Hand Protection

Choosing the appropriate hand protection is an important decision in a laboratory setting. Protective gloves should be worn when handling:

  • hazardous or infectious materials
  • laboratory animals (puncture-resistant gloves may also be required for handling more aggressive animals)
  • chemicals of unknown toxicity
  • corrosive materials
  • rough or sharp-edged objects
  • very hot or very cold materials

 

Gloves for laboratory operations are made from different polymers including nitrile, latex, rubber, vinyl, and neoprene. There is not one type of glove that can protect against all hazards. Choose the correct glove based on the hazard(s) present. 

The information below are recommendations. A risk assessment guided by your Lab Safety Coordinator is used to determine the best glove type. Supervisors are responsible for choosing the appropriate gloves for the tasks and hazard. Contact the safety team for assistance.

There is no one type of glove that can protect from all hazardous materials.

Select the Appropriate Glove

Types of Glove Material
Care and Use of Gloves
Proper Glove Removal
Glove Protection for Specific Hazards
 


Select the Appropriate Glove

When selecting the appropriate glove, the following characteristics should be considered:

  • degradation rating
  • breakthrough time
  • permeation rate.

 

Degradation is the change in the physical properties of a glove material. Degradation typically appears as hardening, stiffening, swelling, shrinking or cracking of the glove. Degradation ratings indicate how well a glove will hold up when exposed to a chemical. When looking at a chemical compatibility chart, degradation is usually reported as E (excellent), G (good), F (fair), P (poor), NR (not recommended) or NT (not tested).

Degradation is one critical factor when choosing a glove and is usually the first test. Degradation alone can be enough to disqualify a glove for use with a chemical.

Permeation rate involves absorption of the chemical on the surface of the glove, diffusion through the glove, and desorption of the chemical on the inside of the glove. Resistance to permeation is usually reported as E (excellent), G (good), F (fair), P (poor) or NR (not recommended). If chemical breakthrough does not occur, then permeation rate is not measured and is reported ND (none detected).

Breakthrough time is the time it takes for the chemical to pass through the glove material.  The time noted generally reflects how long a glove can be expected to provide resistance when totally submerged in the test chemical.   

Most manufacturers do not test permeation or breakthrough time if the chemical causes significant degradation to the glove material. Most disposable gloves are not tested for breakthrough time, and are not designed to be fully submerged in a chemical.

For mixtures, it is recommended that the glove material be selected based on the shortest breakthrough time. 

Disposable vs. Reusable Gloves:

Before choosing the type of reusable gloves to use for a specific procedure, check the Permeation and Degradation Charts from the glove manufacturer. We do not recommend purchasing of gloves from a manufacturer that does not provide this data. Glove selection charts only compare reusable gloves. The Ansell Glove Guide may be useful for selecting an appropriate reusable glove. Disposable gloves are made of thinner material, and are designed to be discarded after a single use.

Glove Size:

Gloves come in several sizes (S, M, L, XL). Try to purchase a variety so that each researcher will have gloves that fit comfortably.

Glove Thickness:

The thickness of a glove is an important consideration to prevent skin exposure. Be sure to check the thickness of the glove you are purchasing, and make sure it provides the proper protection. Never purchase a glove that does not specify the thickness of the material.

Athough a thicker glove may provide greater protection, dexterity may be limited or reduced. 

Powdered vs. Non-Powdered Gloves:

Gloves come powdered or non-powdered. Risk Management discourages the use of powdered gloves. The powder is usually cornstarch and is used to lubricate the gloves, making them easier to don. The FDA has a report on the potential adverse health effects of using a powdered glove, and has now banned their use. There is increased potential for the development of an allergy to the glove material. Powdered gloves are being discontinued by many manufacturers.

Types of Glove Material for Hazardous Materials

Biological, Chemical, and Radioactive Hazards

Nitrile gloves provide excellent protection from small quantities of chemicals, biological materials, and radioactive materials that have a low potential of incidental contact. The appropriate glove for protection against mixtures containing both a biological or radioactive material AND a chemical is dependent on the hazard of the chemical. Disposable nitrile gloves are the most commonly used gloves for work with biological agents, and gloves are required in all BSL-2 labs.

For work with radioactive materials, gloves provide a necessary personal protection barrier and help prevent scatter contamination.  Radioiodination procedures require double gloving.  For help determining the best PPE to use when working with radioactive materials, contact the Radiation Safety Office.

The chart below provides general information about glove choices based on the chemical hazard.

