Environmental Health & Safety


Are you using the safest gloves?

Recent events in the scientific community have illustrated the need for the use of proper protective gloves while working with hazardous chemicals. Serious injury and even death may occur if these chemicals are able to permeate or degrade the glove lining. In order to avoid the risk of injury, careful attention must be given to the type of glove chosen for each particular procedure.

Most laboratories rely on natural rubber (latex) or PVC gloves for routine procedures, however, these gloves are not appropriate for all situations. There are a variety of glove types on the market today which are designed for use with specific chemicals and chemical families. Each glove type has its own advantages and disadvantages which should be considered carefully before use.

This bulletin presents an introduction to the glove options available and may be used as a starting point in the determination of appropriate hand protection for your specific chemical usage and procedure. As many additional sources as possible should be used in making this decision.

One of the best information resources is the exposure controls and personal protection section of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) that accompany a chemical purchase. These sheets are filled with pertinent safety information and can be obtained from the vendor, individual laboratory files, the Environmental Health and Safety Office (x4152), or one of the three 24 hour MSDS stations located throughout the medical center.

Other important information sources are the chemical vendors and the glove vendors. These companies often have conducted in-depth testing of their product's safety characteristics, and may be very helpful with finding the correct glove-chemical match. There are also a number of web sites on the Internet which contain valuable information on personal protective equipment. While all of these sources contain advisory information it is up to you to determine the degree of protection needed for your operation.

The following table was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It lists the most common types of gloves on the market today along with their associated advantages and disadvantages.


Table of Commonly Used Glove Types

Type Advantages Disadvantages Use Against
Natural Rubber


Low cost, good physical properties, dexterity Poor vs. oils, greases,organics Frequently imported, may be poor quality Bases, alcohols, dilute water solutions; fair vs. aldehydes, ketones
Natural Rubber Blends Low cost,

dexterity, better chemical resistance than natural rubber vs. some chemicals

Physical properties frequently inferior to natural rubber Same as natural rubber
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Low cost, very good physical properties, medium cost, medium chemical resistance Plasticizers can be stripped; frequently imported may be poor quality Strong acids and bases, salts, other water solutions, alcohols
Neoprene Medium cost, medium chemical resistance, medium physical properties N/A Oxidizing acids, anilines, phenol, glycol ethers
Nitrile Low cost, excellent physical properties, dexterity. Long service life. Poor vs. benzene, methylene chloride, trichloro- ethylene, & many ketones Oils, greases, aliphatic chemicals, xylene, perchloroethylene, trichloroethane; fair vs. toluene
Butyl Specialty gloves, polar organics Expensive, poor vs. hydrocarbons,& chlorinated solvents Glycol ethers, ketones, esters
Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) Specialty glove, resists a very broad range of organics, good physical properties Very expensive, water sensitive, poor vs. light alcohols Aliphatics, aromatics, chlorinated solvents, ketones (except acetone), esters, ethers


Specialty glove, organic solvents Extremely expensive, poor physical properties, poor vs. some ketones, esters, amines Aromatics, chlorinated solvents, also Aliphatics and alcohols

(Silver Shield)

Excellent chemical resistance Poor fit, easily punctures, poor grip, stiff Use for Hazmat work

Once you have decided upon the gloves that are right for you, there are some practices that can be easily followed to better insure that the gloves are being used in the safest manner.

  1. Always inspect the glove for cuts or punctures prior to use.
  2. It is generally recommended that the gloves be worn on the inside of the lab coat sleeves. You should also consider taping the gloves to the sleeves for biohazard work or for prolonged procedures with chemicals.
  3. Double gloving provides a secondary line of defense against the chemicals and allows for the disposal of the outer glove without exposing the hand.
  4. Avoid rough or sharp objects which may puncture the gloves.
  5. Avoid immersion or prolonged direct exposure to the hazardous chemical.
  6. Wash gloves with soap and water before removal, and wash hands thoroughly after removal.
  7. Immediately discard disposable gloves after use.

Remember, all gloves are permeable to some degree. It is up to each user to familiarize themselves with the types of gloves recommended for each practice. It is often advisable to wear two separate gloves together. Wearing one pair of gloves over a snug fitting flexible laminate glove combines the advantages of each type.

If you have questions concerning a specific glove or chemical please call Sean Thomas (x4152) or Delia Vieira-Cruz (x3560) in the Environmental Health and Safety Office.


Additional information resources for hand protection issues


Chemical Protective Clothing, Vols. I and II, edited by J.S. Johnson, and K.J. Anderson 1990. American Industrial Hygiene Association, Fairfax, VA. [Tel: (703) 849-8888]

Guidelines for the Selection of Chemical Protective Clothing, by Arthur Schwope, et al. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist, Cincinnati, OH. [Tel: (513) 661-7781]

Also see the following PDF:

Ansell Chemical Resistance Guide, Permeation and Degradation Data. 

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