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Nitrile, Vinyl vs Latex Gloves

What are the Differences between Nitrile, Vinyl and Latex Gloves?

, by Anna Johnson, 6 min reading time

In today's fast-paced world, safety and protection have become paramount in every aspect of life. Among the frontline defence measures adopted by various industries, disposable gloves have emerged as an indispensable tool for safeguarding against potential hazards and maintaining strict hygiene standards.

Disposable hand gloves are manufactured from diverse materials, each offering distinct advantages tailored to different working conditions. Among the most popular types are latex, nitrile and vinyl gloves. In this blog, we’ll highlight key differences between these gloves, from materials, advantages, limitations, to their impact to the environment.

Latex gloves

Material:

Latex gloves are made from natural rubber latex, which is derived from the sap of the rubber tree, a milky fluid containing polymer particles, proteins and water. During the glove manufacturing process, various chemical additives or accelerators may be incorporated into the latex to improve its properties. These additives can enhance the gloves' strength, durability, and resistance to certain chemicals, making them more suitable for specific applications.

Natural rubber latex is known for its exceptional elasticity and flexibility, allowing the gloves to conform closely to the shape of the hands. This property provides wearers with a comfortable fit and excellent tactile sensitivity, making them ideal for tasks that require precision.

Suitable for:

  • Healthcare and medical settings
  • Laboratories and research facilities
  • Food service and food handling
  • Janitorial and cleaning tasks
  • Beauty and salon services
  • Tattoo and body art studios
  • Pet care and veterinary services

Limitations:

  • Can cause latex allergies
  • Poor chemical resistance
  • Not suitable for high-temperature applications
  • Wear and tear vulnerability
  • Poor performance in wet conditions
  • Potential latex protein sensitisation

Impact to the environment:
While disposable latex gloves do have the potential to biodegrade over time, it is important to note that the process can be relatively slow, taking up to 5 years or more in certain conditions. Despite their eventual biodegradation, latex gloves can still pose risks to the environment during their lifecycle and after disposal.

Nitrile gloves

Material:

Nitrile butadiene rubber is the main material used in the production of nitrile gloves. It is a synthetic copolymer of acrylonitrile and butadiene. The acrylonitrile content in the polymer provides the gloves with excellent chemical resistance, while the butadiene component imparts flexibility and strength.

During the manufacturing process, cross-linking agents are often added to the nitrile polymer. These agents facilitate the formation of strong chemical bonds between the nitrile chains, resulting in enhanced tensile strength and puncture resistance of the gloves. To differentiate between different glove sizes or brands, colouring agents may be incorporated into the nitrile compound.

Suitable for:

  • Healthcare and medical settings
  • Chemical handling and laboratory work
  • Food service and food handling
  • Automotive and mechanical work
  • Janitorial and cleaning tasks
  • Painting and decorating
  • Tattoo and body art studios
  • Pet care and veterinary services
  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
  • Cleaning and sanitation in public spaces
  • Salons and beauty services

Limitations:

  • Not suitable for all chemicals
  • Less biodegradable (however, there are biodegradable nitrile gloves available that can be used as an alternative)
  • Lack of latex stretch and elasticity
  • Potential for allergic reactions to nitrile material
  • Higher cost
  • Less breathable
  • Not heat resistant

Impact to the environment:

Regular nitrile gloves are not readily biodegradable due to their synthetic nature. When discarded improperly, these gloves can persist in the environment for decades, contributing to the growing problem of plastic waste, however, the same cannot be said for biodegradable nitrile gloves. Due to the differences in the composition of the materials, biodegradable nitrile gloves can take up to 1-3 years to biodegrade.

Vinyl gloves

Material:

Vinyl gloves are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a synthetic material derived from petroleum. PVC gloves are easy to produce and are generally more economical than latex or nitrile gloves, however, they offer less flexibility and tactile sensitivity compared to the other materials.

To enhance the flexibility and comfort of vinyl gloves, plasticizers are often added to the PVC resin during the manufacturing process. These plasticizers help soften the PVC and make the gloves more pliable, increasing user comfort.

Suitable for:

  • Food service and handling
  • General cleaning and janitorial work
  • Beauty and salon services
  • Painting and crafts
  • Light industrial work that do not involve exposure to harsh chemicals or sharp objects
  • Tattoo studios
  • Electronics assembly and laboratories
  • Short-term use and single-use applications

Limitations:

  • Limited chemical resistance
  • Lower durability and puncture resistance
  • Reduced tactile sensitivity
  • Less elasticity and fit
  • Not suitable for high-temperature applications
  • Potential for allergic reactions to vinyl material and chemical additives
  • Not biodegradable
  • Poor grip in wet conditions
  • Not recommended for high-risk medical settings
  • Single-use only

Impact to the environment:

These disposable vinyl gloves, being made from PVC, are not biodegradable. When disposed of improperly, they can persist in the environment longer than the average human lifetime, contributing to plastic waste accumulation.

Summary

The choice between latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves depends on the specific requirements of each task and the user's sensitivity to latex. Latex gloves are effective but pose allergy risks, while nitrile gloves offer superior chemical resistance and durability. Vinyl gloves are a cost-effective option but provide limited chemical resistance and durability compared to latex and nitrile.


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