 

Glove Material   General Uses
Butyl

Offers the highest resistance to permeation by most gases and water vapor. Especially suitable for use with esters and ketones.
Neoprene

Provides moderate abrasion resistance but good tensile strength and heat resistance. Compatible with many acids, caustics and oils. 

Neoprene gloves are available in disposable and reusable styles.

Nitrile

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nitrile gloves are by far the most common gloves used in research laboratories on campus. They are a type of disposable glove made of synthetic rubber, containing no latex proteins.   Nitrile gloves offer resistance to many chemicals and are generally safe for people who are allergic to latex.

Before ordering nitrile gloves, be sure you are choosing gloves with an appropriate thickness. Refer to the SDS or glove manufacturer's recommendations.  Thin (6 mil or less) gloves are purely disposable and should be changed routinely. Thicker gloves may be used for extended purposes or reused. If these gloves are to be reused, they must be cleaned after each use.

NOTE: "Nitrile" is a marketing word. A glove containing any percentage of nitrile rubber may be categorized as "nitrile."

PVC Provides excellent abrasion resistance and protection from most fats, acids, and petroleum hydrocarbons.
PVA

Highly impermeable to gases. Excellent protection from aromatic and chlorinated solvents. Cannot be used in water or water-based solutions.

Viton Exceptional resistance to chlorinated and aromatic solvents. Good resistance to cuts and abrasions.
Silver Shield

Offers highest level of overall chemical resistance. A couple downsides to Silver Shield gloves: very expensive to use on a regular basis and remove quite a bit of dexterity due to the bulkiness of the gloves. One option to regain some dexterity is to wear a nitrile glove over the silver shield glove. May be good for extended use.

Latex

Risk Management & Safety discourages the use of latex gloves.  The protein in latex rubber can cause an allergic reaction to individuals who may be sensitive to it. Symptoms can range from sneezing to anaphylactic shock, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. A latex allergy can also develop over time after wearing latex gloves. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has more information for those interested in latex allergies.

If your main concern is chemical protection, there are safer options.

*For other types of hazards, please see the section on Gloves for Other Hazards.


Care and Use of Gloves

  • Wear the correct gloves based on the chemical(s) you are using.
  • Dispose of gloves into the proper container:
    • Biologically contaminated gloves need to go into a biowaste container.
    • Chemically contaminated gloves need to be collected as hazardous waste.
    • Radioactively contaminated gloves need to be collected as radioactive waste.
  • Reusable gloves must be washed after use
  • Inspect all gloves for tears and holes prior to use.
  • Remove gloves before touching personal items, such as phones, computers, pens, clothing, chairs, etc.
  • NEVER wear gloves out of the lab. Gloves should not be needed to transport anything through hallways. Use a secondary container and carry clean gloves to put on when arriving at the new location.
  • Always wash your hands after removing gloves.

 

*Disposable gloves must be discarded when removed. Never save disposal gloves for future use!*

 

Disposable gloves are designed to be single-use ONLY. Reusing them increases the risk of contamination for both you and your work.

Proper Glove Removal

Watch this video shows to learn how to properly remove disposable gloves.


Glove Protection for Specific Hazards

Animal Bites/Scratches Hazards

Mice, rodents, and other animals can scratch and bite. Wear appropriate gloves when handling animals. Gloves with wire mesh, or other cut-resistant material (e.g. Kevlar), are recommended. Different materials will provide varying protection against abrasions or cuts.  Be sure to check with the manufacturer for the specific capabilities of the glove you choose. Look for gloves that have a longer gauntlet if more protection is needed.

Sharps Hazards

Chemical compatibility guides may not indicate susceptibility to abrasion or cuts.  Stainless steel, Kevlar, and leather gloves will all provide varying protection against abrasions or cuts.  You will need to check with the manufacturer or supplier for this information for specific gloves.  

Thermal (Heat/Flame/Cryogenic) Hazards

Wear proper gloves when removing materials from a hot autoclave or oven, using bunsen burners or other heating elements, dispensing liquid nitrogen, or handling dry ice.  One type of glove that will protect against hot temperatures, may not protect against cold temperatures. 

When handling liquid nitrogen or dry ice, cryo gloves are the best option.  When handling heated objects, be sure to wear a heat resistant glove. 

Safety staff can assist in choosing the right gloves.

REMINDER:  Gloves are not the only PPE required when removing items from an autoclave or working with cryogenic materials.  Refer to the PPE page or safety pages by topic.


 

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