25, Sep 2022
Latex vs Nitrile vs Vinyl Gloves: The Differences and When to Use Them
Disposable gloves provide an essential protective barrier between skin and a potentially infectious or harmful substance. When used in healthcare, gloves provide the first line of defence for healthcare workers against bloodborne pathogens when attending to sick patients.
But disposable gloves aren’t just used by doctors and surgeons. Mechanics, laboratory technicians, factory workers, and even hairdressers use disposable gloves to protect from chemical substances that could harm their skin.
HSE states in its guide to selecting the right disposable gloves that:
“There are four requirements which must be met for any protective glove selected to be suitable. The glove must: be appropriate for the risk(s) and the conditions where it is used; take into account the ergonomic requirements and state of health of the person wearing it; fit the wearer correctly, if necessary, after adjustments; either prevent or control the risk involved without increasing the overall risk.”
So what’s the difference between latex nitrile and vinyl gloves, and how do you know which ones you should use?
Difference Between Latex, Vinyl, and Nitrile Gloves
Before we break down the details of vinyl vs nitrile vs latex gloves, here’s an overview of the differences.
Nitrile gloves are sometimes called medical-grade gloves because they offer the highest level of protection in examinations and surgery. Nitrile gloves are known for their high tolerance of biohazards like blood, corrosive substances like hydrogen peroxide, and a wide range of solvents and other oil-based chemicals.
Nitrile gloves are made from copolymer nitrile butadiene rubber derived from bonding two chemicals: acrylonitrile and butadiene. These chemicals give nitrile gloves their chemical resistance and flexibility. Nitrile gloves are also puncture-resistant, and their composition means that if they do break, they are more likely to split, meaning no minute tears or punctures will go unnoticed, and the contamination can be dealt with quickly.
Because of this, nitrile gloves are used not only in healthcare and medical examinations but also in the automotive and mechanical industries. They are even used in beauty services like tattooing and piercing, where sharp tools are used that could compromise the protective barrier between the skin and harmful materials.
Comparing nitrile vs latex gloves’ mechanic benefits or nitrile vs latex gloves chemical resistance benefits, nitrile will always come out on top because of its robust barrier that protects against corrosive materials and substances.
Where are nitrile gloves used?
- Care homes
- Dental clinics
- Beauty salons
- Doctors’ surgeries
- Manufacturing facilities
- Tattoo and piercing shops
- Waste management facilities
The highly protective nature of nitrile gloves meant that for some time, they were very tough and didn’t afford a good level of dexterity and sensitivity. But thanks to advances in manufacturing, nitrile gloves are now made with a touch sensitivity akin to latex gloves, meaning they can be used to perform high-precision tasks and worn for extended periods. They are also often made in a range of sizes to ensure a close fit.
Vinyl is the most lightweight of the three disposable glove types. As such, vinyl gloves are the most widely available and cost-effective option but aren’t suitable for high-risk tasks involving a more significant infection or injury risk.
Vinyl gloves won’t stand up to long periods of wear. They are usually more loose-fitting than nitrile or latex gloves that need to offer a close fit. Made from polyvinyl chloride, otherwise known as PVC, vinyl gloves are best suited to cleaning operations and other tasks that don’t involve any corrosive chemicals but where the extra degree of barrier protection helps to keep hygiene levels high and protect the skin on the hands from repeated exposure to substances and actions that dry it out.
The difference between nitrile, latex, and vinyl gloves is usually in the degree of protection needed. Nitrile gloves are required when handling sodium hydroxide in a lab to protect against the risk of spillage. However, using nitrile gloves when preparing sandwiches in a commercial kitchen could be considered overkill. Staff could get through several pairs of gloves in a day in the kitchen, which could become an expensive investment for the business owner. Using vinyl gloves would be far more cost-effective and fulfil the purpose of protecting the food from skin contact.
Blue vinyl gloves should be used in food prep environments under HSE guidance to minimise the risk of food contamination. While vinyl gloves are an excellent solution for various food prep tasks, they are not approved for handling fatty foods. This is because phthalate plasticisers are not chemically bound to the PVC from which vinyl gloves are made and can evaporate into the fatty foods and become soluble. In this case, nitrile gloves are recommended.
Vinyl is anti-static and protects against shocks and chafing when stripping back sheaths on cords and wires, so vinyl gloves are well suited to some electricians’ work.
Where are vinyl gloves used?
- Cleaning (without highly corrosive chemicals)
- Food preparation (apart from fatty foods)
- Hairdressing to protect hands from chemicals and repeated exposure to water
- Painting and DIY
- Working with wires and cords
When comparing vinyl vs latex vs nitrile gloves, vinyl gloves are the best short-term solution in a wide range of cases. Generally, vinyl gloves are a cheap and easy option when you need temporary protection for a low-risk job. Vinyl gloves can protect from low-level hazards, maintain good levels of hygiene, minimise cross-contamination, and make certain jobs more tolerable by protecting the skin on the hands from contact.
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