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Gloves Overview

Learn about types of safety gloves and their uses and limitations.

One of the most important safety choices that researchers make every day is glove selection. Protective gloves should be selected on the basis of the hazards involved, but should always be worn when handling infectious materials, radioactive materials, chemicals, and harmful temperature extremes.

Prudent practice of gloves:

  • No protective glove is totally impermeable.
  • No one material affords protection against all chemicals.
  • Latex gloves provide limited chemical protection.
    glove types

Consider these factors for choosing the right glove for the task:

  • Chemical type
  • Temperature extremes
  • Equipment used (sharps, piercing objects)
  • pH
  • Toxicity
  • Duration of contact

Supervisors are required to assess the workplace using the Laboratory Hazard Assessment Tool (LHAT) to determine if protective gloves are necessary, provide employees with the appropriate gloves and training, and require them to use and maintain gloves and other PPE. See Personal Protective Equipment for details.

Glove selection

Different kinds of gloves provide different kinds of protection. You may need several types of gloves to provide protection against the hazardous substances in your workplace. To ascertain which glove material is most suitable for a particular hazardous exposure, always check with the chemical Safety Data Sheet, the glove manufacturer, and always follow the applicable Hazard Control Plan requirements.

Glove effectiveness is measured in terms of the following characteristics:

  • Degradation — A change in a glove’s physical characteristics (swelling, softening, cracking, change in color or texture)
  • Permeation rate — The speed at which a hazardous substance penetrates the glove material.
  • Breakthrough time — The time between initial contact and first detection of the hazardous substance inside the glove.

Consult this chart for an overview of commonly used glove types and their general advantages and disadvantages:

Chart of commonly used glove types and their general advantages and disadvantages
Glove material Intended use Advantages and disadvantages
Latex (natural rubber) Incidental contact
  • Good for biological and water-based materials
  • Poor for organic solvents
  • Little chemical protection
  • Hard to detect puncture holes
  • Can cause or trigger latex allergies
Kevlar Specific Use
  • Good for cut resistance*
  • Good for flame resistance*
  • Good for reusability
  • No chemical protection
Nitrile Incidental contact
  • Good for solvents, oils, greases, and some acids and bases
  • Clear indication of tears and breaks
  • Good alternative for those with latex allergies
Butyl rubber Extended contact
  • Good for ketones and esters
  • Poor for gasoline and aliphatic, aromatic, and halogenated hydrocarbons
Neoprene Extended contact
  • Good for acids, bases, alcohols, fuels, peroxides, hydrocarbons, and phenols
  • Poor for halogenated and aromatic hydrocarbons
Norfoil Extended contact
  • Good for most hazardous chemicals
  • Poor fit (Note: Dexterity can be partially regained by using a heavier weight Nitrile glove over the Norfoil glove. Also, 4H brand gloves tend to provide better dexterity than the Silver Shield brand.)
Viton Extended contact
  • Good for chlorinated and aromatic solvents
  • Good resistance to cuts and abrasions
  • Poor for ketones
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Specific use
  • Good for acids, bases, oils, fats, peroxides, and amines
  • Good resistance to abrasions
  • Poor for most organic solvents
Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) Specific use
  • Good for aromatic and chlorinated solvents
  • Poor for water-based solutions
Kevlar gloves must be doubled with latex

*For work with liquid pyrophoric chemicals outside of a glove box, appropriate hand protection must include chemically resistant outer gloves (Ansell 25-201 NeoTouch® neoprene gloves) on top of an approved flame-resistant (FR) inner glove or glove liner (Ansell 70-200 Kevlar Liner gloves).

If flame-resistant gloves compromise dexterity due to the nature of the work, contact the Chemical Safety Officer (858-822-1579) for guidance. Never reuse disposable gloves.

