No matter what industry you work in, it’s likely that you’ve come across latex or nitrile protective gloves for protection in a commercial environment at some point in your career.
In the medical industries, health professionals will use protective gloves whilst examining patients or handling sterile equipment. In food manufacturing or hospitality, workers will wear protective gloves whilst preparing food or drinks. Cleaners or janitors will wear protective gloves whilst handling strong cleaning chemicals or during particularly dirty jobs.
Generally, these protective gloves are made of one of two material – latex or nitrile. Which type of protective gloves you wear will depend on several factors.
When should we wear protective gloves?
As a rule, protective gloves should be worn in order to protect the wearer’s skin in an environment with potentially harmful chemicals or to minimise the spread of germs and bacteria in the workplace. Both latex gloves and nitrile gloves are effective at these two tasks. However, they do still have some differences.
What is nitrile?
Nitrile is a synthetic rubber compound, often used as a latex alternative for those who have latex allergies. To form nitrile, carbon and nitrogen atoms are connected by triple bonds – meaning that there can be several different types of nitrile.
The history of nitrile gloves
The method of synthesising hydrogen cyanide was first discovered by Carl Whilhem Scheele, a German-Swedish chemist, in 1782, resulting in the world’s first introduction to the nitrile family. Fast forward nearly 200 years, and the first nitrile rubber was made in the year 1934 by Erich Konrad and Eduard Tschunkur when they developed an elastomer.
Resistance to oil and grease ensured that it quickly grew in popularity due to the shortage of natural rubber during World War 2. The first nitrile disposable gloves were marketed in 1991 – as an alternative to latex gloves.
Are nitrile gloves latex free?
Yes, nitrile gloves are completely latex-free. However, it’s worth noting that nitrile gloves do still pose a very low risk of triggering allergies, as they often contain cheaper additives such as chemical accelerators. For non-allergen nitrile gloves, look for ones that don’t contain accelerator chemicals.
- Good chemical resistance
- High puncture resistance
- Mould to the hand
- Good for extended use
- Good in high-risk situations
- Chemical resistant
- Long shelf life
Learn more about disposable nitrile gloves.
What is latex?
Latex is a natural compound taken from rubber trees. It has been used as a material in practical applications since 1839, when Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanisation – the process that transforms natural rubber into something usable.
What is the process of tapping rubber?
The process of tapping latex was developed in Victorian times. Latex is harvested by making a shallow spiralling slice into the bark of a rubber tree to create what’s known as a tapping panel. A tapping panel can yield a flow of latex that lasts up to five hours, when the tapping process usually moves on to the other side of the tree to allow the first tapping panel to ‘heal’.
The latex that comes from the tapping panels runs down the tree into a waiting cup, where it’s collected and coagulates. Additions are often made to the natural latex to help preserve it for longer.
- Fit closely to the skin
- Good for extended use
- Work well in high-risk situations
Learn more about disposable latex gloves.
Which is better, latex or nitrile gloves?
Nitrile is often regarded to be a higher quality material than latex, but that usually comes with a slightly higher price. Latex gloves can be cheaper but should do a perfectly good job if strong chemical resistance or puncture resistance isn’t mandatory. But, on the whole, whether you should use latex or nitrile gloves depends on the task you will be completing.