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3.4.3 Types of Gloves

As with protective eyewear, there are a number of different types of gloves that are available for laboratory personnel that serve different functions: 

Fabric Gloves

Fabric gloves are made of cotton or fabric blends and are generally used to improve grip when handling slippery objects. They also help insulate hands from mild heat or cold. These gloves are not appropriate for use with chemicals because the fabric can absorb and hold the chemical against a user’s hands, resulting in a chemical exposure.

Leather Gloves

Leather gloves are used to guard against injuries from sparks, scraping against rough surfaces, or cuts from sharp objects like broken glass. They are also used in combination with an insulated liner when working with electricity. These gloves are not appropriate for use with chemicals because the leather can absorb and hold the chemical against a user’s hands, resulting in a chemical exposure. 

Metal Mesh Gloves

Metal mesh gloves are used to protect hands from accidental cuts and scratches. They are most commonly used when working with cutting tools, knives, and other sharp instruments. 

Cryogenic Gloves

Cryogenic gloves are used to protect hands from extremely cold temperatures. These gloves should be used when handling dry ice and when dispensing or working with liquid nitrogen and other cryogenic liquids.

Chemically Resistant Gloves

Chemically resistant gloves come in a wide variety of materials. The recommendations given below for the specific glove materials are based on incidental contact. Once the chemical makes contact with the gloved hand, the gloves should be removed and replaced as soon as practical. Often a glove specified for incidental contact is not suitable for extended contact, such as when the gloved hand can become covered or immersed in the chemical in use. Before selecting chemical resistant gloves, consult the glove manufacturers' recommendations or their glove selection charts, or contact EHS at askEHS@cornell.edu for more assistance.

Some general guidelines for different glove materials include:

  • Natural Rubber Latex - Resistant to ketones, alcohols, caustics, and organic acids. (See note below)
  • Neoprene - Resistant to mineral acids, organic acids, caustics, alcohols, and petroleum solvents.
  • Nitrile - Resistant to alcohols, caustics, organic acids, and some ketones.
  • Norfoil-  Rated for chemicals considered highly toxic and chemicals that are easily absorbed through the skin. These gloves are chemically resistant to a wide range of materials that readily attack other glove materials. These gloves are not recommended for use with Chloroform. Common brand names include: Silver Shield by North Hand Protection, 4H by Safety4, or New Barrier by Ansell Edmont.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) -  Resistant to mineral acids, caustics, organic acids, and alcohols.
  • Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) - Resistant to chlorinated solvents, petroleum solvents, and aromatics.

A note about latex gloves

The use of latex gloves, especially thin, disposable exam gloves, for chemical handling is discouraged because latex offers little protection from commonly used chemicals. Latex gloves can degrade severely in minutes or seconds, when used with common lab and shop chemicals. Latex gloves also can cause an allergic reaction in a percentage of the population due to several proteins found in latex. Symptoms can include nasal, eye, or sinus irritation, hives, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or unexplained shock. If any of these symptoms become apparent in personnel wearing latex gloves, discontinue using the gloves and seek medical attention immediately.The use of latex gloves is only appropriate for:  

  • Most biological materials.
  • Nonhazardous chemicals.
  • Clean room requirements.
  • Medical or veterinary applications.
  • Very dilute, aqueous solutions containing <1% for most hazardous chemicals or less than 0.1% of a known or suspected human carcinogen.

Staff required to wear latex gloves should receive training on the potential health effects related to latex. Hypoallergenic, non-powdered gloves should be used whenever possible. If a good substitute glove material is available, then use nonlatex gloves. A general purpose substitute for disposable latex gloves are disposable Nitrile gloves.

See the appendix for a list of recommended gloves for specific chemicals, definitions for terms used in glove selection charts, glove materials and characteristics, and a list of useful references.