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Does the Glove Fit? A Guide to the Selection and Use of Disposable Gloves

Disposable gloves

Disposable gloves are a commonly used type of personal protective equipment.  They provide a quick, easy-to-use, and relatively inexpensive barrier to grease, grime, and potentially hazardous materials (biological, chemical and radiological).

However, it is important to understand that there isn’t a single type or brand of glove that is guaranteed to cover all tasks.  Disposable gloves have many limitations depending on the base material, thickness (gauge), elasticity, manufacturer, performance testing stringency, and types of (hazardous) materials that may be encountered or handled.

This table of commonly-used fluid-resistant disposable gloves summarizes the types, advantages and limitations of disposable gloves used for most research, teaching, and clinical applications at UT Knoxville.

In addition to glove selection, proper use is essential for the gloves to successfully protect against contamination. Key points are:

  1. Prior to putting on gloves, dry your hands thoroughly. Wet hands increase friction when trying to don gloves, making breaks and tears likely.  Likewise, it is important to trim/file fingernails and remove any jewelry with jagged points or edges.
  2. Avoid using lotions and waterless hand sanitizers just prior to putting on gloves as oils/alcohols may jeopardize glove integrity and reduce the breakthrough time, especially when wearing latex gloves.
  3. Avoid powdered gloves. Powder can defeat the intent of glove barrier protection by functioning as a vehicle for the transport of infectious microorganisms and interfering with the local resistance to infection in wounds where powder is deposited. Glove powder may also cause dermatitis with cracks and open lesions on the hands. This break of the natural skin barrier may enhance microbial access into the body. Powder can also absorb and aerosolize disinfectants, drugs and other chemicals with which the powdered glove comes in contact.
  4. Make sure gloves are form-fitting. Loose, baggy gloves may cause work errors or lead to a spill or leak.  Gloves should not be so tight that they jeopardize circulation, dexterity, or glove integrity.
  5. In some cases, double gloving should be considered. Layering gloves provides additional protection against infectious agents and some chemicals, and may prevent animal bites/scratches from breaking the skin.  Additionally, this allows grossly contaminated outer gloves to be quickly removed and replaced.   However, dexterity and tactile sensitivity may be greatly reduced when double gloving.
  6. As gloves are donned, check them thoroughly for holes, tears, or other manufacturing defects that would make them unusable.
  7. Do NOT wash gloves with alcohols or detergents prior to handling hazardous materials. This practice weakens the glove integrity and does not sterilize the outer surfaces.  If procedures require sterile gloves, then they should be purchased as such.
  8. Do NOT touch common contact surfaces such as phones, doorknobs, keyboards, water fountains, etc. with gloved hands. Even if you are certain that they are not contaminated with hazardous material, those observing the practice are not.
  9. Change gloves immediately if they come in direct contact with concentrated chemicals. Disposable gloves provide an initial barrier, but many chemicals degrade or permeate the gloves (sometimes quickly).  Act fast; don’t wait until the end of the procedure!
  10. Gloves contaminated or potentially contaminated with infectious or radiological material are to be changed immediately to minimize the spread of contamination and risk of personal exposures.
  11. Change gloves if they show signs of degradation or fatigue. Signs of degradation include:
    1. Hardening or becoming brittle;
    2. Loss of strength;
    3. Softening (may see extending of fingertips);
    4. Loss of tear resistance;
    5. Tackiness (stickiness);
    6. Loss of elasticity;
    7. Cracking; or
    8. Change in color.
    9. Do not reuse gloves. Disposable gloves are intended for a single use by a single person.
  1. When removing gloves, avoid contact with exposed skin. Hands must be washed with soap/water immediately after glove removal.  Contaminated gloves should be segregated into the proper hazardous materials waste stream.

Although disposable gloves cover a wide range of applications when worn and used properly, it is worth noting that they do not give adequate protection against high heat, cryogenic liquids, cutting instruments, some concentrated acids/bases or highly toxic compounds (e.g. methylmercury). Therefore, it is important to contact the UT Safety Offices (Biosafety, EHS, or Radiation Safety) for guidance in the proper selection and use of gloves, especially for work involving highly toxic materials.

References & Resources:

Contact:

Brian Ranger, Biosafety Officer (branger@utk.edu, 865-974-1938)

Jacob Payne, UTIA Safety Coordinator (jpayne@utk.edu, 865-974-7144)

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