Disposable gloves developed because of needs in the medical industry, where the tool matured and refined into what we know today. In recent years, attention has expanded to include industrial safety applications for disposable gloves, such as automotive repair, food processing and service, and janitorial/sanitation. Exam gloves, meanwhile, have found many uses, beyond medical and dental offices, in other professions that require direct public contact.
The industrial market is the fastest-growing sector, with nitrile glove improvements, such as raised diamond texture and heavy-duty thickness, being important game changers. Vinyl provides a versatile, economical alternative, but offers a lesser degree of protection. Latex is the former industry leader that has slipped in popularity over concerns about allergies.
As awareness for worker protection needs spreads around the globe, and demands for safer operation conditions increase, the disposable glove business will continue to experience increasing levels of growth.
Glove thickness is usually expressed in mils. Gloves of 3 mils or less are suited for jobs that do not require strong protection from chemicals or hazardous materials. Gloves in the 5- to 6-mil range are dependable for a variety of applications, from general duty to heavier automotive or industrial needs involving tools and machinery. Gloves 8 mils and above are rated for heavy-duty use.
Gloves are inspected and rated for either industrial or medical (exam) use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating gloves by their minimum barrier protection, strength, and Acceptable Quality Level (AQL), the latter being related to the product’s freedom from pinholes during water testing. A lower AQL number represents a higher-quality—and more expensive—exam-grade glove. Exam gloves may be used for industrial applications, but not vice versa.
For lightweight applications such as janitorial, food service, beauty & salon, or automotive detailing, 3-mil gloves are usually sufficient. Thinner gloves cost less but are better suited for frequent glove changes. Nitrile and latex gloves cost more than vinyl, which offers great value.
For medium-weight applications such as industrial use or working with tools and machinery, gloves in the 5- to 6-mil range are appropriate. They are more durable and offer stronger barrier protection.
Heavy-duty applications, such as automotive repair, require gloves of 8 mils or thicker. These gloves often come with raised diamond texture for improved grip, and the thickness means fewer rips or tears, and makes for extended durations of use. That means that users go through fewer gloves over the course of a shift.
Exam gloves in nitrile, latex, and vinyl range from 3 mils for general medical applications, to 5 mils for law enforcement needs and tattoo parlors, to 14 mils for laboratory, high-risk, and EMT uses. Most gloves are 9½ inches in length; some can be up to 12 inches in length to tuck under your sleeves for extra barrier protection.
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