Personal Protective Equipment

Vinyl, Latex or Nitrile Disposable Gloves? What Are Their Differences & How Much Do They Cost?

disposable gloves

The three most popular disposable glove materials on the market today are nitrile, latex and vinyl, with nitrile gloves being considered the most functional hand protection products. Traditionally, disposable gloves are a key element in any healthcare setting, protecting staff and patients from exposure to potentially dangerous germs and chemicals.

And if until recently, the level of protection provided by a single-use glove mainly concerned workers in the healthcare, laboratory and industrial sectors, COVID-19 conveyed such concerns to everyone. Although most of the market remains closed, sooner or later the gradual opening will begin in March or April 2021.

Whether it is Click-Away, Click Inside or any system initially implemented, experts and infectious disease specialists emphasize the need for strict safety measures, in which masks and protective gloves will play a leading role. What you may not realize is that disposable gloves are not all the same.

So, if you are wondering

  • What disposable gloves should you get
  • What are their differences
  • What type of protective gloves should you use depending on your profession
  • Prices
  • What makes nitrile gloves stand out

Then in this article, we will explore these types of gloves so that you can make an informed decision about the type that is most suitable for you.

Latex gloves

For decades, latex gloves made from natural rubber have been the number one choice in the medical world. Since the early 1980s, latex gloves have been the main form of protection for hands against blood-borne pathogens such as HIV, which was more prevalent than any other virus at the time.

Advantages

The main advantages of latex gloves are the excellent traction and the sense of touch that they provide thanks to their elasticity and that is why they are widely used until today for sensitive applications such as a surgery where extremely precision is required. They are also sufficiently durable, flexible and very comfortable to use. Finally, latex gloves are a good choice for those who come in contact with biological and water-based materials.

latex gloves

Disadvantages

The preference for disposable latex gloves has led to an increase in allergic reactions to this material. Those who are at the highest risk of developing a latex allergy are:

  • Healthcare workers or anywhere else often wear latex gloves. It is estimated worldwide that 7.5% of healthcare professionals have some form of latex allergy.
  • People who have undergone multiple surgeries
  • People who are often exposed to latex, with first and foremost workers in related industries
  • People with other allergies, such as allergic rhinitis or allergies to certain foods
    (such as kiwi, pineapple, avocado, carrot, chestnut, banana, apple, tomato, celery, melon, raw potato, etc.)
  • People who have bone marrow cells defects
  • People with deformed bladder or urinary tract
  • People using urine catheter with resilient tip
  • People with asthma or eczema
  • People who use condoms very often
allergies to latex gloves

Usually latex allergies simply cause skin irritations where there has been immediate exposure and many times, hours after. In rare cases, however, there is a serious risk of anaphylactic shock. In general, without a satisfactory scientific explanation, allergic reactions tend to become more severe with repeated exposure to latex.

Of course, even if you are not allergic to latex, you should not forget that someone you come in contact with while wearing latex gloves may have. This common allergic reaction is the reason why in many countries the use of latex gloves has been banned in medical and educational institutions and it was what originally led to the development of alternatives such as vinyl and nitrile gloves.

Another very important disadvantage is that latex offers little or no chemical protection. While latex disposable gloves have about the same natural barrier performance as nitrile gloves, they don’t provide real protection against organic solvents.

Finally, they are less resistant to puncture and at the same time it is very difficult to detect cracks or holes in latex gloves due to the elasticity of the material where in this area it acts disadvantageously.

Price

In general, latex gloves, for those who are not allergic and don’t come into contact with chemicals, are the most economical disposable gloves on the market. Currently, the price per latex glove ranges from €0.041 to €1.1.

Nitrile Gloves

Nitrile is a synthetic rubber that is technically known as acrylonitrile-butadiene rubber, more durable and different in properties from natural rubber, namely latex.

