How to choose your laboratory gloves

There are few environments where quality safety wear matters more than laboratories. Workers can be subjected to a range of harmful chemicals and materials that make PPE a legal requirement in such settings, as set out by the Health and Safety Executive’s safe working guidelines.

Alongside coats and eye protection, gloves are imperative for protecting the skin and avoiding contamination. There are several types to choose from depending on the nature of work being undertaken, with size and comfort important too for periods of extended use.

Below we highlight some of the key options available when selecting laboratory gloves.       

What can laboratory gloves be made from?

Laboratory gloves can be produced from a variety of materials to protect against different hazards. Common options include:

  • Butyl: High resistance to acids, aldehydes, esters, peroxides and other chemicals. Butyl gloves protect against cold, oxidation, abrasion and ozone corrosion.
  • Neoprene: Ideal for handling acids, bases, alcohols, fuels, peroxides, hydrocarbons and phenols.
  • Nitrile: Designed for incidental or extended handling of acids, bases, solvents, greases, oil, caustics and chlorinated solvents.
  • PVC: Strong protection against abrasion and most fats, acids and petroleum hydrocarbons.
  • PVA: Impermeable to gases, ideal for protecting against aromatic and chlorinated solvents but not water-based solutions.
  • Viton: Suitable for extended contact with chlorinated and aromatic compounds, protective against cuts and abrasions.
  • Natural latex rubber: Designed for general purpose laboratory work, resistant to alkalis, ketones, salts and diluted acids. Not suitable for latex allergy sufferers.

Single-use vs reusable gloves

Certain laboratory tasks call for single-use PPE to reduce risk of contamination. Disposable gloves are available in many of the materials highlighted above and, while usually thinner, can be relied upon to protect against the incidental splashing of many general chemical or biological products.

Reusable gloves are typically thicker in comparison and feature longer cuffs to prevent dripping when hands are fully immersed in chemicals for longer periods of time. They should be washed and air dried after each use and routinely checked for signs of degradation. 

What about powder?

Some laboratory gloves can be bought pre-powdered to make them easier for workers to put on, as well as absorbing perspiration to keep hands dry and comfortable when working. These characteristics make them especially popular in healthcare.

The powder mixture used for such gloves is starch-based however, which can cause irritation or allergies when worn for longer periods of time. Powder-free gloves can also prove to be stronger.

What safety standards apply to laboratory gloves?

Laboratory gloves can be subjected to various safety standards and given a rating depending on their intended use.

Three key standards tested for are penetration, permeation and degradation. The first ensures that gloves won’t allow penetration by chemicals, the second that liquid chemicals won’t break through quickly when immersed, and the final that physical properties won’t change when exposed.

Buying from a trusted manufacturer is one simple way to make sure laboratory gloves are compliant. You should also be able to review a datasheet to check for references to European safety standards. If still unsure, ask a trusted seller for a recommended safety glove for your line of work.

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