Home Asbestos Testing Kits vs Professional Testing: Which Should I Use?
In the event that you believe that asbestos might be present in buildings for which you are responsible, you should take steps to determine the location, amount, and condition of any such asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Testing the site for asbestos can play a major role in this. However, if you have searched for information online about asbestos testing, you might have come across references to both professional asbestos testing services and home testing kits.
The latter option promises to enable even untrained people to take their own samples of suspect materials. But what should you know about such kits – including in relation to their effectiveness and safety?
- 1 What is an asbestos testing kit?
- 2 Should you use a home asbestos testing kit?
- 3 What are the pros of using a home testing kit?
- 4 What are the risks of using a home testing kit?
- 5 Should you use professional asbestos testing instead?
- 6 What is the cost of using a professional asbestos testing company?
- 7 Why it is important to use an accredited asbestos testing facility
- 8 Final thoughts about asbestos home test kits vs professional asbestos testing
What is an asbestos testing kit?
Technically speaking, despite what they are called, the vast majority of asbestos testing kits don’t contain everything that is needed in order to carry out a test on materials suspected to contain asbestos.
Instead, they are typically used in a two-part process. Firstly, the person using the kit uses the equipment it contains to take samples of any suspected ACMs. The samples are then sent to a testing laboratory, where experts will analyse the materials to determine whether they do or do not contain asbestos.
Although asbestos testing kits vary in what they contain, you can typically expect to find the following items in one:
- Disposable overalls
- Disposable gloves
- Safety glasses
- A face mask (at least FFP3)
- Sample bags and packaging
- Cleaning wipes
While asbestos testing kits usually depend on you having to post the sample to a testing laboratory in order to get a result, this is not always the case. That’s because some kits exist that allow the user to carry out the entire testing process themselves, by applying a chemical agent to the sampled material. They will then need to read the results accurately.
Should you use a home asbestos testing kit?
Our short answer to this question is no, we do not recommend that you use a home asbestos testing kit. There are various reasons for this:
- Asbestos is a notoriously dangerous material. This is why the use of asbestos was fully banned in the UK in 1999. Your chances of disturbing the material – and causing asbestos fibres to be released as a result – will almost certainly be higher if you use an asbestos testing kit, compared to if you had arranged for an accredited professional to take a sample. This release of fibres could cause you, in turn, to breathe in or ingest the fibres accidentally, which could lead in the long term to the development of potentially fatal diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma
- Asbestos can be extremely difficult to spot. Not only are the fibres microscopic in size, but they are frequently mixed with other materials. So, if you are not trained in asbestos analysis, you might find it very difficult to identify the material, even with a home testing kit
- Asbestos fibres can be easily released if the person carrying out the test does not follow every step with the very greatest care. And of course, if you are not a trained asbestos tester, you are likely to have little sense of what is, and is not, safe when dealing with suspect materials
- Any asbestos sampling points will need to be effectively sealed after testing. This is crucial in order to guard against asbestos fibres being released into the air, and potentially being inhaled or ingested. Any loose fibres could also land on clothing, furniture, or other items in the building – again, posing a real risk to health.
What are the pros of using a home testing kit?
You might be attracted to the idea of using a home asbestos testing kit for reasons such as:
- Its relative affordability; such kits tend to be priced as low as around £25, up to £100 or more. However, it should be noted that not all asbestos testing kits will include the fee for laboratory testing in their price, which can greatly affect how much you end up spending
- Its speed, at least presuming the postal service you use isn’t slow
- The personal protective equipment (PPE) it contains, such as the aforementioned safety glasses, face mask, and overalls
- The ability to use it in either a domestic or commercial building. People with responsibility for both types of property have been known to use asbestos testing kits to help them determine whether the material is present in their buildings.
What are the risks of using a home testing kit?
Unfortunately, there are also various potential disadvantages or risks of turning to an asbestos testing kit. These include:
- It might not give a very accurate result. Although the exact quality of the equipment is likely to vary from one kit to the next, some asbestos testing kits can be quite basic in what they contain. Even if quality is not a concern with the testing kit you are using, it might be a tricky task for you to take the right samples effectively. You might send a sample to a testing laboratory, without being entirely confident whether it is very representative of the materials in your building. This, in turn, can impact on the accuracy of the result
- You could risk being exposed to asbestos. When you are undertaking the sampling work that an accredited professional could instead be doing, there could be a risk of you disturbing asbestos fibres on your site. Any such release of fibres could cause you, or someone else nearby, to inhale or ingest the substance, with all the associated health risks this would bring for years to come
- There might be issues with the quality and reliability of the test equipment. Given the importance of protecting yourself against the risk of disturbing and breathing in asbestos fibres, you will not want to run the risk of the face mask you use, for example, being less-than-brilliant quality. Such quality can be variable from one testing kit to another, so you could find yourself using a mask that doesn’t offer adequate protection against airborne asbestos particles.