Additional Glove Chemical Compatibility and Permeation Charts
Additional Glove Chemical Compatibility and Permeation Charts
Ansell Chemical Application & Recommendation Guide
Kimberly-Clark Professional Chemical Resistance Guide
North by Honeywell Chemical Resistance Guide
SHOWA Gloves Chemical-Resistant Glove Guide

Donning, doffing, and disposing of gloves

  • Always check gloves for holes, punctures, tears, cracking and discoloration before each use.
  • Replace gloves as soon as signs of degradation appear.
  • Long-term exposure and damage to a glove’s surface can quickly reduce the protection offered.
  • Direct chemical contact, soiled or torn gloves should be removed immediately, the hands washed and gloves replaced with a new pair.
  • With disposable gloves, remove by peeling from the wrist and working toward your fingers.
  • Keep the working surface of the glove from contacting your skin during removal.
  • Place the discarded gloves in the designated container (See the "Disposal" section below.)
  • Never wash or reuse disposable gloves.
  • Reusable gloves must be washed before removal, handled only by the cuff and then properly stored.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when changing into fresh gloves and after working with any hazardous materials.
  • Always remove gloves when picking up a telephone, touching door knobs, elevator buttons, or other equipment others touch bare-handed. Transport hazardous materials between labs using secondary containers that can be carried without gloves. Personal protective equipment should never be worn outside the laboratory area. (See printable PDF)


  • Double gloving — Use double gloves to provide additional protection while still allowing freedom of movement. If a spill occurs, or if the glove starts to degrade or tear, hands will be protected after the contaminated outer gloves are removed. Check the outer glove frequently for signs of degradation, such as a change in color or texture. Re-glove whenever degradation occurs.
  • Sleeve length Make sure your gloves overlap the lower sleeves and cuffs of your lab coat or coverall when working with hazardous materials. Long-sleeved gloves or disposable arm-shields may be worn for further protection. Chemical resistant sleeve protectors are available through the PPE Office.glove box
  • Glove boxes These sealed containers give additional protection when working with a highly toxic substance. They also provide an inert atmosphere for compounds that are sensitive to water or air. Glove bags serve the same purpose and are more economical for short-term uses.

Dispose of used and damaged gloves according to whether or not they are contaminated with a hazardous material:

Lessons learned from improper use

  • The tragic death of Dr. Karen Wetterhahn, a chemistry professor at Dartmouth University, has raised awareness or proper glove selection and usage. It’s believed that a highly toxic mercury compound permeated Dr. Wetterhahn’s gloves without her knowledge.
  • A researcher inserted metal racks into a liquid nitrogen tank when her right hand came into contact with the chemical; she sustained cold burns to her index, middle and ring fingers. The researcher reported the incident immediately to her PI, and went to the emergency room for medical attention. At the time of the incident the researcher was wearing appropriate PPE including a pair of latex gloves underneath the cryogenic gloves; however, the chemical had penetrated the gloves upon submersion. Learn more about chemical exposure
  • A researcher was working in a Biosafety Cabinet in the vivarium procedure room with mice that had been previously injected with a patient isolate of coxsackie B virus. The researcher was sedating each mouse with a nose cone and collected stool and blood samples for analysis. The researcher was training a student on the procedures and stated that since he was explaining and performing the procedure at the same time, he was distracted. As the researcher was preparing to sedate the next mouse, the mouse turned its head and bit into the researcher’s index finger. The researcher was wearing a single pair of gloves, disposable gown, hair net, surgical mask, and shoe covers. Learn more about this researcher's story

Latex allergies

Natural rubber or latex gloves DO NOT offer adequate protection against most hazardous materials and should only be used if recommended by a manufacturer for a particular chemical. Repeated exposure to latex and latex products may result in the development of latex allergies. To avoid latex sensitivity, switch to nitrile or another non-latex chemical appropriate disposable glove.

Note: Latex allergy is often associated with allergies to certain foods, especially avocados, potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, chestnuts, kiwi and papaya.

Types of Latex Reactions:

  1. Irritant contact dermatitis — A common reaction even in those who don’t have a true latex allergy, which produces itchy, dry and irritated hands from wearing powdered latex gloves.
  2. Allergic contact dermatitis — A sensitivity that results from exposure to the chemicals added to latex, which produces a rash that begins 1 or 2 days after contact and may produce oozing blisters that are localized near the area of contact, but can spread to other parts of the body if touched.
  3. Latex allergy — An immediate reaction to latex exposure with symptoms that can include hives, itching, nausea, abdominal cramping and facial swelling with itchy, watery eyes. Emergency treatment for anaphylaxis may be required.

How to Respond to a Latex Reaction:

  • Learn to recognize the signs of latex allergies: rashes, hives, itching, eye irritation, nasal or sinus irritation, asthma, coughing or shortness of breath, or (rarely) shock.
  • If you develop any of these symptoms, report a possible latex reaction to your supervisor and contact COEM for a medical evaluation.