Choose the Right Gloves for the Task at Hand
Types of Protective Gloves
There are many types of gloves available today to protect against a wide variety of hazards. It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace, because gloves designed for one function may not protect against a different function.
Gloves made from a wide variety of materials are designed for many types of workplace hazards. In general, gloves fall into four groups:
- Gloves made of leather, canvas or metal mesh
- Fabric and coated fabric gloves
- Chemical-resistant gloves
- Insulating rubber gloves
Leather, Canvas or Metal Mesh Gloves
- Leather gloves protect against sparks, moderate heat, blows, chips and rough objects.
- Aramid fiber, such as Kevlar®, protects against heat and cold. Gloves made of aramid fibers are cut and abrasion resistant and wear well.
- Synthetic gloves of various materials offer protection against heat and cold, are cut and abrasion resistant and may withstand some diluted acids. These materials do not stand up against alkalis and solvents.
Fabric and Coated Fabric Gloves
- Fabric gloves protect against dirt, slivers, chafing and abrasions. They do not provide sufficient protection for use with rough, sharp or heavy materials. Adding a plastic coating will strengthen some fabric gloves.
- Coated fabric gloves are normally made from cotton flannel with napping on one side. By coating the un-napped side with plastic, fabric gloves are transformed into general-purpose hand protection offering slip-resistant qualities.
Chemical-resistant gloves are made with different kinds of rubber: natural, butyl, neoprene, nitrile and fluorocarbon (viton); or various kinds of plastic: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyvinyl alcohol and polyethylene. These materials can be blended or laminated for better performance. As a general rule, the thicker the glove material, the greater the chemical resistance but thick gloves may impair grip and dexterity, having a negative impact on safety.
Some examples of chemical-resistant gloves include:
- Butyl gloves are made of a synthetic rubber and protect against a wide variety of chemicals, such as peroxide, rocket fuels, highly corrosive acids (nitric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid and red-fuming nitric acid), strong bases, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters and nitrocompounds. Butyl gloves also resist oxidation, ozone corrosion and abrasion, and remain flexible at low temperatures. Butyl rubber does not perform well with aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons and halogenated solvents.
- Natural (latex) rubber gloves are comfortable to wear, which makes them a popular general-purpose glove. They feature outstanding tensile strength, elasticity and temperature resistance. In addition to resisting abrasions caused by grinding and polishing, these gloves protect workers' hands from most water solutions of acids, alkalis, salts and ketones. Latex gloves have caused allergic reactions in some individuals and may not be appropriate for all employees. Hypoallergenic gloves, glove liners and powderless gloves are possible alternatives for workers who are allergic to latex gloves.
- Neoprene gloves are made of synthetic rubber and offer good pliability, finger dexterity, high density and tear resistance. They protect against hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohols, organic acids and alkalis. They generally have chemical and wear resistance properties superior to those made of natural rubber.
- Nitrile gloves are made of a copolymer and provide protection from chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. Although intended for jobs requiring dexterity and sensitivity, nitrile gloves stand up to heavy use even after prolonged exposure to substances that cause other gloves to deteriorate. They offer protection when working with oils, greases, acids, caustics and alcohols, but are generally not recommended for use with strong oxidizing agents, aromatic solvents, ketones and acetates.
Remember, when selecting gloves to protect against chemical exposure hazards, always check with the manufacturer or review the manufacturer's product literature to determine the gloves' effectiveness against specific workplace chemicals and conditions.
Source: OSHA, "Types of Protective Gloves,"
Chemical Resistance Chart for Protective Gloves
The following table from the U.S. Department of Energy (Occupational Safety and Health Technical Reference Manual) rates various gloves as being protective against specific chemicals and will help you select the most appropriate gloves to protect your employees. The ratings are abbreviated as follows: VG = Very Good; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor (not recommended). Chemicals marked with an asterisk (*) are for limited service.
|Chromic acid (50%)||F||P||F||F|
|Citric acid (10%)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Epoxy resins, dry||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Hydrofluoric acid (48%)||VG||G||G||G|
|Hydrogen peroxide (30%)||G||G||G||G|
|Lactic acid (85%)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Lauric acid (36%)||VG||F||VG||VG|
|Methyl ethyl ketone*||G||G||VG||P|
|Methyl isobutyl ketone*||F||F||VG||P|
|Nitric acid, red and white fuming||P||P||P||P|
|Perchloric acid (60%)||VG||F||G||G|
|Petroleum distillates (naphtha)||G||P||P||VG|
|Propyl alcohol (iso)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Tannic acid (65)||VG||VG||VG||VG|
|Toluene diisocyanate (TDI)||F||G||G||F|