What Does Asbestos Dust Look Like?

Asbestos dust can be very harmful to humans and animals. Until recently, asbestos was widely used as a fire-resistant material in many houses and buildings. It is important to find out if there are dangerous levels of asbestos in your home.

Knowing what asbestos dust looks like can help you identify the presence of asbestos in your home.


Asbestos has been in public use for thousands of years. The Greek people are credited with being the first users of asbestos. The material was often used for building materials because it is a naturally fire-resistant substance. It was widely used in the United States for building and insulation and even in some clothing. However, it was discovered that when the fibres broke down because of age, the particles can get trapped in the lungs, causing respiratory problems and even cancer. Since then, asbestos has been banned in many countries, and its use has been highly discouraged in others.


The natural occurring form of asbestos is found in igneous rocks in metamorphic basic and ultrabasic forms. The asbestos fibres are laced inside the rocks. One of the most unique qualities about asbestos is that it is naturally resistant to fire and other chemicals. The technical term for this kind of natural fibre is inert. There are six different forms of asbestos. These forms are chrysotile, amosite, actinolite, tremolite, crocidolite and anthophyllite. Each of these asbestos forms has a slightly different appearance. Asbestos dust is the result of the natural ageing process of these types of asbestos fibres.


Asbestos dust can often be hard to identify. Because there are many different forms of asbestos, there is a wide range of forms that the dust can take. The most common appearance of asbestos today is in building insulation. The fibres are woven into the insulation to provide fire resistance. However, when the particles break down, they are too small to see with the naked eye. This can make it even more difficult to identify the presence of asbestos dust.


Asbestos dust particles are microscopic. Most of the dust particles are less than one micrometer in diameter. A micrometer is one millionth of a meter. A meter is just over three feet in length. Dividing that measurement into one million parts creates the dust particle size for asbestos dust. The small size of the dust particles is what makes asbestos so dangerous because many people have breathed it in without knowing it, which can cause serious health risks.

Microscopic Appearance

When examined with a microscope, different strains of asbestos can appear quite different from one another. The best way to see asbestos dust is to use polarised light microscopy (PLM). This polarises the light, giving the asbestos particles the appearance of negative images. When asbestos is still in its fibrous form, the appearance under the microscope is that of candyfloss fibres. The dust form, however, looks like a tiny sea of polka dots. The dust particles can be much smaller than one micrometer.