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Medical Gloves Defined

Medical Gloves Defined

Exam-grade gloves, also known as medical gloves, were initially designed for non-surgical medical procedures. Exam gloves differ from industrial-grade gloves due to one factor, the rigorous factory-level testing they undergo. The testing is based on acceptable quality limits (AQL) set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This measurement, which involves filling gloves with water and checking for leaks, sets a standard for how many gloves within a batch can fail testing. A low AQL—or small number of defective gloves—is necessary for exam-grade gloves to ensure the glove is of a high enough quality to provide the heightened standard of barrier protection.

AQL measures the quality of the batch of gloves as a percentage. Exam-grade gloves, for example, must have an AQL of 2.5 or lower, meaning that within the batch, only 1.5% can fail the test. A batch of gloves that fails the test will be labeled for industrial use only. 

Applications that require exam-grade gloves, in addition to medical and dental, include any industry where biological hazards are of concern. This can include childcare, caregiving, beauty & salon, and tattoo services. Employees within these professions can come in direct contact with blood. Having exam-grade gloves protects them from the possibility of infection by bloodborne pathogens.

When buying exam-grade gloves, there are several materials to choose from:


Medical gloves have been made from latex for many years. The material, made from natural rubber, can be turned into a thin protective barrier without sacrificing dexterity and sensitivity upon wearing. Latex gloves have been the standard in healthcare since their development in the 1940s. Latex is preferred because it is the most comfortable glove material with the best fit and feel. However, due to a growing number of latex allergies, many healthcare professionals are gravitating toward latex-free exam-gloves. Long-term exposure to latex can aggravate a minor allergy, affecting both the medical personnel and patients. If you work with a large number of people daily, it is safer to use a latex alternative.


The low-cost solution of vinyl gloves are also available in exam grade. Vinyl is a good latex-free medical glove option for tasks that require frequent glove changes. The glove has a looser fit than that of nitrile or latex gloves, making it the best option for short-duration tasks.


One of the best latex alternatives is nitrile. This material can conform to the user’s hand once the material reaches body temperature, meaning latex isn’t the only glove that provides great fit and feel. Nitrile is also more chemically resistant than the other materials, making it a suitable option for those who frequently use common chemicals. When working in an environment where chemical or biological hazards are frequently encountered, nitrile gloves are the best choice.

Regardless of which glove material you choose, make sure they are labeled exam grade! Without receiving an appropriate AQL score, disposable gloves are not suited for medical purposes.

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