Different Types Of Surgical Gloves

Surgical gloves were first introduced into medical practice in 1894, and since then many different types of gloves have been developed and adapted to utilize a variety of materials for various uses.

While rubber surgical gloves may have initially been introduced for surgery, they are now a critical part of the health and safety requirements for health professionals, as well as a variety of other industries and trades.

Different Types Of Gloves

As a result of changes in healthcare requirements, availability of materials, and production opportunities, there are now a plethora of options available for disposable gloves. While most rubber gloves will be similar in appearance, the best glove for the job will typically be dependent on the particular use case, medical considerations, or just plain personal preferences of the person wearing them.

Here are some of the most common types of surgical gloves and the pros and cons of using each specific type.

Nitrile Gloves

The most popular option for surgical gloves today is Nitrile gloves. Nitrile is a synthetic rubber that has many properties making them ideal for industrial uses well beyond gloves. They are of higher quality than most other disposable gloves.

Nitrile rubber is more resistant than natural rubber to oils, chemicals, and acids, and has superior strength. This makes them less resistant to tearing and through manufacturing improvements they are also puncture-resistant. Keep in mind, along with the added strength and thickness, they can be less flexible than other types of rubber gloves.

They are also allergy-free, unlike latex gloves which many people have an allergy to. This makes them the preferred disposable glove for all manner of industries: automotive mechanics, tattoo artists, chemical and nuclear engineers, and of course all manner of medical professionals and doctors.

Latex Gloves

Latex gloves are often what first comes to mind when people think of disposable gloves.  For many years, latex gloves were the standard in the medical field as well as a variety of other industries.

If they were the standard for so long, why were latex gloves replaced by nitrile gloves as the new favorite?  The main reason is the increasing prevalence of latex allergies. While latex gloves are often preferred in terms of elasticity, comfort, and fit, medical professionals can’t risk using gloves that might cause an allergic reaction in their patients.

Vinyl Gloves

Plasticized PVC or Vinyl is also a common material used in surgical gloves. Because vinyl gloves offer less flexibility and elasticity than other types of gloves, guidelines typically recommend either latex or nitrile gloves for clinical care and procedures that require manual dexterity and/or that involve patient contact for more than a short period of time.

Vinyl gloves show poor resistance to many chemicals, including glutaraldehyde-based products and alcohols used in the formulation of disinfectants for swabbing down work surfaces or in hand rubs.

The additives in PVC are also known to cause skin reactions such as allergic contact dermatitis. Vinyl gloves are often inexpensive, but with all these drawbacks in comparison to other disposable gloves, they are not a popular choice among medical professionals.

Neoprene Gloves

Neoprene is another material that has been used in the production of disposable gloves as of late. One of the key characteristics of neoprene is its resistance to temperature extremes.  Neoprene remains flexible and elastic in cold temperatures as well as remaining firm, without becoming sticky, in high temperatures.

Neoprene possesses outstanding physical toughness and resistance to damage caused by flexing and twisting.  Offering neoprene disposable gloves is a relatively new innovation, so it’s less common to find and more expensive in general. So, while these gloves offer a wide variety of beneficial physical characteristics, the current costs can be prohibitive for use in the medical field.

Nitrile vs Latex gloves

If you’re on the fence when it comes to nitrile vs. latex gloves, it’s understandable, the differences can be subtle. While these two products are similar, they each offer different pros and cons.

Although nitrile gloves are not as flexible or elastic as latex gloves, disposable nitrile gloves offer greater durability and resistance to chemicals. For that reason, nitrile gloves are the ideal option for anyone who must handle potentially hazardous or corrosive chemicals. However, this makes them less ideal for complex surgical procedures where manual dexterity is important.


They are also perfectly suited for most medical environments because they are exceptionally puncture-resistant and eliminate the risk of latex allergy reactions for patients and healthcare workers alike. That said latex is more biodegradable and cheaper than nitrile gloves, however, the improved quality and other beneficial properties often justify the cost.

Vinyl vs Nitrile Gloves

Vinyl gloves, which are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), are usually the cheapest latex-free gloves, however, that’s about where the comparable benefits end. While both materials are allergen-free, nitrile gloves offer a higher degree of protection against viruses and chemicals. In addition, vinyl gloves are known to cause adverse skin reactions for some users as well whereas very few people will have adverse reactions to nitrile.

USP 800 Glove requirements

Recently passed standards now dictate the type of disposable gloves that can be used by medical professionals. To be in compliance with USP 800, you need to ensure you are using the correct PPE to minimize exposure to hazardous drugs. These regulations affect all PPE but here are the requirements for disposable gloves specifically:

  • Surgical gloves must be powder-free and chemo-tested to ASTM D6978
  • Hands must be washed with soap and water after removing gloves
  • When used for sterile compounding, the outer chemotherapy glove must be sterile
  • Chemotherapy gloves must be changed every 30 minutes unless otherwise recommended (see chemo panel on the back of glove boxes for breakthrough times)
  • Gloves must be inspected for physical defects before use

Glove Powders

A variety of lubricants have been used with disposable gloves over the years, making it easier to get your hands and fingers all the way into the rubber gloves. However, almost all the powders that have been used proved to be less than ideal.

Early powders derived from pines or club moss were found to be toxic. Talcum powder was used for decades but was shown to cause postoperative granuloma and scar formation. Corn starch was also found to have potential side effects such as inflammatory reactions and granuloma and scar formation.

Today, disposable gloves undergo a process known as chlorination that helps make latex gloves less form-fitting, reducing the need for powder when putting on or removing gloves. During the process, gloves are treated with a chlorine solution, rinsed with water, and dried to remove most of the powdered residue and latex proteins.

As of 2017, powdered gloves are banned for medical use by the FDA. Powder-free medical gloves are also commonly used in cleanroom environments, where the need for cleanliness is often similar to if not greater than that of a medical environment.

Common Questions About Surgical Gloves

You may still have questions about surgical gloves beyond the detailed information above. Hopefully, this medical glove FAQ can answer any lingering questions.

Are nitrile gloves latex-free?

Nitrile Gloves are BPA-free, Latex-free, MBT-free, and usually powder-free.

When must you change single-use gloves?

It depends on your industry or use. All workers should check their gloves periodically for punctures, but medical personnel should replace their gloves every 30 minutes, while food service employees can wear their gloves for 2 hours between replacements. It will depend on the type of gloves you are using and your company’s or organization’s specific guidelines. If you’re unsure, it’s best to ask your supervisor.

What is the difference between nitrile and latex gloves?

Latex is cheaper, and while nitrile is not as flexible or elastic as latex gloves, they offer greater durability and resistance to chemicals.

What are nitrile gloves made of?

Nitrile is a synthetic copolymer formed by combining acrylonitrile and butadiene. Latex gloves begin their life as rubber from rubber trees, then they are transformed into latex rubber.

What are nitrile gloves used for?

Nitrile Gloves protect hands from contamination. The nitrile material keeps hands safe, and the gloves also keep users from contaminating what they’re touching.

Buying Surgical Gloves

If you’re interested in purchasing surgical gloves for your hospital, medical center, or medical practice, Slykel Medicals carries a wide variety of glove options including nitrile and latex gloves. If you need help determining the gloves that will work best for you, feel free to reach out to one of our sales reps today for more information.

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