Niril gloves were developed in the mid-90s for a variety of reasons, but the two main ones were the ever-increasing allergies to latex gloves and the inability to protect against organic solvents in environments where hydrocarbon resistance is vital. In this case, too, they were initially aimed at medical applications, but very quickly became preferred in microbiological and chemical laboratories, in industry (fuel, automobiles, food, etc.) and many other industries (such as agriculture, livestock, catering, hairdressers, beauty salons, etc.).

Advantages

Nitrile gloves easily and quickly surpassed latex gloves as the best disposable gloves mainly due to the superior hand protection properties and the fact that they don’t contain latex. But it is worth focusing on what nitrile offers to millions of workers every day around the world.

Very resistant to puncture

More and more professions are relying on the durability of nitrile gloves, especially when there is a risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens and other environmental pollutants. Nitrile gloves offer high tear and puncture resistance up to five times more than disposable latex or vinyl gloves. This makes nitrile the most suitable material of choice for making disposable gloves used in hazardous work environments where needles and sharp objects are present.

Greater chemical resistance

Nitrile offers the highest chemical resistance of any disposable glove material. Nitrile gloves are preferred in high-risk work environments as they protect the hands from strong and corrosive chemicals that latex or vinyl gloves cannot withstand.

Indicatively, disposable gloves were useless throughout the car industry, since the latex will dissolve immediately when it comes in contact with grease, oil, fuel and gasoline. Nitrile gloves changed the situation. It is easy to notice that they are used by almost all car mechanics as they withstand high temperatures and are very resistant to almost all chemicals in a car system.

Exactly the same applies to the agricultural sector since disposable nitrile gloves effectively prevent the contact of bacteria and harmful chemicals with animals, plants and of course the hands of the worker. At the same time they are generally used with pesticides such as herbicides and other products due to their chemically resistant properties which makes them ideal for gardening and crops while at the same time farmers and stockbreeders can perform mechanic duties to repair their equipment.

Another huge industry that has shown an emphatic preference for nitrile is that of cleaning and disinfection. Workers in this field must always use disposable gloves to protect themselves from the dangers of common chemicals found in surface disinfectants, on a daily basis and nitrile gloves have proven to be the most suitable for this job.

Professional hairdressers and beauticians are also exposed to chemicals on a daily basis and need a higher degree of protection to avoid skin irritation and the nitrile glove is the best choice, as it is specially designed to provide durable protection against caustic chemicals without dissolving.

Nitrile gloves don't contain latex

Nitrile gloves have become the preferred synthetic alternative to natural rubber and are ideal for medical professionals. It is no coincidence that dentists were perhaps the first to massively choose nitrile gloves due to the reduced likelihood of allergic reactions for both themselves and their patients.

Comfort fitting

Initially, nitrile gloves didn’t fit as well as latex disposable gloves. In fact, there was once a big difference in the sense of touch between them. Newer production processes, however, have tackled this problem successfully. With modern techniques, the body temperature that heats up the nitrile gloves results in them adapting better to the hands as you wear them.

They are also more elastic than vinyl gloves.

They don and doff easily without the use of powder

Nitrile gloves have a lower friction coefficient than their competitors, which makes them the smoothest to use since they don and doff with great ease.

This detail as well as new finishing techniques have enabled many manufacturers to develop powder-free nitrile gloves (powder has also been shown to cause skin irritations). Another strategic advantage of not having powder is the reduction of sweating, something extremely important for those who are forced to wear disposable gloves for many hours.

This feature made powder-free gloves popular with those who come in contact with fresh glues or ink. Typical examples are painters and tattoo artists.

Completely waterproof

Nitrile disposable gloves are completely waterproof, extremely useful to those who are exposed to moisture in their workplace. There are many who prefer to wear nitrile gloves even under normal work gloves such as plumbers.

Longer lifespan

Nitrile gloves have a longer lifespan than vinyl and latex gloves and thus, can be stored for much longer.

