Infection Control Today


Types of Gloves
by Denise M. Korniewicz, DNSc, RN, FA

In an effort to reduce occupational exposure to Hepatitis B Virus (HBV),Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and other bloodborne pathogens, theOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a mandaterelated to protective attire. Specifically for gloves, it stated that"Gloves shall be worn when the employee has the potential for hands to havedirect skin contact with blood, other potentially infectious material, mucousmembranes, non-intact skin, and when handling items or surfaces soiled withblood or other potentially infectious materials. Disposable (single use) gloves,such as surgical or examination gloves, shall be replaced as soon as possiblewhen visibly soiled, torn, punctured or when their ability to function as abarrier is compromised." [Federal register: Part II, CFR Part 1910].

As a result of this mandate and the implementation of universal precautions(Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 1987), glove usage grew from 1.4billion in 1988 to 8.3 billion in 1993 (NIOSH, 1997). Healthcare workers areconcerned, confused, and often times, unsure about the types of gloves availablefor their use in healthcare settings. Often they find that the informationavailable depends on cost versus the quality of the product. 

Today, there are a variety of gloves available for medical use ranging fromsterile to non-sterile, from latex to non-latex products, and gloves marketedfor "special use" to gloves that are labeled as procedure gloves.Additionally, there are a variety of gloves color coded and used in clinicalsettings that are marketed as more effective than others; however, there islittle or no evidence as to the barrier quality of most gloves and how eachdiffers from the other. In an effort to provide information to product managersabout the selection of gloves for clinical use, most manufacturers are beginningto differentiate their product based on the standards developed by the Food andDrug Administration (FDA) and the American Standards of Tests and Materials(ASTM). 

A variety of gloves can be found in most healthcare settings. These includelatex (sterile, non-sterile), neoprene (chloroprene), nitrile, vinyl,polyurethane, and a variety of copolymers. Depending on which vendors supplyyour institution, the availability and variety of gloves used in yourinstitution may vary. In order to provide healthcare workers with the bestquality of gloves used for clinical practice, gloves (surgical or non-surgical)should be evaluated for their barrier quality, strength and durability, punctureresistance, fit and comfort, elasticity, and their allergen content or abilityto cause an allergy. Listed below is a simple glove selection guide to assistproduct managers with the differences in the types of gloves available forclinical use.

Denise M. Korniewicz, DNSc, RN, FAAN, is a Professor at the University ofMaryland School of Nursing (Baltimore, Maryland).


  • Federal Register (Part II, CFR Part 1910). Occupation Exposure to bloodborne pathogens: Proposed Rules and Notice of Hearing. May 30, 1989.

  • Centers for Disease Control: Recommendations for prevention of HIV transmission in healthcare setting. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 1987;36:IS-12S,(suppl II).

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Health and Human Services: NIOSH Alert: Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace, publ. No. 97:135, 1997.

Selection Guide for Gloves Used in Health Care Settings

Barrier Protection
Strength & Durability
Puncture Resistance
Fit & Comfort
Long-standing barrier qualities
Strong, natural rubber is durable
Has Re-seal qualities
Provides comfortable fit
Natural ability due to elastic quality rubber
Contains protein & chemical allergens low powder is preferred
Neoprene (Chloroprene)
Good but tear resistance Is marginal
Has some puncture resistant qualities
Provides a good fit, has some elastic ability that enhances fit
Close to latex & allows for flexibility
Contains no latex proteins but has some accelerator chemicals
Resistant to punctures & tears, flexes & does not develop holes
Strong has puncture resistant qualities
Has puncture resistant qualities
Slightly tighter fit
Less than latex over time tends to shape to wearer's hand
Contains no proteins but contains some accelerator chemicals
Easily breaks during use, Baggy
Weak, breaks easily & punctures easily in use
Punctures with sharps
Fit limited baggy
Dexterity compromised
Contains no proteins but chemical accelerators
Durable & high puncture resistance
Excellent tear, puncture & abrasion resistance
Superior to latex for puncture resistance; mimics nitrile in performance
Good comfort & fit; has latex - like qualities
Elasticity is apparent
Contains no latex proteins & no chemical accelerators 
Copolymer (block polymers) 
Good resistance to tears
Stronger than vinyl; puncture resistance is fair
Easy to puncture
Latex like fit and comfortable
Elasticity superior to vinyl but below latex
Contains no latex proteins but some chemical accelerators 

Glove Manufacturers' Product Matrixin pdf format (37k)

Related Videos
Antimicrobial Resistance (Adobe Stock unknown)
Rare Disease Month: An Infection Control Today® and Contagion® collaboration.
Infection Control Today Topic of the Month: Mental Health
Lucy S. Witt, MD, investigates hospital bed's role in C difficile transmission, emphasizing room interactions and infection prevention
Infection Control Today Topic of the Month: Mental Health
Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in hospitals  (Adobe Stock 339297096 by Melinda Nagy)
Chikungunya virus, 3D illustration. Emerging mosquito-borne RNA virus from Togaviridae family that can cause outbreaks of a debilitating arthritis-like disease   (Adobe Stock 126688070 by Dr Microbe)
Set of white bottles with cleaning liquids on the white background. (Adobe Stock 6338071172112 by zolnierek)
Association for the Health Care Environment (Logo used with permission)
Ambassador Deborah Birx, , speaks with Infection Control Today about masks in schools and the newest variant.
Related Content