Latex used to be the standard disposable glove for professionals around the world, but not anymore. Nitrile now stands as one of the most versatile disposable gloves out there, and for good reason.
But you might be wondering things like:
- Is nitrile really safe? What is it made of?
- Are nitrile gloves biodegradable?
- What do they protect against?
- How often should I change my nitrile gloves?
We’ll answer the most common questions in this article.
Who uses nitrile gloves?
Manufacturing, chemicals, electronics, and medical industries. Basically, nitrile gloves are popular with professionals who:
- Go through a lot of disposable gloves (e.g. healthcare professionals conducting medical examinations or surgeries)
- Need to have good dexterity and tactile sensitivity while gloved
- Require protection from a range of contaminants and electrical discharges
- Need the gloves to be durable, puncture-resistant, and tear-resistant during use
Nitrile gloves are also resistant to a variety of oils, solvents, chemicals, and food products, so they’re excellent for tradesmen and those in the F&B industry. (See also: What else do nitrile gloves protect against?)
Because they’re hypoallergenic, nitrile gloves are also good alternatives for those with latex allergies. This does not mean that no one will ever have an allergic reaction when wearing nitrile gloves though; it just means the chances of an allergic reaction are much lower. (See also: Can nitrile gloves cause allergic reactions? Are they safe?)
What are nitrile gloves made of?
The raw material for nitrile gloves is synthetic rubber derived from two monomers: acrylonitrile and butadiene. Chemists combine the two monomers in a process called copolymerisation. Once the lab-produced materials are ready, they head off to the factory for production. The rest of the production process is largely the same as making latex gloves.
Why are nitrile gloves blue?
Nitrile gloves are traditionally blue because of their association with healthcare and industrial usages. But not all of them are: the gloves actually come in a plethora of different colours, like indigo, orange, and black. Nitrile glove manufacturers usually avoid white so that the gloves won’t be associated with latex, as there’s been a higher incidence of latex glove allergies in recent years.
Some facilities specifically use different colours to help users prevent cross-contamination: one colour may be used for one part of the lab, while another is used for a different section.
There’s also a bit of concern about unwanted reactions since colour is an additive. These additives may react with the products or processes during handling. For this reason, cleanrooms usually prefer gloves with as little dye as possible.
What size nitrile gloves do I need?
To get an idea of your glove size, first measure your dominant hand around your knuckles (not including your thumb). Then, measure your hand from its base to the tip (top of your middle finger).
Once you have the two measurements in inches, take the larger of the two figures and round up. For example, if your lengthwise measurement is 6¼ inches and the circumference of your knuckles is 6½, then your glove size is 7.
Alternatively, this handy size chart by International Plastics allows you to place your hand on a printout to measure your approximate glove size. However, the exact measurements may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so be sure to consult their sizing charts before purchasing.
Getting your glove size right is important for maximising comfort, dexterity, tactile sensitivity, and hand protection. If they’re too loose, the gloves can slip off or allow contaminants inside. It can also impair your work, as your hands may not have as much tactile sensitivity or dexterity. If your gloves are too tight, you’ll feel the discomfort and fatigue after prolonged use.
Can nitrile gloves cause allergic reactions? Are they safe?
It’s rare — much rarer than latex glove allergies — but possible. Most allergic reactions while using nitrile gloves happen because of a chemical compound called accelerators. This chemical basically turns liquid rubber into the rubber film necessary for making gloves. If you think you may have a nitrile glove allergy, it’s worthwhile looking into accelerator-free nitrile gloves.
Another alternative to nitrile gloves is vinyl (PVC). Since vinyl gloves are made of plastic, allergic reactions are almost non-existent. That said, those with sensitive skin should note a few things:
- The perspiration and lack of ventilation from wearing vinyl gloves for prolonged periods can cause contact urticaria. This should resolve itself after you take off the gloves.
- Vinyl gloves are not as durable as nitrile gloves; they may tear or puncture. You may experience some leakage (and the subsequent skin irritation) if this is the case.
Are nitrile gloves biodegradable and/or recyclable?