Disadvantages

Although disposable nitrile gloves are more expensive than the rest, they remain a very economical choice considering the increased level of safety they provide and the avoidance of allergies to latex and powder.

Although latex gloves continue to be more comfortable than nitrile gloves, modern manufacturing techniques have reduced this difference to a minimum.

Of course, nitrile gloves have the highest chemical resistance but don’t provide adequate protection against all chemicals. If you know which chemicals you are dealing with, you should consult the instructions for use of the product you choose to be absolutely sure of your safety.

Price

Rubber trees are the raw material in disposable latex and nitrile gloves. And because rubber trees thrive exclusively in very hot and tropical climates, the two countries that produce the most rubber are Malaysia and China.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which is unfortunately still raging in many countries, has led to an extreme increase in demand for disposable gloves over the past year. So, rubber is less available than ever before, causing prices to rise by up to 300% on both latex and nitrile gloves. Unfortunately, this situation is expected to continue at least until the end of 2021.

Currently, the price per nitrile glove ranges from €0.11 to €0.32.

Vinyl Gloves

Vinyl gloves are made of polyvinyl chloride, known to most as PVC. This means that vinyl disposable gloves have oil as feedstock.

This is a popular and up-and-coming disposable glove. Certainly advances in vinyl glove technology have improved protective performance but are currently suitable for very specific areas where they don’t deal with hazardous materials as they offer very little protection.

Vinyl gloves are generally used in the food and beverage industry and are suitable for low-risk work, where disposable gloves are worn for a very short time.

vinyl gloves

Advantages

The main advantage of vinyl gloves is that they are cheap to make and therefore the cheapest choice for the consumer compared to latex and nitrile.

At the same time, disposable vinyl gloves don’t contain latex. However, while allergic reactions are almost non-existent, many report that they often cause irritation.

Disadvantages

While the lack of latex has been mentioned as a benefit, people who use it continue to complain of allergic reactions. In fact, the problem of skin irritation from vinyl gloves is caused by the lack of ventilation while wearing them. Unlike other disposable gloves, the hand does not breathe with the result that sweat and heat are trapped inside the vinyl glove leading to these irritations which are misinterpreted as allergies.

But apart from the lack of ventilation, vinyl gloves are also the least elastic so, they don’t fit well and are uncomfortable to use. This is why it is recommended to wear vinyl gloves for a very short time. To be precise, five minutes tops.

In general, vinyl is the least favorable material for making disposable gloves and the reasons are many.

  • Vinyl is less resistant to puncture than nitrile and latex. When the vinyl gloves are stretched or bent, the individual molecules separate and the integrity of the protective barrier is compromised.
  • It is the least sensitive to touch compared to all other materials which makes vinyl gloves unsuitable for tasks that require skillful handling.
  • Vinyl gloves have very low chemical resistance, providing limited protection against chemical and biomedical exposure. They are unsuitable for most organic solvents as well as water-based solutions.

And on top of that, as an oil derivative, vinyl gloves have been a red flag for countless environmental organizations for many years for their impact on landfills as the leaching phenomenon seems to negatively affect the reproduction of fish and other aquatic animals.

Recent research makes vinyl gloves even more dangerous as they are mainly considered responsible for the contamination of food with phthalates. In short, it has now been proven that the phthalates contained in vinyl (and the gloves that are made from it), migrate to food and then release toxic gases into the environment.

Price

Due to their low cost and low levels of protection, vinyl gloves are commonly used in non-hazardous chemical and low-risk environments.

Currently, the price per vinyl glove ranges from €0.050 to €0.146.

Conclusion

In recent years, nitrile is by far the most popular choice of disposable gloves in the medical world and most industries. Although they cost a little more, the ever-increasing allergic reactions to latex and the superior chemical and mechanical resistance they show seem to leave no room for competitors.

So, when deciding which disposable glove is most suitable for you, you should ask yourself how much protection you need, from what, but also the possible allergies. I hope understanding these basic differences between disposable gloves will help you make the right choice.

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