Hesperian Health Guides


After our brains, our hands are the most important tools in the factory. Gloves help protect them from materials, heat, tools, and machines.

Gloves that protect from chemicals

If you apply chemicals, work with containers of chemicals, or touch, carry, or move materials that contain chemicals, you need protective gloves to prevent chemicals from irritating and burning your skin and getting inside your body. Some gloves are thrown away after every use ("disposable gloves") and some are used more than once ("reusable gloves").

a box of gloves labeled "Latex."
Look at the box to find out the kind of gloves and the chemicals they protect you from. The wrong gloves might absorb chemicals and hold them against your skin, making problems worse.

There are many kinds of chemical-resistant gloves, but no one glove can protect you against all chemicals. If you are working with more than one chemical, use a glove that provides protection from the most dangerous chemical or the one you are most likely to come in contact with.

Wear 2 gloves on each hand if you might be splashed with hydrofluoric acid (HF) or if you are working with a very harmful chemical. If the 2 pairs of gloves are different colors, it will be easier to see if the outer one rips. Change the outer glove as needed. If you work with large amounts of HF, use a heavy nitrile glove outside and a thinner one inside. Also wear 2 pairs of gloves if you work with nanoparticles.

If you work with machines, wear gloves that cannot catch in moving parts.

a waste can with a lid operated by a foot pedal.
Discard used gloves as dangerous waste.

Disposable gloves

Natural rubber (latex) gloves are the most common. They can protect you from mild chemicals. They are cheap, flexible, and easy to use. They also provide some protection from heat and irritation, or injury from rough surfaces. If you are allergic to latex gloves, use nitrile gloves.

Neoprene gloves can protect you from alcohols and some acids. They are also good protection for glycol ethers found in cleaners. They are very flexible and are commonly used instead of latex gloves.

Nitrile gloves are a good general glove. They protect you from some solvents, acids, and bases, but not from solvents such as benzene or methylene chloride. They are flexible and can be used for doing very precise work. When they are damaged, they rip open, so it is easy to know if it is time to throw them away.

Butyl gloves can protect you against some strong acids and some solvents (alcohols, ketones, esters), but do not protect you against other solvents such as aromatic hydrocarbons or halogenated hydrocarbons. They offer some protection against gases. They are flexible even when cold.

Reusable gloves

Thick gloves will protect more against chemical spills but they are not good to do very precise work because they prevent your fingers from moving as easily as with a disposable glove.

If you are working with a lot of chemicals, a chemical that can burn you quickly (such as an acid), or one that is very harmful, wear a thicker glove on the outside and a thinner glove on the inside for extra protection.

Wgthas Ch18 Page 263-2.png
Some glove material is not stretchy and does not mold to your fingers.
You can make thick gloves fit better by putting a tight nitrile glove over them.

Norfoil gloves can be used to protect workers from many dangerous chemicals. They can be loose and big, making it harder for you to use your fingers to do precise work.

Viton gloves are used to protect workers from chlorinated and aromatic solvents and can resist some cuts.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gloves are used for protection from strong acids, bases, and alcohols. They do not protect you from most solvents.

Polyvinyl alcohol gloves are used for protection from aromatic and chlorinated solvents, such as methylene chloride and toluene, but are not a good choice for water-based solvents.

When you wear gloves that protect against chemicals:

illustration of the below: checking a glove for holes.
  • Look and check all gloves for rips or holes before you use them. Some holes might be too small to see. For reusable gloves: Fill them with air by holding the opening and flipping the glove over itself quickly and closing off the opening. If you feel or hear air, there is a hole. Get a new pair. Use scissors to cut off the fingers so no one else will use them.
  • If a chemical spills or splashes on them, rinse and remove them and safely dispose of them. Get a new pair.
  • Use a new pair if the gloves are stiff or have changed color.
  • Remove them before touching phones, doorknobs, shared objects, food, or anything you put in your mouth.
  • Wear a thin glove inside a reusable glove for more protection. A washable cotton glove liner can reduce problems from sweating.

Wgthas Ch18 Page 264-2.png To take them off:
Use your gloved finger to roll the glove off the other hand so it is inside out. Then use the inside-out glove to remove the other one. Make sure your bare skin does not touch the outside of either glove.
We demand gloves!

My hands were red after the first day of working with an automatic ironing machine. When I asked my supervisor for gloves, he refused. So, I brought my own canvas gloves. When the other women saw my hands got better right away, they started using gloves, too.

But the gloves were too big. One day, my glove got stuck on the iron, trapping my hand. My co-workers turned the iron off before it crushed my hand. The boss said we couldn’t wear gloves because they were "unsafe."

Without gloves, our hands got red again. We were angry. We decided to turn the machines off and yelled at the supervisor, "The cloth makes our skin red. We won’t work until you give us gloves." He had a big order to fill, so he agreed to buy us gloves. Now we have to get him to buy gloves that are different sizes, to fit women with smaller hands.

Allergies to latex gloves
the back of a hand, with spots on the skin.
The rash can appear in any part of the hand and fingers.

Some people are allergic to latex gloves and cannot wear them. A rash is usually the first sign that you might be allergic to latex, but pay attention to any signs that appear when you wear latex gloves. Report a rash to your employer right away and stop using the gloves. If the rash does not improve in a few days, the cause might be something else.

The next time you wear latex, the allergic reaction can be the same or worse. Your allergic reaction could include problems breathing, or even going into shock. If you have an allergic reaction, remove the gloves and immediately stop using latex gloves. Tell your boss you need nitrile gloves instead. To protect you and others with latex allergies, it is best to have all the workers switch to a non-latex glove.

If you must use latex gloves:

  • Use "powder-free" ones, with no talc inside.
  • Wash your hands with mild soap as soon as you take them off.
  • Use water-based lotions on your hands after washing them.
  • Remove the dust that comes inside the gloves.

The risk of an allergic reaction is less when other workers help reduce the spread of latex powder.

Wgthas Ch5 Page 95-1.png

Gloves that protect against cuts and heat

Gloves made from leather, metal mesh, or canvas can protect you from some cuts and heat. They may not protect you from needles or other objects that can pierce the skin. They will not protect you from cuts from large power tools. If you also work with chemicals, use a chemical-resistant glove under your cut-resistant gloves.

Wgthas Ch18 Page 265-2.png
Always use metal mesh gloves in the cutting area.

Fabric gloves coated with plastic might protect against some chemicals. Fabric gloves made with aluminum thread protect against heat and cold, cuts, and some diluted acids.

Leather gloves protect against some cuts, heat, and sparks.

Metal mesh gloves can protect against some cuts from cutting tools.

This page was updated:28 Feb 2021