Medical-grade gloves are a vital piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) for many professional environments. Though most often used in healthcare settings, disposable medical gloves are also necessary for caregivers, food handlers, dentists and other professionals. Wherever health and sanitation are top concerns, protective gloves are essential. They help stop the spread of germs and viruses, promoting the safety of both employees and those they serve.
If you need disposable gloves for your professional environment, choosing the best possible kind of glove is critical. You’ll need to understand the difference between various disposable glove types. Not all gloves are the same — different materials, strength levels and other features lend themselves to distinct purposes. Below, we’ll discuss the 10 most important considerations for stocking up on gloves.
Medical Gloves Defined
Only some disposable gloves qualify as medical gloves. To fit the medical-grade description, disposable gloves must meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quality assurance guidelines. These guidelines ensure all gloves used in medical settings are durable and reliable, not flimsy or brittle. For patient examinations, gloves must have an acceptable quality level (AQL) no higher than 2.5. That rating means no more than 2.5% of the gloves in a batch can have defects. These gloves are non-sterile — sterile gloves must have an even lower AQL measure.
Manufacturers have to keep up with stringent testing measures to achieve a score of 2.5 or lower. Gloves with an AQL higher than 4 or 5 are only acceptable for mechanical or industrial purposes. Rigorous AQL standards require glove manufacturers to employ uncompromising quality control. The AQL scoring guide helps ensure gloves used for medical purposes are without defects. Tears or other lapses in quality could leave healthcare professionals and their patients vulnerable to pathogens or other contaminants.
Depending on your application, you’ll have to decide on an acceptable AQL rating. You may be able to find industry standards, but if not, opt for lower AQL numbers for the best quality disposable gloves. Keep in mind, doctors use gloves with AQL scores of 2.5 or lower during patient examinations. A similar score would likely suffice for your environment unless you need them for surgical purposes.
1. Type of Material
Disposable gloves with an acceptable AQL rating come in a variety of materials. One of the first things you should consider is your glove material preference. Different glove materials are useful for different purposes, so it’s a good idea to learn about the available options before making a bulk purchase.
Nitrile gloves are one of the best alternatives to latex gloves, offering a longer average shelf life. Standard nitrile gloves are an ideal non-sterile option. A powder-free, latex-free nitrile glove is resistant to chemicals, oils and acids. Nitrile’s strength makes these gloves tough and helps them stay puncture-free, even when worn for extended periods. If latex allergies are an issue, nitrile gloves offer a flexible, touch-sensitive alternative. You can buy bulk orders of nitrile gloves in a variety of colors and sizes.
Latex is a comfortable, inexpensive glove option suitable for most medical environments. They’ve been a staple of many healthcare facilities since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic of the 1980s. With that said, latex allergies are common. There’s a high likelihood someone in your organization or someone you serve will have a latex allergy. If you’re purchasing gloves for widespread use, you might consider a material less likely to cause allergic reactions, such as nitrile or vinyl. Latex also has a short shelf life compared to other materials.
Vinyl, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Gloves
Another option is a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) glove. PVC is a common synthetic plastic polymer. Since they’re easy to mass-produce, these gloves are one of the least expensive options. They’re also less durable than other glove types, and they offer limited hazard protection. For that reason, PVC gloves are best suited for low-hazard applications. In some cases, a nitrile-vinyl blend glove may be the best choice for affordability and durability.
Other Types of Medical Gloves
For most applications, one of the above-listed materials will suffice. Here are a few other material choices you might consider for latex-free medical gloves:
- Chloroprene gloves: Chloroprene is a synthetic monomer. It creates polychloroprene, which mimics latex well and is resistant to many hazardous chemicals.
- Chemo gloves: Chemo gloves, as their name suggests, are approved for use during chemotherapy. Exposure to chemotherapy drugs can be hazardous, so PPE is always recommended.
- Aloe vera gloves: Frequent hand-washing and glove changes can cause hands to become dry and cracked. Some medical gloves include an internal aloe vera coating to moisturize the wearer’s hands.
2. Sterile vs. Non-Sterile
For a glove to have a “sterile” rating, it must meet strict FDA guidelines. Sterile medical gloves are acceptable for surgical purposes, so they must have the best possible AQL ratings. Sterile gloves must have an acceptable quality level of 1.5 or lower. As mentioned above, examination gloves can have an AQL as high as 2.5, so sterile gloves can be considered even safer. Because their manufacture requires strict testing, sterile gloves may have a higher price.
Surgical vs. Examination Gloves
Though the term “non-sterile” may sound concerning, non-sterile gloves with an AQL of 2.5 or lower are acceptable for any non-surgical purposes. Using non-sterile gloves in non-surgical settings is safe and reduces the risk of disease transmission. Most healthcare workers use non-sterile gloves for patient examination purposes.
Non-sterile gloves work well for other applications, as well. If you’re looking for disposable gloves for routine cleaning, food service, caregiving or other purposes, non-sterile gloves should be fine. It’s vital to decide on an acceptable AQL rating for your purposes.
3. Powdered vs. Non-Powdered Gloves
You may come across powdered and non-powdered glove options. Powdered gloves feature cornstarch coatings, which makes them easier to put on and prevents them from sticking together. Though this can improve convenience, the FDA has banned powdered gloves for surgery and patient examination purposes.
According to the FDA, the risks of powdered gloves in medical settings outweigh the benefits. The powder can cling to the wearer’s skin, causing irritation, inflammation or allergic reactions. It can also cause surgical complications involving peritoneal adhesions, which are a type of bond between a person’s organs. Though the ban does not yet extend to food service applications, loose cornstarch from powdered gloves may cause food contamination. In most instances, a non-powdered glove is a preferable choice.