Not unless you purchase a type that’s been specifically treated to be biodegradable. Regular nitrile can take decades — possibly even centuries — to fully break down in a landfill.
Recycling nitrile gloves is fine if you’re handling non-hazardous materials. You’ll need to find a company that specialises in this though. A few manufacturers, like Kimberly-Clark, have programs to turn PPE into new consumer products. In Singapore, ACRES will gladly take secondhand boxes of nitrile gloves in good condition so that they can free up most of their funds for wildlife rescue.
What’s the shelf life for nitrile gloves?
Nitrile gloves can last up to 10 years when stored in a cool, dry place. You won’t find a manufacturer who will guarantee this though! Most manufacturer guidelines state a shelf life of about four to five years, provided the gloves are stored according to the packaging guidelines.
Can nitrile gloves be washed?
Sure, if they’re the reusable sort. We wouldn’t recommend washing and reusing disposable nitrile gloves — durable as the gloves are, washing them can introduce microscopic tears that then increase your risk of contamination.
If you’re wearing disposable nitrile gloves for a quick errand outside, here’s the thing: those gloves may not actually protect you. In fact, gloves can actually give you a false sense of security that leads you to skip proper handwashing — a practice that protects you more than the gloves.
It’s also easier to sanitise your hands than your gloves, so ditch that pack of disposable gloves and bring a bottle of sanitiser out instead.
Are non-sterile (clean) gloves safe?
They’re safe for non-surgical procedures such as medical examinations and even minor skin excisions. Studies show no link between the use of non-sterile gloves and increased rates of infection. But you should still wash your hands and make sure they’re dry before putting on the gloves; gloves don’t replace the need for proper handwashing.
Non-sterile nitrile gloves can also be used in food preparation, but make sure they’re certified food safe. Look for mentions of the FDA or HAACP to check.
What’s the difference between sterile vs non-sterile gloves?
Non-sterile nitrile gloves are cheaper than their sterile counterparts, first of all. Sterile gloves are typically only used for surgical procedures.
Sterile gloves are certified as such according to FDA standards. These standards indicate the minimum level that sterilisation techniques must meet along with the acceptable quality level (AQL) of pinholes. The combination of sterilisation methods, higher AQL, and stricter packaging standards is what makes sterile gloves more expensive than non-sterile ones.
How often should I change my nitrile gloves?
As a general rule, change your disposable gloves every two hours or if you notice any tears, punctures, or damage. You should also change your gloves if you’re switching tasks — such as if you’re working with cleaning chemicals after handling food ingredients.
Healthcare professionals should change their gloves after every patient they see. This prevents the spread of Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs). The FDA does not recommend reusing gloves even if there’s a glove shortage; instead, they recommend these strategies to conserve gloves.
Are nitrile gloves heat-resistant?
Yes, disposable nitrile gloves are heat-resistant. Nitrile can even withstand higher temperatures than latex gloves. The nitrile rubber material remains stable from -40°C to 108°C.
If you’re working with very high temperatures, there are reusable nitrile-coated gloves that can withstand up to 300°Fahrenheit like this pair from Fisher-Scientific.
Are nitrile gloves anti-static?
Generally yes, though not all nitrile gloves are anti-static. Check the manufacturer specifications to be sure.
Still, nitrile gloves are preferred over latex rubber gloves when electrostatic discharges pose a real risk. Latex is static insulative, whereas nitrile is on the border between static insulative and static dissipative. That means nitrile is less likely to result in an electrostatic discharge that could potentially cause harm or damage.
What else do nitrile gloves protect against?
Besides its heat resistance and anti-static properties, nitrile gloves are:
- Resistant to a broad array of chemicals, including solvents and corrosive chemicals
What alternatives to nitrile gloves are there?
We cover many of the alternatives in our complete guide to nitrile gloves. In brief, the main alternatives include:
- Latex gloves
- Vinyl (PVC) gloves
- Neoprene gloves
Check out our guide to get more details, including a quick chart summarising the pros and cons of nitrile gloves vs latex vs vinyl.
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