Beyond the Products

Nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves: What’s the difference?

In the past several months, we have seen a spike in demand for various forms of personal protective equipment (PPE)—including disposable safety gloves. In the midst of this growing demand, facility managers should learn which glove types best meet their situational needs. In this article, we review the benefits and drawbacks of nitrile, vinyl, and latex gloves and give a brief overview of the protective glove manufacturing industry.

In short, this article will equip you with the knowledge required to keep employees, students, and customers safe. We hope this article provides clarity for the next time you need to purchase disposable gloves.

Nitrile disposable gloves

The disposable glove industry has seen tremendous growth in the past few decades. In fact, economists expect this market segment to grow to a $11.8 billion valuation by 2025. Nitrile gloves represent the fastest growing segment of this market.

Benefits of nitrile gloves

Nitrile gloves have risen in popularity due to their protectiveness and durability. When used as medical gloves, they protect against viruses and bloodborne pathogens.

Additionally, nitrile gloves provide protection against several disinfecting agents such as ammonium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid (bleach), and isopropyl alcohol. Compared to other types of gloves, nitrile almost always wins the battle for chemical protection.

In the rare occurrence of a puncture, nitrile gloves visibly tear. This notifies the wearer to change gloves immediately to avoid contamination.

As we will discuss later in further detail, nitrile gloves also provide an excellent solution for those who may have a latex allergy. As a synthetic rubber compound, nitrile poses far less likelihood of triggering an allergic reaction.

And lastly, nitrile gloves have a longer shelf life in comparison to alternatives. So if you need to purchase gloves in bulk for your custodial staff, you can feel confident nitrile will provide a long-term solution for your team.

Drawbacks of nitrile gloves

While popular, nitrile gloves have a few drawbacks. For example, a nitrile glove can cost more to produce in comparison to a latex or vinyl glove. Inevitably, these higher manufacturing costs trickle down to consumers. However, this added cost may be necessary to prioritize safety, especially when avoiding a latex allergy.

Additionally, nitrile gloves do not provide the same level of comfort and dexterity as latex gloves. To make up for this limitation, some nitrile gloves feature textured fingertips to help with grip. This grip can be especially helpful when dealing with wet, potentially slippery, cleaning supplies.

Specialized uses of nitrile gloves

Nitrile disposable gloves continue to grow in popularity among medical professionals. In fact, many hospitals and doctors’ offices have started replacing latex gloves with nitrile.

Professional cleaners can also benefit from the advantages of nitrile. Nitrile gloves can help protect cleaning staff from the hazardous chemicals found in disinfectants. Plus, they provide an extra layer of protection against viruses and pathogens that you or your staff might encounter when cleaning high-touch surfaces.

Latex disposable gloves

The latex found in disposable latex gloves comes from the sap of the rubber tree. Unfortunately, natural latex material contains thousands of organic proteins that can trigger allergic reactions. However, latex gloves still remain popular in some industries and serve a role for specific situations.

Benefits of latex gloves

Latex gloves provide the most comfort and tactile sensitivity among disposable glove options. Because of latex’s unique level of stretch and flexibility, many industries requiring fine motor skills prefer this type of glove.

While facilitating careful movements, latex gloves still provide users with an extra layer of protection—especially against biological and water-based substances. This makes the latex glove ideal for medical situations.

Additionally, although they typically don’t match the chemical protection of nitrile, latex gloves can also help protect cleaning professionals when they are disinfecting with bleach or a solution with sodium hydroxide.

It is also important to note that many latex gloves come powdered with cornstarch. This makes them easier to properly don and doff.

Drawbacks of latex gloves

Latex allergies represent the single largest disadvantage of latex gloves. Essentially, someone with a latex allergy responds negatively to the proteins found in natural latex. Around 4.3 percent of the general population has a latex allergy.

In most instances, an allergic reaction to latex will only produce mild discomfort such as itching or redness. However, sometimes the reaction can cause hives or anaphylactic shock—causing the throat to swell and making it difficult to breathe.

Generally speaking, direct skin contact with a latex glove can cause a reaction. However, studies have also shown that airborne exposure and food handling can trigger a reaction. Because of this risk, more businesses and facilities have opted for latex-free alternatives to preserve the safety of staff, students, and customers.