4. Glove Thickness
You should also consider glove thickness. Thicker gloves provide a stronger protective barrier. They also better resist tears, allowing for a longer wear time. A heavy-duty, industrial-grade glove will offer more thickness than a lighter, thinner glove.
With that said, a thicker glove may dull touch sensitivity, which isn’t ideal in certain settings. If your application requires a high level of touch sensitivity, you might opt for thinner gloves made from a durable material, such as nitrile. When browsing glove options, look for thickness measurements in mils.
5. Tactile Sensitivity
Certain situations call for a high level of tactile or touch sensitivity. For instance, a surgeon needs unimpaired touch sensitivity to perform surgery with the necessary precision and accuracy. Tactile-sensitive gloves made of a lightweight material will allow for precision levels similar to an ungloved hand. Sensitivity may also be necessary for a number of applications, including food preparation, electronic handling and pharmaceuticals.
6. Glove Comfort and Fit
You should also consider glove comfort and fit, including various size options. Depending on your application, your staff may need to wear gloves while performing complex tasks. They may also need to wear their gloves for extended periods. It’s vital to choose comfortable gloves — an uncomfortable glove may hinder someone’s ability to perform their necessary responsibilities.
Size options are an essential consideration. If a glove is too small, it may cause irritability or limit blood circulation to the wearer’s hand, making the fit distracting and uncomfortable. A too-small glove is more likely to tear, as well, compromising its protective barrier.
If a glove is too large, other concerns may arise. Loose space between the glove and the wearer’s skin may leave the wearer vulnerable to pathogens. A glove that’s too big is also likely to fall off, causing a significant contamination concern. When buying gloves, be sure to acquire several sizes, at least small, medium and large.
7. Tensile Strength
Tensile strength refers to a material’s resistance to breaking when stretched or pulled. Gloves with higher tensile strength ratings are more tear-resistant. Nitrile and latex are both materials with high tensile strength ratings — you can tug and pull on them quite a bit before they’ll start to tear. Since a tear would compromise a glove’s protection, tensile strength is essential. It’s an important measurement to acknowledge, especially for applications requiring hand dexterity.
8. Glove Color
Though you may not think twice about glove color, it can make a notable difference. You may choose to color code your gloves so staff can easily differentiate between various glove types. For instance, you might choose blue for latex gloves and black for non-latex gloves, so those with a latex allergy will have no trouble selecting the non-latex gloves. If you need both sterile and non-sterile gloves, color coding could again be useful.
Certain glove colors also make tears more apparent. If you wear a dark-colored glove on top of a light-colored glove, tears will be easy to identify. You can then change gloves as soon as possible after a tear, minimizing contamination risks.
You may wonder whether or not double-gloving offers more protection than wearing a single glove. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), double-gloving is an effective way to protect the wearer from pathogens and other harmful substances. They found that while glove perforations were common, there were no instances of inner double-glove perforation. The NIH recommends double-gloving as a routine practice for operating rooms.
Standardizing double-gloving may help you promote your staff’s safety and wellbeing. Should you choose to do so, you may need to store greater quantities of gloves. It’s a good idea to order gloves in bulk amounts for this purpose.
10. Shelf Life
The final factor you should consider is a glove’s shelf life. Buying disposable gloves in bulk will ensure you always have gloves available when needed — but it may also mean some gloves sit unused for extended periods. A glove’s shelf life depends most on its material. Nitrile gloves last longer than any other material. You should always check the manufacturer’s guidelines, but most nitrile gloves will last in their original packaging for several years.
In most cases, it’s easy to tell if a glove is compromised. A compromised glove may have surface cracks or feel brittle to the touch. Always wear gloves with normal tensile strength and durability, and keep careful track of how long your gloves have sat on the shelf.
Proper Storage Tips
Proper storage can help make gloves last longer. For short or long-term glove storage, you should keep gloves:
- In their original packaging with an unbroken seal: Only break the packaging seal when you’re ready to use the gloves.
- In a cool-temperature environment: Too much heat can cause gloves to degrade, so it’s important to store your gloves in a cool environment. A temperature-controlled closet is an ideal choice.
- Somewhere without ultraviolet light or ozone: Some fluorescent bulbs and electrical equipment can generate ozone or ultraviolet light. Exposure to either may damage your gloves.
- In a low-humidity environment: Too much humidity can compromise gloves or lead to mold or bacterial growth. Keep your gloves away from humidifiers, radiators, steam pipes or any other heat and humidity generating equipment.
When deciding where to store your gloves, opt for a cool, dark environment. In most cases, a shelf in a secluded closet will do fine. Proper storage will help you extend your gloves’ shelf life, saving you time and money long-term and minimizing waste.
Shop Disposable Medical Gloves From SUNLINE Supply
Choosing the right gloves for your application can make your environment safer, healthier and more productive. When shopping for new disposable gloves, consider several factors — the material, AQL, durability, comfort, dexterity, color and additional features. Each of these factors is significant. Once you’ve chosen the right gloves for you, be sure to purchase as many as you may need and follow best storage practices.
Reliable PPE, including gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer, is vital for many settings. It can help prevent the spread of germs and viruses and reduce the risk of contamination. If you’re looking for the highest-rated, FDA-certified PPE, choose SUNLINE Supply. Here at SUNLINE Supply, we offer affordable prices, convenient bulk buying options and fast shipping for all your occupational PPE needs. If you have any questions about our top-quality PPE products, contact us today.