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Choosing Gloves 101

By Lindsey Getson, Contributor

Nitrile gloves have excellent resistance to most chemicals.

Uh-oh! You need gloves, but how do you pick the right glove for your business?

Maybe you’re new to buying gloves, or your go-to gloves are out of stock. With demand for disposable gloves higher than ever before, how do you choose? Read on for an overview of the different types of gloves and their best intended uses.

Let’s start with breaking down the features.

Medical, Industrial And Food Grade

Medical grade gloves, or exam grade, are non-sterile and are used for non-surgical procedures and medical exams. Medical grade gloves are always powder-free. They are rigorously tested and meet FDA requirements based on their chemical and puncture resistance. If you need sterile gloves, you will need surgical grade gloves.

Industrial grade gloves are recommended for use in non-medical environments where there is no contact with bodily fluids or contaminants.

Food grade gloves are designed for a variety of tasks and aren’t designed for prolonged use. They are approved for food prep and handling or other light duty and low risk tasks.

Powdered Or Powder Free?

The question we get asked most is: why are powder-free gloves more expensive than powdered?

Powdered gloves are usually priced lower than powder-free because the powder is on the gloves as part of the manufacturing process. They are cleaned to remove this powder, so they take longer to manufacture.

The powder used is cornstarch which is on the inside of the gloves. The benefit to powder is that the cornstarch will absorb moisture, so they can be easier to put on and it keeps the gloves from sticking to your hands.

Powder-free gloves tend to be the preferred option in manufacturing and kitchens because the powder can leave some residue which can cause cross-contamination in certain environments.

How Is Thickness Measured?

Food grade gloves are suitable for light duty, low risk tasks.

Glove thickness is measured in mils or grams. People often assume that a mil is a millimeter, but that’s not the case. 1mil = 0.001in. When looking at the grams, the heavier the glove the thicker it will be.

Generally speaking, thin gloves (3mils and under) are used for food prep. Gloves 5mil and up are the preference for heavier duty tasks. Gloves between 8-13mils tend to be the go-to for EMS and for heavy industrial tasks.

Textured Gloves

Some gloves are advertised as being textured or having textured fingers. This simply means that the material is rougher for a better grip. Having a good grip is especially important for tasks where you use small instruments, such as lab work.

Glove Materials

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about specific glove materials.

  • Nitrile gloves

Nitrile gloves feature a heavier duty design which makes them tough and form fitting. Nitrile is completely latex-free, so they are suitable for anybody with a latex allergy. They come in many styles and can be used for almost any task. Because of their versatility, durability and comfort, they are the preferred glove in several fields including heavy industrial work, medical exams, cleaning and food prep. Kitchen staff will love their resistance to animal fats, shellfish, vegetable oil, poultry and oleic acids.

Mechanics use them because of their resistance to gasoline, diesel fuel, fuel oil and brake fluid.

In fact, nitrile stands up to more chemicals than the competing materials. You should go with a nitrile glove if you will be working with asphalt, cyclohexane, diethyl ether, hexane, hydrogen peroxide, kerosene, linseed oil, methyl alcohol, mineral oils, naphtha, pine oil, turpentine and wood preservatives.

Nitrile gloves are the best choice for use with most acids. They have excellent resistance against hydrofluoric acid 30%, hydrochloric acid 30% and diluted sulfuric acid. If you’re working with concentrated sulfuric acid you may want to consider vinyl gloves, as they will hold up better than nitrile in this case.

  • Latex
    Latex is one of the most popular types of gloves because they are reliable and have been around for so long. Latex are best for medium-duty tasks and have excellent tear and puncture resistance. They are a popular go-to for dentists, tattoo artists, dishwashers and cleaners due to their reliable and functional design. If you have staff with latex allergies, nitrile gloves would be the best alternative for them.

There are a few chemicals where latex gloves perform much better than other materials. If you will be using acetone, chloroacetone, acetaldehyde or acetic acid, we highly recommend using latex.

  • Vinyl

Vinyl gloves are latex-free and will protect you from mild irritants such as garden chemicals, weed killer, fertilizer and photo developer fixer. Vinyl will also hold up against fluorides, sulfuric acid, sodium hypochlorite, silicates, phosphoric acid, formaldehyde 37%, creosote, citric acid 10%, bleach and ammonium hydroxide.

Vinyl is used primarily for food prep and cleaning. They are more durable than poly gloves, and form-fitting to prevent them from slipping off.

  • Poly gloves 

Poly gloves are made from high-density polyethylene. They are very thin, usually less than 1mil. Because of this, poly is best used to provide basic protection for quick tasks that need frequent glove changes. Poly is not recommended for protection against any chemical compounds.

Their most common use is for cutting vegetables and making salads or sandwiches and are sometimes used for basic cleaning tasks. Poly is a popular choice for bakeries, restaurants and delis.

  • Hybrid gloves
    Hybrid, a food service glove, uses less material than traditional poly gloves and can be recycled with plastic bag recycling. If you’d like a glove for basic cleaning or food prep that is less wasteful, hybrid is the best way to go. Hybrid gloves are made from low-density polyethylene and tend to vary between 1-3mils thick. These gloves are a cost-effective alternative to vinyl and offer 300% more stretch.

There you have it. I hope this little guide has left you with an idea of exactly what you need to select the right glove for your business. WMHS

Lindsey Getson writes for GloveNation, a trusted distributor of quality disposable gloves for over 10 years. (Questions? 877-365-1845,

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