Nitrile gloves are readily available in most grocery stores, hardware stores and drugstores. They are indispensable in many industries to help employees protect themselves from exposure to bacteria or chemicals in common use in the workplace. Nitrile gloves can be used with some chemicals under some conditions; however, employees should use caution and consult the chemical rating of the specific gloves they are wearing.
Readily available nitrile gloves have a thickness of 5 mm or less. They are meant to be used one time only and then discarded.
It is possible to find thicker, more durable gloves that have nitrile as one of their components. However, this article covers the disposable, 5 mm-thick gloves that are commonly used in restaurants, cleaning businesses, labs, clinics and wherever it is necessary to clean areas that may have bacteria.
What Is Nitrile?
Nitrile is a type of rubber that provides protection against exposure to chemicals and can resist some abrasions. It is an all-around solid material that can be effective for one-time use only because it can degrade quickly when exposed to certain chemicals or repeatedly exposed to abrasive surfaces.
Can Nitrile Gloves Protect Against Chemical Exposure?
When it comes to brief and limited contact with chemicals, nitrile gloves can be effective in providing protection. But it is important to understand that this applies to only some chemical families. Contact must remain short because some chemicals may degrade the gloves and even penetrate the material with long exposure.
How Can I Know if Nitrile Gloves Will Provide Protection From Exposure to a Specific Chemical?
Glove materials are usually graded based on three factors when they are tested for exposure to different chemicals. Those factors are listed below.
Degradation: When a chemical has properties that can break down whatever it comes into contact with, there will be a certain amount of time it takes for changes to that affected surface to appear. These changes are visible and may include cracking, expanding, thinning or puckering.
Breakthrough: This is the amount of time it takes for a chemical to break through a glove and be detectable on the inside of the glove. For example, the glove material may withstand exposure to a chemical for 12 hours before breakthrough is detected, whereas other materials may last for four hours, less than an hour or may have breakthrough almost instantly. Just because a glove is rated for protection against a certain chemical does not make it infinitely protective, which is why it is recommended that gloves be discarded immediately after they are contaminated. Additionally, it is important to note that it is possible to have breakthrough without any prior degradation.
Permeation: Once the chemical has broken through the glove, the amount of time it takes to pass through, be absorbed by the material and to spread along the inside of the glove is known as permeation.
All nitrile gloves should show their ratings. However, it’s important to remember that these tests are conducted in controlled laboratory conditions. The tests don’t consider increased rates of degradation, breakthrough and permeation that may occur when the glove is exposed to body heat, other environmental heat and cold, movement and stress from that movement.
It is a good idea to err on the side of caution. If a glove is rated for one hour of exposure to a chemical before degradation or permeation, limit exposure to 30 minutes or less to be safe.
How Thick Should My Nitrile Gloves Be?
Gloves are measured in millimeters and thicker gauge gloves usually mean a higher level of protection. Before choosing a glove, look up which glove thickness is recommended for the chemicals that employees will be coming into contact with and choose accordingly.
If different thicknesses are recommended for different uses that are required as part of the business, you can provide different thicknesses of gloves, but only if the different thicknesses are used in different areas of the business. It is unlikely that an employee would remember to switch gloves when going directly from using one chemical to another. That means an employee could inadvertently be exposed to dangerous chemicals. However, it is fine to keep a certain thickness of glove with cleaning supplies and a different thickness in a lab, for example.
Considerations for Choosing the Right Gloves
It is also important to consider the size of the glove when choosing the final product. Gloves that are too small for the wearer will be stretched and their thickness will decrease which, in turn, decreases protection. Gloves that are too big may allow for substances to get into the glove more easily and directly contact the skin.
Additionally, it is important to remove gloves safely. If gloves aren’t removed properly, it can inadvertently expose the skin to what is on the outside of the glove during the removal process.
Changing gloves regularly is also recommended, especially if the employee is using a chemical in one place and then accessing items in another. Choosing to skip the step of removing gloves or putting on new ones in between tasks can mean cross-contamination that would put other employees at risk if they touch a surface that has been touched by the person wearing a contaminated glove.
Note: Sometimes it is an option to double glove for added protection, but this can decrease dexterity and increase heat and hand fatigue. That’s why double gloving is only recommended in an emergency and for short periods.
Alsco Can Help You Maintain a Steady Supply of Nitrile Gloves
If you need nitrile gloves in your business in one or more thicknesses, Alsco can ensure you always have what you need without having to maintain a huge supply of back stock to get the best value.
Contact Alsco today to learn more about what we offer and how we can support efficiency and safety in your business.
NIOSH Directory of Personal Protective Equipment. (August 2021). The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.
The Chemical Safety Mechanism. (August 2012). University of Wisconsin-Madison.