Handy Glove Selection Guide for Scientific Research

Disposable latex gloves offer limited protection. (Rachel Haller, Flickr)
Disposable latex gloves offer limited protection. (Rachel Haller, Flickr)

Everyone knows it’s important to choose the right size of glove, but fit isn’t the consideration for glove selection. Choosing the right material is critical for protection from chemicals, biological agents, heat, and cold.The first step for selecting the proper glove for the job is identifying the hazards. Ask yourself:

  • Are temperature extremes involved?
  • Is there a risk of piercing or cutting the glove?
  • What is the pH of chemicals involved?
  • Is there a risk of exposure to infectious agents?
  • Is there a risk of toxicity?
  • What type of chemicals are present?
  • How long will the gloves be exposed to the chemicals/agents?

If chemicals are involved, the next step should be to review MSDS sheets to learn about proper safety precautions.

Glove Comparison Chart

Don’t judge a glove by its color. Know its composition and make certain is the proper size for your hand. Don’t assume the most expensive glove is the best choice.

 Material Use Pros Cons
 Latex Brief, incidental contact.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Allows good dexterity.
  • Readily available in a range of sizes.
  • Good for water-based substances.
  • Good for biologicals.
  • Offers little chemical protection.
  • May trigger latex allergies.
  • Easily damaged by chemical solvents.
  • Hard to detect punctures.
 Nitrile Available as disposable for incidental contact or reusable for repeated contact.
  • Good resistance to solvents, oils, and some acids and bases.
  • Easy to see tears and punctures.
  • Does not trigger latex allergy.
  • Good dexterity.
  • Not intended for use with extreme temperatures or abrasive environments.
  • Susceptible to cuts.
  • More expensive than latex.
 Neoprene Extended contact.
  • Good choice for most hazardous chemicals, including acids and bases, alcohols, peroxides, phenols, and fuels.
  • Poor protection against aromatic hydrocarbons and halogenated hydrocarbons.
 Viton Extended contact.
  • Good protection against abrasion and cutting.
  • Resistant to aromatic and chlorinated solvents.
  • Expensive.
  • Poor resistance to ketones.
 Butyl Rubber Extended contact.
  • Good protection against esters and ketones.
  • Poor protection against gasoline.
  • Poor protection against aromatic, halogenated, and aliphatic hydrocarbons.
 Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 
  • Resists abrasion.
  • Protects against acids and bases, fats, oils, amines, and peroxides.
  • Offers poor protection against organic solvents.
 Norfoil Extended contact.
  •  Good protection against most hazardous chemicals.
  •  Tends to fit poorly. Some people put a nitrile glove over the Norfoil one to improve dexterity.
 Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) 
  •  Used for protection against chlorinated and aromatic solvents.
  •  Not particularly effective against aqueous solutions.
 Stainless steel, Leather, Kevlar 
  •  Resist cuts, scratches, and bites.
  •  Offers minimal protection against chemical, biological, or radiation hazards. Another glove may be worn over these to improve safety.
 Cryogenic resistant material (e.g., leather) Incidental cold resistance.
  •  Help prevent frostbite.
  •  Only offer temperature protection. Should never be immersed in liquid nitrogen, oxygen, etc.
 Heat resistant material (e.g., asbestos) Incidental heat resistance.
  •  Help prevent burns.
  •  Outer covering will catch fire with extended contact.
  • Doesn’t offer protection against chemical, biological, or radiation hazards.

Glove Safety Advice

No matter which type of glove you use:

  • Inspect the gloves for punctures or tears.
  • Remove gloves when handling everyday objects, like your phone, skin, computer, or door.
  • Replace gloves if a chemical is spilled on them.
  • Know the procedure for disposing of gloves exposed to biohazardous materials, toxic chemicals, or radioactive material. Don’t just throw your gloves in the trash.
  • Remove gloves and replace them if you see signs of damage.
  • Consider wearing a disposable glove inside another glove for added protection.
  • Don’t re-use disposable gloves! Don’t wash them. After one use, they’re done.