Beyond the Products

The Ultimate Guide to Gloves: Choosing the Right Personal Protective Equipment

Disposable gloves are crucial for cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining safe working environments. There are many aspects to consider when searching for the right glove. This guide to gloves will help you choose the best disposable gloves for your situation.

Keeping workplaces safe and clean is more important than ever. Safe, thorough cleaning can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other dangerous diseases. Personal protective equipment, like disposable gloves, keeps employees safe as they work to create healthy environments for everyone.

Following this guide to gloves will help you find the disposable gloves that best fit your work.

Types of disposable gloves

The disposable gloves market offers a variety of protective gloves that can help keep wearers safe in many environments. Many important factors guide glove purchasing, including gloves’ protective capacity, dexterity, moisture resistance, comfort, and more.

Grades of disposable gloves

Disposable gloves offer three grades of hand protection: general purpose, medical, and chemotherapy.

The most common disposable gloves are general purpose gloves. Because these protective gloves create a simple waterproof barrier, general purpose gloves fit low-risk environments. Wearers prefer general purpose disposable gloves in food service, mechanical repair, cosmetology, or everyday cleaning.

The next disposable glove grade is medical gloves, also called examination gloves. Medical examination gloves offer stronger hand protection to minimize germ transmission. Some medical situations require sterile gloves, but most health care providers use nonsterile disposable nitrile gloves or latex gloves.

The highest protective glove grade is chemotherapy-ready disposable gloves. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests and approves these gloves’ ability to maintain protection for the wearer against chemotherapy drugs. Because these gloves are expensive, health care providers usually reserve them for high-risk medical settings.

Varieties of disposable gloves

The names of many disposable glove varieties indicate a job or function. Function-named protective gloves should meet that job’s personal protective equipment (PPE) standards. For example, surgical gloves are durable sterile gloves that protect against pathogens and allow great dexterity. Alternately, food-service gloves are usually nonsterile poly gloves ideal for shorter wears.

Several variations of each glove material exist. Powdered gloves come with either natural rubber latex residue or added cornstarch powder to make the gloves more comfortable. Conversely, some gloves are powder-free. Chlorinated gloves replicate powder’s comfort without residue. However, chlorinated gloves are somewhat less durable. Other additives such as aloe or oatmeal liners increase comfort or eliminate moisture.

Disposable glove protections

Latex or rubber gloves have the strongest resistance to viruses and bacteria. Nitrile glove material offers the greatest protection against cleaning and laboratory chemicals. Vinyl or poly gloves offer a basic waterproof glove barrier.

Some disposable gloves offer additional protections. For example, some protective gloves have impact protection: an extra layer or liner to prevent tearing and punctures. Antimicrobialenhanced gloves increase biohazard protection.

Disposable gloves should work with your existing cleanliness standards. Even the most protective glove cannot replace adequate hand hygiene.

FDA Certification 510(k) states that all protective glove sellers must prove that their product has obtained approval from the US FDA. In that approval process, FDA tests measure disposable gloves’ hand protection capacity in various hazardous environments.

What to look for when buying disposable gloves

Three considerations are important for protective gloves and other PPE. First, assess the glove material’s hand protection capability. Next, consider which glove features—dexterity, comfort, durability, and so on—are important for your work gloves. Once you have found the perfect disposable glove, consider logistics like cost and glove sizes.

Disposable glove materials

The most popular disposable glove materials are latex, nitrile, and vinyl.

Latex gloves are the most traditional disposable gloves. Latex glove material provides a thinner alternative to a conventional rubber glove. Natural rubber proteins offer the best stretch, dexterity, grip, and comfort of any disposable glove. Although latex gloves are effective, allergies to the glove material have caused disposable latex glove sales to fall. This is especially true for health care providers who must ensure that their medical examination gloves do not cause allergic reactions in patients.

Nitrile disposable gloves are the closest nonallergenic substitute for disposable latex gloves. Scientists developed nitrile disposable glove material to mimic latex, so nitrile gloves have the best comfort, stretch, and protection of all synthetic glove options. Nitrile gloves are the most popular disposable gloves, and nitrile exam gloves are the top disposable medical glove choice.

Vinyl gloves are waterproof and affordable, but they come with some downsides. Vinyl glove material cannot stretch, and vinyl gloves (or “poly gloves”) are uncomfortable for long wears because they seal in moisture. Vinyl provides a low-cost work glove for low-hazard environments.

Developers have introduced a new synthetic material called vitrile, a blend of vinyl and nitrile. Vitrile gloves aim to close the quality and cost gaps between vinyl and nitrile synthetic gloves.


Consider what functions your staff needs from a work glove. A latex glove offers the best dexterity and stretch. However, if your workers come into close contact with patients or clients, they might prefer an allergen-free synthetic material, like a nitrile exam glove. More comfortable and durable options, like latex and nitrile, work better when staff need work gloves for long periods of time.


The cost of disposable gloves varies by grade and material. Higher-grade protective gloves, such as disposable medical gloves and most latex and nitrile exam gloves, cost more. Because latex is a natural substance, its cost varies with natural supply and demand. Vinyl gloves are usually the cheapest disposable glove option. Workers cannot reuse disposable gloves, so stock enough gloves for frequent replacement.

