Choosing The Right Gloves

7 mins

Person donning gloves Disposable gloves have become a fundamental part of the healthcare industry, with all doctors, nurses, and care assistants expected to wear single use gloves when necessary.

Since the late 1980s, the use of protective gloves have become a part of everyday medical practice, ensuring that both patients and medical professionals are protected from accidental contracting infectious diseases via microorganisms transmitted during certain skin-to-skin contact. Gloves also help to prevent exposure to drugs, chemicals, and other dangerous substances commonly used in medical facilities.

When and how should gloves be worn?

There are many times when medical professionals, from doctors or care home assistants, should ensure that they are wearing disposable gloves, such as when there is a risk of coming into contact with blood, mucous membranes, or other bodily fluids.

Of course, it’s important to ensure that all care home staff understand that gloves are not a substitute for good hand hygiene - you can read more about getting your team into good handwashing habits here - and that hands should be washed before putting gloves on and after taking them off. It’s also crucial to ensure that gloves are removed and disposed of after every episode of resident care, to prevent the spread of bacteria.

For gloves to work effectively and prevent the resident and the team member, they need to fit properly and be the right type of gloves for the procedure. So, what should each type of glove be used for? Sterile latex gloves or a synthetic alternative, should be used for examinations, aseptic procedures, wound dressing, and potential of exposure to blood or bodily fluids. Non-sterile latex or the synthetic alternative should be used for non-aseptic nursing procedures. Vinyl gloves should be used for short, aseptic procedures, these include those with a low risk of coming into contact with blood or bodily fluids. Polythene gloves should be used for food preparation and the handling of ingredients. Household gloves should be used for cleaning tasks.

When choosing the right type of gloves for a task, it’s important that your carers undertake a risk assessment. This should include what the nature of the task is, whether there’s a risk of contamination of bodily fluids, whether the task requires sterile or non-sterile handling, and whether the resident being nursed has any sensitives to certain glove materials, such as latex, for instance.


What are the best types of gloves (and why)?

Each type of glove comes with it’s own pros and cons, so below we have listed the various glove types along with the pros and cons of each.


Latex Gloves:

Cons: Although natural rubber latex gloves used to be the glove of choice, in recent years the popularity has decreased considerably as just under 10 percent of the UK population is thought to be allergic to latex. This equates to six million people in the UK who are thought to suffer from a latex allergy.

Pros: For those who aren’t sensitive to latex, this glove type comes with many benefits. Available in two styles - powdered and unpowdered, these gloves are a staple in many care homes and other medical facilities. These include protection from dangerous substances, for both the wearer and the resident or patient, easy application, comfort when wearing the gloves, the fit tends to be natural and the textured surface means that the wearer can get a better grip. Another pro of modern latex gloves is that they have a lower level of extractable protein and chemical residue, leading to less allergic reactions.


Vinyl Gloves:

Available in clear and blue colours, powdered and powder free vinyl gloves are a popular choice in care homes and other medical facilities. However, like all glove designs, they come with both pros and cons.

Cons: One of the cons of vinyl gloves is that they can only be used for non-aseptic procedures and tasks with a low risk of contact with blood or bodily fluids. This is because they are permeable to viruses carried in the blood and are prone to leakage, because they’re not as strong as their latex counterparts.

Pros: In terms of pros, vinyl gloves are a lot less likely to cause a skin reaction than latex gloves. They are also easy to put on, comfortable to wear as they tend to have a looser fit than other types of gloves. Then there’s the fact that vinyl gloves tend to be incredibly economical.


Nitrile Gloves:

Cons: The only con to this glove type is that they are slightly more expensive than certain other types of gloves.

Pros: Of all the glove types, Nitrile gloves tend to be the closest to latex gloves in terms of the level of protection that’s on offer. This is because they are made from synthetic rubber, and have many of the same properties of latex designs. Nitrile gloves offer protection from unwanted and dangerous substances, they’re super strong and puncture resistant, and they tend to fit snuggle, so are easy to work in. The texture of this type of glove enhances sensitivity and makes gripping things, with wet or dry hands easy. For latex allergy sufferers, this type of glove is ideal with the majority sold being powder free. Another pro of this type of glove is that they have a long shelf life, and so can be bought in bulk to cut costs.


Synthetic Gloves:

Synthetic gloves can be made of many different materials, however, the most popular designs are made from Neoprene and Polyisoprene, as well as Nitrile, which we have already mentioned above.

Cons: Of all the glove types, often synthetic gloves can be more expensive, but especially Polyisoprene gloves, as these are the most complicated to make and manufacture. Another con of synthetic gloves is that they tend to be less elastic than natural gloves such as latex designs, which means that they are less comfortable to wear.

Pros: A major pro of synthetic gloves is, of course, that they are latex-free. With so many people suffering from latex allergies, latex-free gloves are crucial in the medical industry. Most synthetic gloves are also as strong as latex, and so are just as effective at offering protection from blood and bodily fluids.  Again, powder free is the most common.


Powdered or Unpowdered Gloves:

Along with all the different types of medical grade gloves to choose from, from latex to synthetic gloves, there is also another important factor to consider, and that’s whether to opt for powdered or unpowdered gloves.

On the one hand, powdered gloves are useful because they are easier to get on and off, and tend to be less likely to become sticky of wet inside due to perspiration. This wetness can cause soreness or dermatitis in some people who wear gloves on a regular basis.

However, on the other hand, the powder that’s inside powdered gloves can cause contamination. For example, should dust particles from the glove powder land on a wound or cut, it could cause an infection to occur. Although, it’s worth noting that this type of cross contamination is exceedingly rare.


When it comes to choosing the right gloves for you (and your patient) there are a lot of factors to consider, from the amount of protection offered to the cost. Hopefully, however, this guide has given you a better insight into the best type of gloves to don (put on) for each different specialist task, as well as for yours’ and your residents’ health. 

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