Disposable gloves protect against contamination while staying flexible and allowing maximal hand dexterity for surgeons, dentists, and tattoo artists. What materials can be used for these incredible barriers? What are gloves made of?
The three popular types of single-use gloves are latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves. While latex is natural rubber, nitrile and vinyl are synthetic. What original materials are latex medical gloves made of? Keep reading for more details of the manufacturing process.
Table of Contents
What Are Disposable Gloves Made of?
1. Latex gloves
What are latex gloves made of? The production of latex gloves begins with latex rubber collection. Workers will attach a metal container to the rubber tree and shave the bark to collect liquid latex.
After being transported to the factory, the liquid will be mixed with chemicals to form a consistent, stretchy, and flexible compound. Now, the latex is ready to fabricate disposable gloves.
Among rubber gloves, latex ones are the most eco-friendly since their original material is natural and renewable. There’s no need to cut down trees to extract latex. A rubber tree can live up to 100 years and can be tapped once every two days.
Despite the material’s sustainability, it is not widely used because of latex allergy – a reaction to the natural rubber proteins. Though only one percent of Americans might have this allergy, the more one exposes to the material, the more likely he/she develops the symptoms.
Latex allergy symptoms range from itchy skin to difficulty breathing and blue skin. This can affect both caregivers and patients. Thus, healthcare workers often avoid this type of rubber gloves.
2. Nitrile gloves
Nitrile gloves are made from a synthetic rubber, which is a combination of two chemicals: acrylonitrile and butadiene. Firstly, the chemicals are derived from crude oil. Then, they undergo polymerization to form liquid nitrile. Finally, the liquid is combined with other substances to form a consistent and dry rubber material.
Nitrile gloves’ composition contains high proportions of acrylo, allowing them to resist hydrocarbon fuels and petroleum-based oils. However, they are less flexible than latex gloves. They might tear when you pull them too hard.
Nitrile is also one of the purest forms of rubber. It doesn’t contaminate work environments with natural proteins or additives. Hence, nitrile gloves are trusted in sterilized procedures at laboratories and hospitals.
You can find nitrile gloves in various thicknesses, lengths, and applications. Their only drawback is the cost. Among the three types we mention in this article, nitrile is the most expensive.
3. Vinyl gloves
What are vinyl gloves made of? Similar to nitrile, vinyl is a synthetic and non-biodegradable rubber. It is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers. Vinyl gloves often have longer shelf life than latex ones and are cheaper to produce.
However, vinyl gloves are not suitable for high-risk applications since they are the least chemical-resistant. They are also not as stretchy and form-fitting, so they might hinder finger movements and tear more easily.
As a result, you will mostly find vinyl gloves in non-hazardous settings, such as food handling, clean-up, and manufacturing tasks.
Another drawback of vinyl is its potential to harm human health and the environment. The production, usage, and disposal of this glove’s material can release chlorine-based chemicals into the surroundings.
When wearers are exposed to vinyl daily, the level of chlorine in their bodies might increase, leading to serious health problems, including cancer. Because of that, vinyl is now used limitedly.
What Glove Material is Recyclable?
Nowadays, disposable gloves are made mandatory in many industries. A laboratory might produce around 5,000 pounds of used rubber gloves per year. More than ever, we need to take action to stop the negative impact on the environment.
What glove material should you choose for reusing and recycling? Technically, latex, nitrile, and vinyl are all recyclable, but nitrile is the most preferable.
Latex is environmentally-friendly and biodegradable. It takes six months to four years for a pair of latex gloves to degrade completely.
Though the material can harm the environment when degrading, the damage is not as serious as other rubbers.
However, latex poses allergy threats to users, thus requiring strict, expensive, and demanding procedures to recycle.
Vinyl, on the other hand, releases dangerous toxins and chemicals into its surrounding environments during disposal, recycling, and reuse. Since it might lead to severe health problems, many programs deny the recycling of this material.
Vinyl is also non-biodegradable, so a pair might take up to 100 years to break down entirely.
As a synthetic rubber, nitrile also takes a century to degrade. But the good news is the material doesn’t pose allergies or other health threats. It can be processed along with other rubber materials and turned into products like tires, trash cans, and even park benches.
Nevertheless, only uncontaminated gloves are recyclable. If your nitrile gloves have bodily fluids, blood, hazardous chemicals, or oil on them, they must be disposed of properly in hazardous trash bins.
Are surgical gloves made of plastic?
No, they aren’t. Most surgical gloves are made of nitrile, which is a synthetic rubber derived from crude oil.
Though plastics share a similar manufacturing process, the final result is different. While nitrile can stretch and maintain its integrity, plastic doesn’t return to its original shape after being pulled forcefully.
Can you be allergic to nitrile?
Yes, you can. Some people reported having an allergy to accelerators, which are substances used to speed up the process of turning liquid nitrile into a gel.
The symptoms are usually milder than latex allergy,. Patients might have hives, itchy areas on the skin, blisters, burning sensations, and sensitivity to the sun. There haven’t been any reports about swelling throat, difficulty breathing, or collapsing.
What are polyethylene (PE) gloves?
Polyethylene (PE) is a type of plastic. PE gloves are not stretchy, flexible, or dexterous, but they are inexpensive solutions for low-risk and fast-paced procedures, such as food service lines and deli counters. They have loose fits that assist in frequent glove changes while creating a safe environment free from food-borne illnesses.
We hope this article helped you answer the question “What are gloves made of?” thoroughly. Latex is natural rubber, nitrile and vinyl are synthetic rubber, and PE is plastic. Each type has benefits and drawbacks. Remember that the best gloves are the ones that suit your situation most.
The huge amount of disposable gloves in landfills is causing obstructive consequences to our planet. Whenever you can, try to reduce, reuse, and recycle them. Before you leave, let us know if you have any further questions. We hope to hear from you soon!
Veronica is our content editor. She is a talent in delivery. Her main work is editing and writing articles that are both informative and simple to follow. She is in charge of synthesizing our understanding of what personal protection equipment (PPE) is needed in each job, how to best apply it, and how to visualize that equipment.