Gloves 101:

MYTH: A thick glove is a better glove.

Actually, thin gloves are more friendly to the environment, provide substantial cost savings, and are more comfortable to wear. That’s why the industry continues its trend in favor of thinner gloves.

Many are reluctant to realize the benefits of a thinner glove out of fear the glove will lack the same strength and performance of its thicker counterpart. Through advances research and development, leading manufacturers are now able to produce thinner gloves of equal or superior tensile strength and ultimate elongation as their thicker predecessors.

For buyers, thin gloves offer tremendous opportunities for savings because they decrease freight costs and require less raw materials to manufacture. For users, thinner gloves minimize hand fatigue and provide improved dexterity, making the gloves easier to use and more comfortable to wear. Thinner gloves are also more environmentally friendly because they require less packaging material.

Whereas at one time, a 5 mil thick glove was standard, today the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) maintains thickness requirements below 2 mil for some examination gloves. In fact, none of ASTM’s examination glove standards require that thickness exceed 0.08mm (approx. 3.15 mils) in any part of the glove.

Glove Grades

Surgical Gloves

As the name suggests, surgical gloves are designed primarily for use in healthcare procedures posing the highest risk for the spread of bloodborne pathogens, but are also popular in cleanroom and other laboratory settings. These gloves are manufactured to the strictest specifications of any disposable glove type, and consequently are also the mostly costly. Typically, these gloves are sterile, but non-sterile surgical gloves are also sold.

In order to be labeled as surgical grade, gloves are randomly tested to ensure they meet strict performance standards enacted by the Food and Drug Administration (21 CFR 800.20). These standards loosely correspond to those first established by ASTM, which are widely regarded as the industry benchmarks for quality. In addition, manufacturers (including those outside the United States) are required to register with the FDA as part of a process referred to as 510k certification.

Examination Gloves

Examination grade gloves, also sometimes referred to as medical gloves, were originally designed for non-surgical medical procedures, but are also used in a variety of other applications where users seek added peace of mind regarding the glove quality. Exam gloves are sold both sterile and non-sterile.

As with surgical gloves, The Food and Drug Administration randomly tests glove quality to ensure gloves meet the agency’s quality requirements, which mirror ASTM standards, to be sold in the United States under the label examination grade. Manufacturers must also receive 510k certification.

Foodservice Gloves

Foodservice gloves, often referred to as multipurpose gloves, are designed for short-term use and frequent glove changes. No formal government regulations or inspection program exists for foodservice gloves. Instead, the USDA requires that all glove components comply with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) which allows for repeated use in direct contact with food.

ASTM standards for non-medical gloves do exist, but conformance to these standards is sporadic. Non-governmental, for-profit organizations have attempted to create standardized quality guidelines for foodservice, but these programs are largely repetitive with ASTM and carry substantial financial burdens for manufacturers.

Industrial Gloves

Largely, the only difference between foodservice and industrial grade gloves lies with whether or not the gloves are made with USDA accepted materials. Industrial grade glove quality is not regulated by any US government agency and while an ASTM standard does exist for non-medical gloves, conformance to this standard is sporadic.

Glove Materials


Offering the best economy, polyethylene gloves serve as an inexpensive solution for creating a barrier between bare hands and handled material (most typically, food). Combined with good hand washing practices, poly gloves can assist in maintaining a hygienic environment free from biological contaminants, including food-borne illnesses.

Most poly gloves are smooth in texture. For users seeking added comfort and dexterity, the unique texture of cast poly gloves offers an improved fit and is less likely to slip when wet.


Poly gloves are intended for use on short-term tasks, most commonly in food preparation. Longer length poly gloves are also commonly used for agricultural and veterinary purposes.


Regarded as the highest quality replacement for latex, nitrile continues to grow in popularity. Nitrile provides outstanding resistance against many commonly used chemicals, and is more resistant to puncturing than its latex and vinyl counterparts.


Nitrile gloves are best used for applications requiring strong chemical resistance, such as automotive repair. Resistant to puncture, nitrile gloves are also effective to protect hands against sharp objects, such as for use by law enforcement officers in searching suspects.


Latex gloves offer a unique blend of comfort and protection. Resistant to puncturing, these gloves serve as an optimal barrier against biological contaminants. Latex is also widely considered to provide the greatest fit of any disposable.

Allergy concerns remain latex’s biggest drawback. Some states have banned the use of latex gloves in food service, and an increasing number of healthcare providers have switched to an alternative glove type.


Latex gloves are suitable for a wide variety of applications because of their strong combination of barrier protection and chemical resistance.

Despite concerns over latex allergy, latex gloves remain the glove of choice for surgical procedures by most healthcare providers. Usage in foodservice, however, has substantially diminished in recent years as the cost of latex grows and as an increasing number of states adopt regulations prohibiting use of the gloves for food preparation.


Designed for short-term use, vinyl gloves offer a cost-effective alternative to latex while providing an effective temporary barrier against biological contaminants.

Derived from synthetic PVC resins, vinyl gloves also do not pose the same allergy risk as natural rubber alternatives, making them an attractive option to companies concerned about exposure to customers and employees.

Stretch vinyl gloves, often incorrectly referred to as simply synthetic gloves, are more durable and flexible than traditional vinyl for added tensile strength and elongation. These gloves remain among the highest quality alternatives, in both comfort and protection, to latex.


Vinyl gloves are an ideal choice for applications demanding frequent changes, such as in foodservice and non-surgical healthcare procedures, because they provide reasonable protection and relative economy.