed to a standard dust mask. Make sure the area is properly ventilated.

How to Safely Clean Asbestos Siding without Pressure Washing

Some will argue against pressure washing asbestos siding altogether. So, what are safe alternatives to cleaning asbestos-cement siding? 

A safe way to go about cleaning asbestos painting is to scrape down the surface and hand-wipe away dirt, grime, and other filth. 

If you’ve decided to handwash your asbestos siding, you should scrape and scrub down the siding with a hard-bristled brush soaked in a mild abrasive cleaner or sudsy dish detergent and warm water solution.

Break up the cleaning and scraping into sections and rinse the siding thoroughly soon after the scrub down. After completing the entire project, give your siding one last rinsing. Allow the siding to dry at least two to three days before beginning the painting process.

If you can avoid removing asbestos-cement siding, this is the safest approach. However, if the siding has cracks or is falling apart, err on the side of caution. You can further disrupt the asbestos siding and cause particles to become airborne. Wear a filtration mask and ventilate the surrounding area when removing them yourself, or have a professional complete the job. 

Once you’ve cleaned and prepared the site, it’s time to choose a safe paint that will help seal away the asbestos-cement siding.

Best Paint for Asbestos Siding

Encapsulant paints are the best option for asbestos-cement siding because they can help prevent deterioration and damage to the surface. They can also improve the siding’s fire resistance. Encapsulant paint also works well on lead-based siding and surfaces. 

These paints seal surfaces and provide a protective barrier between the exterior of your home and the surrounding environment. With the protective seal, encapsulant paint can prevent cracking, chipping, and subsequently, the release of asbestos particles.

This type of paint works best on a dry and clean surface. After sanding down and cleaning the siding, apply a thick, water-based, 100% acrylic latex primer. This type of primer can further seal away cracks, prevent peeling, and create a smoother finish.

Once you’ve applied the primer and allowed it to dry, it’s time to paint.

You can find encapsulant paints at most warehouses and paint stores, but calling up a local painting contractor for recommendations can be helpful. Most contractors apply encapsulant paint by spraying it or rolling it on with a traditional back brushing technique.

After you’ve applied the encapsulant paint (at least two coats), allow it to dry thoroughly. Apply a satin latex finish. The finishing coat will not only protect your home from moisture, rain, and snow but also improve the luminosity of the paint job altogether. Allow the siding to dry for at least a week before you wash it again.

Practice Safety & Diligence When Painting Asbestos Siding

Painting over asbestos-cement siding may sound dangerous, but in all actuality, it is a cheaper alternative and poses significantly less risk than removing asbestos siding altogether. 

Still, it’s essential to approach any asbestos-related project with safety and caution. If you plan to paint over asbestos siding, we encourage you to follow the tips and safety notes discussed in this article. We also encourage you to speak to asbestos removal professionals and painting contractors for further advice before starting the project. 

After you’ve painted over your asbestos siding, we’d love to hear how the experience went! Send us a message and stay tuned for more home improvement tips and tricks with Appliance Analysts.