How is Asbestos fabric made?

Asbestos is a mineral fibre. Its first documented use was in Russia in the 1720’s and it is the only naturally occurring mineral that can be spun into a fabric. The name Asbestos comes from the Ancient Greek language and means ‘Inextinguishable.’

There are many types of Asbestos, the most common being Chrysotile. This accounts for 95% of all the Asbestos currently in use. The majority of the worlds Asbestos in mined in Canada, the Soviet Union and South Africa.

Asbestos Manufacture

The production of Asbestos yarn, which can then be woven into a textile cloth, is very similar to cotton. Firstly the Asbestos rocks are crushed by heavy rollers in a mill. This produces a fibrous, dirty white colour material often referred to as Asbestos mineral wool these fibres are naturally long, thin and flexible. They are then carded, twisted and spun into cotton-like yarns. Sometimes, the Asbestos fibres are mixed with cotton fibres depending on the end textile use.

Asbestos is obtained from the ground by open pit mining; however only about 6% of the Asbestos recovered is useable in its fibrous form. The next stage after mining is to separate the Asbestos from its ore. This can be done in many ways including, crushing, air suction and using vibrating screens. The Asbestos fibres are then sorted into lengths and grades.

The use of Asbestos was at its highest between 1940 and 1970, and at this time around 3000 products were made containing Asbestos. These included car brake pads, hair dryers, irons and Ironing board covers.

Properties of Asbestos

  • Superior Resistance to heat, flame, acid and other corrosive elements
  • Low thermal Conductivity
  • High Tensile strength
  • Poor electric conductor
  • Concrete-like, used to enhance other materials strength
  • Does not wear well, once the textiles garments have aged or become damaged, the whole fabric become delicate and fragile that it could crumble easily
  • Cacogenic meaning that it is very dangerous to breathe in
  • Causes Asbestos Cancer known as Mesothelioma and Asbestosis
  • First reported case of death by Asbestosis in 1924
  • Some uses of Asbestos have been banned in England, such as the spray form
  • Usually combined with binding fibres, so that the dangers of Asbestos are negligible. As long as the fibres stay bonded there is no health risk

End uses of Asbestos

  • Textiles containing Asbestos can be found in almost every business, factory, residential home or theatre in the late 19thand early 20th centuries.
  • Used in electrical cloth
  • Aprons
  • Welders Blankets
  • Draperies that need to be flame-retardant
  • Upholsteries
  • Carpets
  • Pipe Covering
  • Fire fighters clothing
  • Military Uses
  • Planes
  • Factories
  • In ancient times Asbestos was woven into armour and was used for writing paper.

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Written by Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell, extremely competent and reliable, she is currently in her third year at the University of Lincoln UK, studying Fashion. Kelly is responsible for the Fabrics, Fibers and Leathers sections of our Dictionary

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