From Spruce Industries, powder-free latex gloves cost $65.84 for a seven-pound box, nitrile gloves cost $251.94 for a seventeen-pound box, and vinyl gloves cost $107.79 for a seven-pound box.

Glove size

Unfortunately, there is no standard disposable glove sizing. Check each disposable glove brand’s specific glove size measurements before purchasing. Some brands differentiate men’s and women’s glove sizes, while others offer one sizing metric.

All disposable glove sizes use the same measurement. Wrap a tape measure fully around your dominant hand just below the bottom knuckles. If your hand is between glove sizes, round up to avoid unnecessary stretching.

Applications for sterile gloves

Health care workers created sterile gloves for sterile medical settings. Sterile gloves offer the highest protection against biohazard transmission.

The need for sterile gloves

Sterile gloves serve as one component of a sterile technique, a protocol that allows workers to minimize the risk of infection between a provider and client or patient. Any setting with extremely high risk of infection requires sterile gloves for use as either surgical gloves or exam gloves. Health care providers use sterile gloves when treating an open wound or for any procedure involving a body cavity.

Because sterile gloves are more expensive, health care providers use nonsterile gloves for normal-risk settings, such as regular patient exams or medicine administration.

Common situations for sterile gloves

The most common sterile glove use is in surgery. Many surgeons prefer a sterilized latex surgical glove because it allows high dexterity, but allergen-free sterile nitrile gloves are safer. Disposable medical gloves should also be sterile for blood drawing, dental work, childbirth, or intravenous work.

Sterile gloves serve an important role in aseptic technique outside of medicine. Most commonly, tattoo and piercing artists need sterile gloves because they create open wounds.

Cleaners can use sterile gloves when practicing aseptic technique to maintain sterile environments. However, nonsterile gloves provide adequate protection for most cleaning.

How to apply sterile gloves

The following sterile technique for donning sterile gloves ensures uncontaminated gloves.

  1. Wash your hands. Sterile gloves cannot replace standard defense initiatives against infection, including proper hand hygiene. Using a surgical hand scrub or other highly protective hand wash or sanitizer is ideal.
  2. Remove the outer packaging and discard.
  3. Open the inner sterile glove wrapper. Do not touch the sterile field, an area that begins two inches from the edges of the wrapper.
  4. Pick up the glove for your dominant hand with the opposite hand. Grab the glove by the cuff, which is inside-out for this purpose. Be sure to touch only the inside part of the sterile glove.
  5. Pull on the first glove, touching only the inside surface. As much as possible without touching the outer surface, adjust the glove and pull it down your arm.
  6. With the gloved hand, pick up the remaining glove. Because you are wearing one sterile glove, you can touch the inner or outer surface of the second sterile glove.
  7. Pull the second glove onto your ungloved hand. Do not allow your skin to touch the outer surface of either glove.
  8. Use your gloved hands to pull the gloves further down your arms. Be careful to touch only the outside part of the sterile gloves.

Choosing the right sterile gloves

With higher stakes than for normal protective glove purchases, the following guide will help you find the best sterile gloves.

The best sterile gloves

Most experts and workers agree that nitrile disposable gloves make the best medical gloves and surgical gloves because these synthetic gloves can provide similar functionality to latex without allergen risk. The extra protection of allergen-free glove material and other personal protective equipment is important for sterile gloves in high-risk settings.

However, sterilized latex gloves work well if neither wearer nor patient have latex allergies. Medical practitioners do not usually sterilize or use vinyl gloves.

Medical gloves should be powder-free, as the FDA banned powdered gloves for medical settings in 2017. Check customer reviews of disposable medical gloves for information on comfort and grip. Additionally, choose a glove material that is compatible with the tools and chemicals your workers use. Usually, disposable nitrile gloves will offer sufficient protection, but always compare the hand protection offered by the gloves with the ingredients in your supplies.

Sterile versus unsterile gloves

In order to be sold as sterile gloves, gloves must undergo an FDA-approved sterilization process. Any FDA-approved sterilization process will ensure that the protective glove set meets a standard assurance level that guarantees no higher than a one-in-one-million chance that an individual glove is not sterile. Additionally, sterile gloves must meet an acceptable quality level that ensures a pin could not puncture more than 1.5 percent of the gloves in a set.

Most medical examination glove uses are unsterile. There is no evidence of an increased rate of infection in situations where a health care provider wore unsterile gloves, so long as the provider practiced proper hand hygiene and other disinfectant strategies. In many low- or medium-risk situations, unsterile exam gloves can be the right glove choice.

Medical-grade sterile gloves

When considering disposable medical glove purchases, check that the FDA has approved the gloves as “sterile” and “medical grade.” All disposable gloves, including nonsterile gloves, and products of all glove materials require certification and approval from the FDA.

Buying the right gloves

With the information in this guide to gloves, you are ready to choose disposable gloves that will make your workplace safer, cleaner, and more efficient. Visit Spruce Industries to find the right gloves for you. Spruce can help guide glove purchasing for you and your workers.

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