Getting a Hand on Gloves

by Angelique Powers

Not all gloves are created equal. 
When deciding between latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves, it can be confusing trying to determine which type of glove is the ideal choice, as they have different attributes. Perhaps your shop only stocks one type of glove, and you didn’t really know there were a few options out there. Chances are, your glove game has some serious problems, and you should read this article closely to educate yourself about your safety on the job.

ED. Note-This article was originally written for the Guild of Scenic Artists' blog, “The Scenic Route”.  The Guild was formed as a way to connect the hundreds (if not thousands!) of freelance and nomadic scenic artists across the country. Their goal is to help share the knowledge and skills unique to that little corner of the art and entertainment world. 

As artists and craftspeople our best and most important tools are not our brushes, but our hands. We have ten irreplaceable fingers and two palms that flick here and swish there to create magic. WE NEED TO PROTECT THEM! Leather gloves are great for protecting our hands from cuts, scrapes, and burns, but are not appropriate for working with many of the paints, solvents, and other chemicals that we use to paint our scenery and props. We need thin disposable gloves that can be tossed.

First, a glove primer: 
Latex Gloves are a natural material and made out of rubber, and are a popular choice for many of our more industrial needs, such as paints, and dyes. The primary reason people would choose an alternative to latex is because many people suffer from latex allergies.  When allergy is not a concern, latex does have a slight advantage with comfort and dexterity over nitrile gloves. They are also often cheaper, quite elastic and strong, and can be worn for longer periods of time. 

Nitrile Gloves are made out of a synthetic rubber, and are an ideal alternative to use with latex allergies. They are a superior glove when it comes to puncture resistance. They also have a longer shelf life than latex gloves, and resist just as many, if not more chemicals than latex. 

Butyl– These gloves look and feel similar to neoprene, but where they differ is their chemical resistance.  Butyl are highly resistant to some of the more nasty chemicals like corrosive acids, ketones, benzene, aniline, and many others.  Not exactly a glove designed for detail areas, they are bulky and designed for cleaning or handling hazardous material.  

Neoprene Gloves are found heavily in the manufacturing industry and offer a wide range of chemical, oil, and hazardous material resistance.  They are quite durable and some neoprene gloves even offer some impact resistance.  These gloves can be ideal for cleaning with chemicals due to their degradation resistance, but offer little in dexterity and finesse as they don’t hug the hand like latex or nitrile.  They are best described as clunky when handling material, but their resistance and durability far outweighs other gloves. 
NOTE: These gloves should not be confused with neoprene gloves which are made from wetsuit material.  Both are neoprene, but the ones made from the wetsuit material are manufactured in a different way and will not provide good chemical resistance.  Make certain you are purchasing the correct glove.

Vinyl Gloves are a great choice for the food industry, and other situations where high levels of durability and protection are less of a priority. They are the cheapest option, and great for non-hazardous material if you just want to keep your hands clean for a short amount of time. They often do not come in different sizes, and I have yet to see anyone actually fit them correctly. Fun party trick: while wearing a vinyl glove, slather your hand with paint or mayo, then wash your hands with the gloves still on….the water will go through the glove but not the paint! Weird!  

Quick note about grades: When a disposable glove is referred to as “medical grade,” it means it has been through a series of tests by the FDA to ensure their durability for hospital use.  “Industrial grade” gloves have usually not been certified by a government agency.  This does not mean that they are more or less durable or chemical resistant, it only means they are not approved for hospital use.  Medical grade gloves tend to be more expensive due to the testing involved, and extra costs in making them sterile.

So how do you find out what type of glove you need? 

Unfortunately, no single type of glove resists and protects the wearer from all chemicals.  A glove may protect against a specific chemical, but it may not protect the wearer from another. If a glove does protect the wearer, it will not protect the wearer forever, as the glove material will deteriorate. To answer this question, you have to answer a bunch of others first:
• How much protection do you need? Do you need to just stay clean, or are you handling chemicals?

• What type of dexterity is needed?  The thicker the glove, typically the better the chemical protection. The glove will be more resistant to physical damage, like tears and cracks, but it will be harder to handle and feel your work.

• What chemicals are to be used?  Consult the compatibility chart to ensure the gloves will protect you.

The compatibility chart below created by All Safety Products is considered to be a standard general check for what type of glove protects you from a general list of products and can be used as good starting point. (printable version available at
glove chart 
You might ask yourself: ‘Why is this chart considered only a starting point?’ Each manufacturer of gloves has their own unique proprietary recipe and thus each brand of glove, and style within a brand, are all different. To ensure it provides the same level of protection against a specific chemical, consult the manufacturer’s specific compatibility chart for the brand of gloves being used. These charts can be tricky to find. We have started to collect what charts we could find, along with other great glove information, in our Scenic Wiki’s Safety Resource Section.  So please go visit, and share any that you have found!

Understanding the terms used in glove compatibility charts:
Degradation Rating:  The length of time a chemical has on contact before it causes physical change and damages the glove material. This includes, but is not limited to swelling, shrinking, hardening, or cracking of the glove material.

Breakthrough Time: The time it takes for the chemical to travel through the glove material.  This is only recorded at the detectable level on the inside surface of the glove.

Permeation Rate: The time it takes for the chemical to pass through the glove once breakthrough has occurred.  This involves the absorption of the chemical into the glove material, migration of the chemical through the material, and then deabsorption once it is inside the glove. This is the most important piece of data you should seek out.
Just because you have the glove on your hand doesn’t mean it’s still protecting you. Aniline, for instance, will permeate a pair of nitrile gloves within 7 minutes. Acetone will permeate within 1 minute. In contrast, it will take mineral spirits 105 minutes to permeate the same nitrile gloves.

Having a good selection of different types of gloves is key for a safe working environment, and so is following a simple list of best practices.

Common Rules

• Wear the correct gloves, and no longer than 2-3 hours per pair.

• When removing gloves, peel it away from your hand, turning it inside out so that the contaminants do not spray out or touch your skin.

• Wash hands once gloves have been removed.

• Disposable gloves must be properly discarded once removed.  Do not save for future use!

• Reusable gloves (like the thick rubber kitchen gloves) must be washed and dried and inspected for tears and holes prior to reuse.

• Remove gloves before touching personal items (e.g. phones, computers, pens, skin).

• Do not wear gloves out of the shop.

• Size matters!  If a glove is too small it will rip, if it’s too big, it is more prone to snagging and can make it harder to hold onto tools and brushes.

• If for any reason a glove fails and chemicals come into contact with skin, consider it an exposure and seek the proper medical attention if needed.

• We can’t say it enough - the key to your safety is knowledge. Educate yourself on the products and materials you are using, take a quick glance at the charts, then choose the appropriate glove. 

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