Whether you’re an environmental services worker in a hospital or a custodian in a school or office, the first piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) you most likely reach for is a pair of disposable gloves. In industries such as janitorial, food service, and health care, disposable gloves are used to protect people from processes and to protect processes from people.
Trends in personal safety have increased the demand for single-use gloves. Statistics from 2022 found the global market for disposable gloves accounted for US$13.6 billion in 2021 and is
expected to reach $27 billion by 2030, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.9%, according to Acumen Research and Consulting.
Glove do’s and don’ts
Despite their popularity, disposable gloves are often an improperly used asset. Some of the most common mistakes users make include:
- Not properly washing their hands prior to wearing gloves. This can lead to contamination of the gloves and defeat the purpose of wearing them in the first place.
- Touching their face or other surfaces with their gloved hands. This action also could lead to contamination and potential risk to the user and others.
- Not changing gloves frequently enough. Gloves can become contaminated over time, so it’s important to change them regularly. Replace your gloves whenever they become soiled or damaged, or when you move from one task to another.
- Reusing disposable gloves. Disposable gloves are designed for single use only and should be discarded after each use.
- Not disposing of the gloves properly. It’s important to dispose of them in a designated waste receptacle, as opposed to throwing them on the floor or in a sink.
If the glove fits, wear it
Even if you follow proper procedures, your gloves won’t offer protection if they’re the wrong glove for you or your job. When choosing disposable gloves, always consider fit, form, and function.
Properly fitting gloves allow for dexterity and help prevent tearing. Make sure you’re wearing a glove that is snug but not constricting. Too tight of a glove creates hand fatigue, while too loose of a
glove will compromise dexterity and make tasks harder to perform.
A glove’s form, or properties, are important in choosing the appropriate material for any potential risks, such as chemicals or biohazards. Consider the level of protection needed. Glove thickness doesn’t always equal strength.
Vinyl or nitrile gloves are best for regular cleaning tasks such as dusting, mopping, and wiping, as they provide a good barrier against cleaning chemicals and are durable enough to withstand frequent use. As a rule of thumb, for short duration and mild chemical exposure, use vinyl. For harsh chemicals, extended use, or when tactile feel is more important, choose nitrile.
Latex gloves are puncture resistant and offer excellent hand dexterity. However, make sure your workers are not allergic to latex before choosing them.
As workers are more likely to use gloves that are easy to don, consider gloves that are treated with powder coating (such as cornstarch), which helps the glove slide more easily over one’s hand.
Give your hands extra protection
Finally, determine what function the gloves need to provide. Will they need to protect workers from chemicals or bodily fluids? Will users need extreme grip or finger dexterity while wearing
them? Chemical resistance charts and glove application selection tools can provide advice regarding the best glove for specific jobs.
To ensure gloves meet their purpose, choose a quality pair from a reputable brand and inspect them for any defects before use. Check if they have been found to meet quality standards set
by organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials).
For tasks where you need more protection, such as handling sharps (containers for used needles) or materials that might contain bloodborne pathogens, it’s important to use gloves specifically
designed for those risks. In critical environments, refer to safety data sheets (SDS), manufacturers’ recommendations, and facility standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure that you are using the proper PPE. Common recommendations for these scenarios include using an exam-grade product of a specific material type (such as nitrile), a specific thickness, or even specific certifications (e.g., a chemotherapy rating or a fentanyl rating).
For tasks that involve handling materials that could contain bloodborne pathogens, such as those found in a hospital or a restroom, suitable PPE would include not only gloves, but also gowns, masks, and eye protection.
Try on the newest developments
Expansions in the nitrile category, including material thickness, are among the newest developments in the disposable glove market. As manufacturing has become more sophisticated, products have realized greater material consistency.
The market for natural rubber disposable products has decreased, replaced by a demand for nitrile products. The global nitrile gloves market is expected to grow from $9.2 billion in 2021 to
$15.6 billion by 2030, a CAGR of 6.1%, according to a report published by Spherical Insights & Consulting. In response, manufacturing facilities have expanded the nitrile glove category, offering
new developments in thickness, texture, color, and certification standards.
Over the last several years, the disposable glove market has seen a significant amount of volatility due to demand fluctuations, as well as unpredictable international transportation of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the industry to focus on limited options that were the most cost-effective solutions to meet the increase in demand for PPE. Blended substrates and thinner gloves
were the byproduct of these market fluctuations. Unfortunately, some of these new products lacked the quality needed for specific applications.
In addition, new entrants into the market from traditionally non-glove importers fueled rapid price increases. With the support of the U.S. government to make glove supply more stable, some of these companies have begun to manufacture gloves within the United States.
Quality suppliers of imported gloves have focused on making sure inventory is readily available for all types of disposable gloves and ensuring customers get the best glove for its intended application. This is a mature industry with cost-conscious end users, so innovation is limited. However, users are delighted to see greater availability from quality suppliers who can offer a full line with multiple colors, sizes, and thicknesses at affordable prices.
Don and Doff With Care
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes glove users make is putting them on (donning) and removing them (doffing) incorrectly. Follow the correct procedures to ensure that the user, the cleaning process, and the environment are not compromised by the use of disposable gloves.
To properly don disposable gloves:
- Take the gloves out of the packaging and ensure that they are the correct size and free from defects
- Hold the glove by the cuff and slide your fingers into the glove, making sure it is fully extended over your hand and fingers
- With your fingers in the glove, use the opposite thumb to insert and pull the glove from the inside palm to fully extend the glove to appropriate cuff length
- To ensure a snug fit, smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles in the glove
- Repeat this process with the second glove.
To properly doff disposable gloves:
- With one hand, pull the opposing hand cuff and pull the glove away from the body, turning it inside out as you do so
- Hold the inside-out glove in the palm of the other gloved hand and gently pull from the inside of the cuff and away from the body, turning inside and out, which also secures two gloves
- Discard the gloves in a designated waste container
- Wash your hands or put on hand sanitizer immediately after removing gloves.