How to Safely Remove Asbestos Pipe Insulation

What You'll Need
Thick polyethylene sheeting
Duct tape
Respirator with a HEPA filter, approved for asbestos removal
Disposable coverall or clothing
Disposable rubber gloves
Rubber boots
Plastic, disposable eye goggles
Waste bags that are approved for asbestos disposal
Tank sprayer
Dishwashing liquid
Putty knives, plastic / disposable
Encapsulant (a latex asbestos sealing product)

Removing asbestos from the pipes in your home is certainly something that should be on your "must do" list. Whether or not you should do it yourself, however, is not such a given. In most states you can legally remove asbestos from your home yourself, as long as it's inside the home. If you're considering removing it from any pipes that are on the exterior of your home, you'll need to hire a professional. But, even though it may be legal to remove the asbestos yourself, the question still remains: should you? Hiring a professional is highly recommended for any kind of asbestos removal. If it's something though that you feel strongly that you can do on your own, our steps below will show you how to do it in as safe a way as possible.

Before you move ahead with this as a DIY project, know that there is no safe level of asbestos contamination, therefore, it's extremely important that you are as diligent as possible in following the steps below in their entirety.

Step 1 - Prepare for Safe Asbestos Removal

Before you get started, you'll need to prepare the area you'll be working in and have all your materials ready in the room, as you won't be able to leave the room again until the project is completed. To do so, remove everything you can from the room you're working in. This means clothes, furniture, rugs, etc. Anything that can be removed, should be removed.

Next, cover everything else—walls, floors, and doorways—with a thick polyethylene sheeting. Use duct tape to hold it in place and seal it where seams meet (overlap at seams should be at least six inches). Think of it as a containment zone, because that's what it will be.

To complete the containment area, make an air lock space that will act as your exit when you're ready to leave the room. You can use an adjoining room for this. Cover the doorway with two sheets of plastic with a slit cut down the center—this will act as your door. Cover the floor of your air lock with plastic as well.

Turn off all heating or cooling systems, close all windows and vents and seal if needed, and then post a sign on the door to your home that will let any visitor and family member know of a potential asbestos exposure risk.

Finally, gather all of your tools and materials that you'll need to have on hand for the actual removal process. Make sure you have plenty of the waste disposal bags, rags, and water on hand so that you won't have to try to figure out how to get more in the middle of the project should you run out. To prepare your tank sprayer or spray bottles for use, add water and a few drops of dishwashing detergent. This will help keep the asbestos dust down as well as help it remove from the pipe a bit easier.

Step 2 - Asbestos Removal Process

As you get ready to work with the asbestos, you should keep in mind that it is extremely hazardous, and very delicate, especially since it's been there for decades. This means that even the lightest touch can release it into the room. As you work, be as cautious as you can be to keep the asbestos from breaking up and becoming airborne. (For this reason, never use power tools in trying to remove the asbestos.)

To get started, use your tank sprayer to spray down the pipes that are covered with the asbestos. Soak them heavily and allow the water to absorb into the asbestos material for about 20 minutes. Using your putty knife, try scraping some of the material from the pipe. If it doesn't come off easily, or it's becoming airborne, spray it again thoroughly before you try removing more of it.

As you remove the asbestos from the pipes, place it into your waste bags. As you work, continue wetting the pipes down to ensure they do not dry out and fibers do not begin to release into the air. Once a bag is full of contaminated waste, seal it with duct tape and mark it to note that it contains asbestos.

After you've removed all of the asbestos that you can, spread the encapsulant over the pipe's surface to ensure that no remaining asbestos will be released. If there were areas you couldn't remove asbestos from, cover these areas as well with the encapsulant.

Step 3 - Cleanup

Beginning with the area furthest from the exit, remove the plastic from the walls and floor, rolling them carefully and inward so that any dust is captured in the middle and does not puff out into the room. Bag and seal all plastic—it cannot be reused. Place your putty knives and any other disposable tools and waste into a bag as well. Seal with duct tape and label.

Do not remove your mask or other equipment until you're done cleaning up. After you've removed all of the plastic, up to the air lock, that is, use a clean rag and your soapy water to wipe down anything you think may have been exposed to the asbestos.

Do not vacuum or sweep anything that you think may have asbestos dust on it. Always use a clean wet rag while wearing gloves to clean these areas up. Finally, go to each trash bag and double-bag it, and seal the outer bag with duct tape as well.

Next, spray off your gloves and boots with the remaining water. Spray the plastic sheets of the airlock walls and doorway and step into the airlock. Carefully remove the remaining plastic around you and bag it. Remove all of your clothes, starting with your boots, and bag them. Then remove the rest of your equipment and bag and seal them as well. The clothes will have to be thrown away, do not try washing them to save them. Now go and wash your hands and face well and take a shower.

To complete your asbestos removal project, you'll need to now get rid of all of the contaminated waste. Contact your state's EPA office to find an approved landfill that will accept it. When you call them, you can also inquire as to who they recommend to come and test the air quality of your home to make sure that no asbestos has escaped your cleaning process.

Should you determine at any time that this project is too hazardous and/or difficult for you to do yourself, the EPA will also have the best information for you on who to hire to complete the job, or you can look in your area for a licensed professional under an internet search.

*If you find that the asbestos on your pipes is a spray coating, do not attempt to remove it yourself.