With today’s myriad of industrial hand protection requirements, the glove industry is continually improving the materials used to manufacture gloves. Today’s glove fibers and fabrics make it possible to produce gloves that resist cuts, provide a microbial barrier, absorb oil, ensure grip, protect against heat, insulate against cold, protect sensitive equipment or resist chemicals. Some glove fabrics even accomplish more than one of these tasks.

In general, industrial gloves can be categorized as disposable, chemical resistant, cut resistant, general purpose, high tech or specialty, which covers the thermal varieties and gloves that meet unique workplace requirements. Within each of these categories, there are gloves made of materials to meet the exacting specifications of different industries.

Disposable glove materials
Nitrile, natural rubber latex (NRL) and vinyl are the most widely used materials for disposable gloves. Each material has features that make it ideal for specific applications. Vinyl, for example, is the least costly material and often chosen for industrial use when the worker changes gloves frequently in the course of a shift due to such factors as a need to avoid cross-contamination of materials. A new development is a unique “stretch” formulation with form-fitting comfort previously unavailable in disposable vinyl.

One of the more popular glove materials, nitrile replicates many of the positive characteristics of NRL without the latex allergy threat that NRL poses to some workers. Since its introduction 15 years ago, nitrile has become a latex-free favorite for disposable gloves. Most recently it has been introduced in an “accelerator-free” form, free from both the type I allergic reactions linked to latex proteins and from the accelerators common in all disposable nitrile gloves, which have been linked to workplace conditions like type IV dermatitis.

Nitrile is widely used across all industries that require high performance from a single-use glove. It is often used for gloves that must protect both the worker and the materials being handled such as high-end semiconductors, as well as for lab and food processing environments where exacting standards of industrial hygiene are required. Innovation in nitrile technology has led to development of both smooth and textured (fingertips) nitrile gloves. Nitrile is also fabricated in high-visibility colors and a variety of other colors, including black.

Natural rubber latex is the grandfather material for disposable gloves. Relatively inexpensive, it has outstanding strength, wear and dexterity and makes for a glove that is cooler, more durable, better fitting, more sensitive and less susceptible to tearing or developing holes than similar-gauge vinyl gloves. Processors have been working to develop a low-protein NRL that would virtually eliminate the latex-allergy possibility in NRL gloves.

Cut-resistant fabrics
The industrial glove industry has developed a number of fabrics to address the threat of cuts in the workplace and that have proven to be very effective in terms of cut resistance. One such fabric, for example, which was developed out of the need for a bullet-proof material, is many times stronger than the same weight of steel. Other fabrics are made of composite yarns with a non-wire core. Many cut-resistant glove fabrics are a combination of one of these engineered fibers with another fiber designed for stretch, insulation or comfort.

Chemical-resistant fabrics
Depending upon the application, there are literally hundreds of different required characteristics and thousands of combined requirements for chemical-resistant glove fabrics. In general, chemical-resistant gloves that do not have a textile substrate offer greater dexterity and touch sensitivity than textile-lined, polymer-coated, chemical-resistant gloves.

Sometimes a generalization can be made based on the chemical class such as:
  • Butyl or laminate gloves work best for ketones.
  • Nitrile works best for aliphatic hydrocarbons or fuels.
  • Viton or laminate gloves work best for halogenated hydrocarbons or aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Neoprene works best for most acids and caustics.
When choosing gloves for the aqueous chemicals used in janitorial/sanitation operations, a number of glove materials work very well, including glove shells coated with NRL, nitrile, neoprene and PVC. For the chemicals used in the automotive industry such as oils, greases and fuels, nitrile is the best overall choice.

General-purpose materials
Contemporary general-purpose glove materials are more durable, better fitting, more comfortable and, in some cases, more launderable than ever before. At the same time, there are material fabrications and combinations to meet virtually every need.

General-purpose glove liners range from traditional cotton to nylon to cut-resistant fibers, often in combination with a fiber that lends elasticity. The liners or shells are often coated with a second material to add specificity to the glove. Sometimes the coating covers the entire glove, but most recently coatings include everything from single-dipped to multi-dipped to flat-dipped (palm-coated) to three-quarter-dipped (over-the-knuckle protection) to combinations of palm and fingertip coats. The coating material can be NRL, nitrile or any one of a number of other substances. Some general-purpose glove fabrics are impregnated with vinyl.

A new innovation in general-purpose glove coating materials, sponge nitrile is valued for its ability to absorb oil, thus providing exceptional grip in oily, slippery industrial applications.

Thermal fabrics
Whether the job calls for protection from heat or cold, there is a glove fabrication that’s up to the job. For example, there are now glove materials that provide protection up to 500° Fahrenheit for hot castings for intermittent heat, lab sampling with hot glassware or moldings, plastic molding manufacturing, and some food processing applications.

On the other end of the spectrum, gloves made of insulated nitrile, neoprene, NRL and PVC all provide protection from cold. Liner fabrics for these gloves range from heavy-duty fleece to cotton jersey or cotton jersey with foam insulation. Knit cuffs add to the cold-protecting comfort on many glove models.

High-tech fabrics
The past 50 years’ growth of the high-tech industry has led to development of fabrics to meet the specific criteria of these environments. Many of these materials are anti-static with special formulations designed to prevent discharge of static electricity, thereby protecting sensitive parts.

Ongoing innovation
The process of innovation in materials for hand protection is a continuum. Going forward, those charged with the safety of worker’s hands can expect to see more and more materials developed to meet increasingly demanding specifications.