Specialized uses of latex gloves

Despite the allergy risk, latex gloves have specific use cases, as we have suggested above. Many who do not suffer from a latex allergy still prefer the superior comfort and fit of a latex glove. For example, surgeons who rely on hand dexterity will sometimes opt for latex gloves—as long as their patient does not have an allergy.

Vinyl disposable gloves

In comparison to nitrile and latex gloves, vinyl gloves generally offer the least protection. Nevertheless, they still prove useful for specific purposes.

Benefits of vinyl gloves

For example, vinyl gloves get top marks in affordability in comparison to alternatives. Additionally, this glove type does not come with the allergy risks of latex gloves. Many facility managers select vinyl gloves for their staff for these reasons.

We recommend only using vinyl gloves for low-risk situations—where particularly harsh chemicals or dangerous microbes are not present. However, when you are completing routine cleaning procedures, vinyl gloves will protect your skin from chemical exposure.

These gloves resist many types of diluted acids found in basic cleaning supplies. Additionally, vinyl provides an extra layer of protection from germs on surfaces. Just make sure you doff your gloves properly and wash your hands after cleaning.

Drawbacks of vinyl gloves

As we noted above, vinyl gloves do not provide the same level of protection as nitrile or latex. Because of this, users should avoid this choice when interacting with especially corrosive chemicals or working in sterile environments.

Unfortunately, vinyl gloves also generally fit less comfortably than nitrile and latex. They tend to fit loosely, inhibiting dexterity and touch sensitivity.

Specialized uses of vinyl gloves

However, despite these drawbacks, vinyl gloves provide the best solution in a few key instances. In low-risk situations requiring frequent glove change, vinyl gloves provide the most affordably priced solution.

Vinyl gloves especially come in handy in food handling industries and in hair and nail salons. When combined with proper hand hygiene, a vinyl glove can provide an extra layer of protection for low-risk situations.

Contexts for disposable glove manufacture and use

Most manufacturers of disposable gloves are located outside of the United States—most notably in Asia. To sell abroad, these manufacturers need to meet international standards for their gloves.

Sourcing disposable gloves

To create disposable gloves, manufacturers have a specific setup to dip hand-shaped molds into tanks of liquid nitrile, latex, or polyvinyl chloride (vinyl). After drying, medical-grade gloves must also undergo rigorous testing to ensure puncture resistance.

Medical glove manufacturers also need to take into account additional regulatory standards that the ASTM International and FDA set. Standards include specifications around size, thickness, sterility, and longevity.

The FDA in particular has a set of federal regulations for medical-grade gloves as Class I medical devices. This requires manufacturers to submit a premarket notification to the FDA before they can sell medical gloves.

Overseas manufacturing of disposable gloves

Because of the primary location of glove production, most of the world needs to import disposable gloves from Asian manufacturers. In fact, a single Malaysian company, Top Glove, represents 26 percent of the rubber glove industry.

The location of Top Glove and other glove manufacturers inherently makes sense. Thailand, China, and Malaysia grow and produce the majority of the world’s natural rubber—a necessary material for latex. This means manufacturers have easy access to necessary raw materials for latex gloves in Asia.

While use of latex has declined more recently, the existing glove manufacturing infrastructure in Asia still gives these companies an advantage when competing in the glove market.

Disposable gloves and COVID-19

Before COVID-19, many plants ran at a comfortable 85 percent capacity. Unfortunately, the international pandemic has forced glove manufacturers, such as Top Glove, to operate at almost 100 percent capacity to meet increasing demand. Coinciding with increased demand, many manufacturers also face a labor shortage. Altogether, this is driving up the price of gloves.

Because of glove shortages, the FDA temporarily loosened requirements for new medical glove manufacturers. However, cautious glove purchasers can still use the FDA’s 510(k) Premarket Notification database to see if their medical or surgical gloves meet regulatory standards.

Choose the right glove for the right situation

Whether you provide custodial services or work in the medical or food industry, understanding the difference between glove materials can help you make educated decisions.

If you can’t decide on the type of gloves you need for your facility, contact the Spruce Industries team! We will work with you to determine the best option for your situation and budget. Your safety is our priority.

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