Glove Selection: What to Use When?

Over the past year and a half since Fixation on Histology got started we have had several posts about gloves in the histology lab. For example, back in March we asked readers to answer whether or not they wore gloves when at the microtome. (The results are in! 55% of respondents didn’t.), and a recent post about skin care referenced gloves when discussing how to avoid dry skin.

In the case of sitting at the microtome, gloves are a preference, but there are many places in the lab where gloves are a necessity. Gloves are essential for our safety, and which gloves we choose when working with various chemicals can really make a difference.

Not all gloves are created equal. Different types of gloves protect better against certain chemicals than others. No one glove can protect against all chemicals so selecting the appropriate gloves, and being aware of the limitations for each is important.

The effectiveness of a glove to protect against chemicals is based on degradation, permeation rate and breakthrough time. Degradation is the change in the physical characteristics of a glove caused by contact with a chemical. The permeation rate refers to the speed at which a chemical penetrates the glove material. The breakthrough time is the elapsed time between initial contact on the outside of the glove with a chemical to the first detection of chemical on the inside surface. Manufacturers can provide degradation/permeation/breakthrough time charts that list the performance characteristics of a glove material to a given chemical.

For example, nitrile gloves are good for a wide variety of solvents, oils, greases, and some acids and bases. Butyl rubber is good for highly corrosive acids, ketones, esters, and gases, but poor for aliphatic, aromatic hydrocarbons, halogenated hydrocarbons, and gasoline. Viton, meanwhile, is exceptional in its resistance to chlorinated and aromatic solvents.

For more information about glove safety, and for an example of a glove/chemical comparison chart, check out NSH’s Glove Selection Guidelines, in the Resource Library section of NSH’s member community, The Block.

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