Should you use professional asbestos testing instead?
In a sentence, yes, we strongly recommend that you do request professional asbestos testing services, instead of relying on asbestos home testing kits. Here are some reasons why:
- The emphasis that suitably accredited professionals place on the utmost health and safety. Why should you run the risk of fiddling with a home testing kit and trying to deal directly with a material as potentially lethal as asbestos, when you simply don’t need to do that? Reputable professionals can take samples of the suspected ACMs from your property, and arrange for laboratory testing, while having all the responsible safety controls in place. They will even clean up once they have finished taking samples, to ensure there is no ongoing safety risk to you or anyone else using your premises, once they have left
- They will help ensure an accurate result. As we touched on above, factors such as the quality of the testing equipment used, and whether the person taking the sample is skilled in doing so, can greatly impact on how accurate the result of the laboratory analysis is. Accredited and competent professionals use high-end testing equipment, and know what to do at every stage in order to ensure an accurate outcome from their sampling and analysis
- You can save a lot of money in the long run. An asbestos home testing kit might have a lower ‘headline’ price than professional asbestos testing services, but they can be a seriously false economy. Relative to the accuracy of the results they provide, and the level of safety they ensure, accredited asbestos testing services are likely to represent excellent value for money. And of course, you won’t want to risk getting a false negative result from an asbestos home testing kit, and then putting your health in danger because you incorrectly believe your premises are safe. The direct and indirect costs of later-in-life medical care, in the event of you developing an asbestos-related disease, could be seriously high.
What is the cost of using a professional asbestos testing company?
The amount that you pay for professional asbestos testing and analysis will likely depend on a range of factors. These will include how many tests you require, the accessibility of the location(s) where samples need to be taken, how quickly you need to receive the results back from laboratory analysis, and whether you would be able to take the sample yourself.
In the grander scheme of your responsibilities towards your property, it might work out cheaper overall to simply arrange a full asbestos survey of your property.
A management asbestos survey, for instance, could be priced as low as around £300, compared to approximately £40 to £100 for one-off testing and analysis of samples from specific areas of the premises. Again, though, the exact price for a survey will probably depend on a variety of circumstances, also including the size, age, and location of the property.
Why it is important to use an accredited asbestos testing facility
We have mentioned accreditation several times in this article, and for good reason; choosing an accredited asbestos sampling and testing company will help give you peace of mind, and an assurance of quality.
Choosing an accredited company will mean you can be confident of the given firm working methodically across your property, to enable the identification of ACMs that you might easily miss if you were to depend on using an asbestos home testing kit.
You can trust accredited professionals, for example, to look in areas of the property where it might not have crossed your mind that asbestos could even be present, such as in ceiling tiles or insulation. Skilled and experienced testers will know how to work quickly, safely, and effectively, as they will have already done so for a wide range of previous clients.
Final thoughts about asbestos home test kits vs professional asbestos testing
In summary, while asbestos home testing kits might be superficially attractive – especially given what is often their lower headline cost compared to professional testing services – they can also frequently be a false economy.
A lot of people who use asbestos home testing kits are likely to struggle to use it in as safe and as effective a way as professional, accredited testers use their own equipment. The quality of the equipment contained in such kits can be variable, and you could be putting yourself at unnecessary risk of disturbing asbestos fibres and subsequently breathing in this seriously harmful material.
Yes, you could be spending as little as £25 or so on an asbestos home testing kit, as opposed to hundreds of pounds on a professionally done asbestos management survey. However, in terms of the comprehensiveness, accuracy, and safety such solutions provide, a professional testing service will almost certainly offer much better value for money.
For these reasons, we recommend that you always choose the use of a professional, accredited asbestos testing company, instead of buying an asbestos home testing kit.
To learn more about our own solutions and assistance as accredited asbestos consultants in the UK, please contact the Oracle Solutions team today. We will be pleased to provide you with a free, fast, and competitive quote for any of our highly regarded asbestos management services.
Written by Jess Scott
Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.