You probably have a pair of winter gloves, but how about rubber gloves? In this day and age, with all of us dealing with COVID-19, it’s more common than ever before to see people wearing a pair on their hands. Unless you’re a medical expert, you might not realize that there are many different types.

Let’s look into the history of rubber gloves, what they’re used for, and how they can help fight off bacteria and viruses. Think of this as your ultimate guide to rubber gloves. You’ll find everything you need to know!

Who Invented Rubber Gloves?

Rubber gloves were first invented by William Stewart Halsted in 1894. This was perfect timing as in the next few years influenza, cholera, and the Spanish flu would all be serious pandemics throughout the world.


This timeline shows the history of rubber gloves from the 19th century to today!

  • 1894

    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/rubber_gloves_born___and_now_banished___at_johns_hopkins

    William Stewart Halsted, the surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, created the first pair of latex surgical gloves. Latex has since been banned in medical facilities due to the fact that roughly 6% of the population and 15% of healthcare workers are allergic to the material.

  • 1920

    https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/Clubmoss-spores–Lycopodium-clavatum–SS2152330.html

    After prolonged wear, rubber gloves would cause itchy and dry hands. Manufacturers tried to solve this problem by lubricating the gloves with a mixture of ground moss and talcum powder. The problem? The moss was poisonous to human skin!

  • 1964

    The first pair of disposable gloves were manufactured by the Ansell Rubber Company. Disposable options are now standard in medical facilities around the world.

  • 1990s

    Demand for rubber gloves was greater than ever with the rise of HIV in the United States. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) made it mandatory to wear them in hospitals, which caused an influx in suppliers and new materials like nitrile and vinyl.

  • 2016

    https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/laboratory/the-link-between-talcum-powder-and-ovarian-cancer/

    Talcum powder was banned from being used in rubber gloves, and for good reason. It was notorious for causing inflammation and scarring after surgeries.

  • 2020

    https://www.edexlive.com/beinspired/2020/apr/24/this-19-year-old-student-from-bengal-has-created-corona-gloves-that-automatically-spray-sanitiser-on-the-hands-11561.html

    The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made rubber gloves and hand sanitizer essential items, so a student in Bengal wisely combined both together. It’s like Spider-Man’s web shooter, but with a practical twist!

It took a lot of trial and error to find safe rubber gloves for hospitals at a time when they were desperately needed. Case in point, there was a 50% mortality risk if you had surgery! Thankfully, we seem to have finally found the right formula and are wearing good pairs of gloves today.

William Halsted’s wife was the first nurse to test out rubber gloves in the operating room at Johns Hopkins Hospital. This was not out of concern for patient safety, but because she wanted to protect her hands from harsh disinfectants.

What is the Use of Rubber Gloves?

Rubber gloves have come a long way since they were first invented in 1894. They have a “hand” in just about everything, whether it’s getting a tooth pulled, cleaning the dishes, or even solving major crimes.

You can use rubber gloves for all of the following:

  • Medical use
  • Food prep
  • Cleaning
  • Salons & spas
  • Automotive work
  • Construction
  • Security & police investigations
  • Manufacturing
  • Laboratories
  • Gardening & outdoor work
  • Child care
  • Tattoos & art projects

Medical Use

Dentists, doctors, pharmacists, EMTs, vets, and many other healthcare workers have gloves ready to go at all times. It’s the best way to keep everyone safe from catching any contagious illnesses.

Food Prep

How gross would it be to have your meal made by a chef who wasn’t wearing gloves? Rubber gloves are a must at restaurants, bars, hotels, and any other place with food to serve.

Cleaning

Janitorial and custodial services rely on rubber gloves every day, but you can also use them for cleaning at home. They’re particularly handy for dishes, washing your car, scrubbing floors, and without a doubt, cleaning the bathroom.

Salons & Spas

Your stylist is likely going to be wearing rubber gloves, whether you’re getting a manicure or a new hair color. Gloves are also useful for spa services like facial masks and massages.

Automotive Work

A mechanic’s hands are often coated with oil and grime from working on cars all day. It’s easier to keep things clean with rubber gloves in the garage.

Construction

It’s not uncommon for construction workers to deal with cement, PVC, sawdust, and other materials. Putting gloves on before a day of work helps cut down on burns and other injuries.

Security & Police Investigations

If you’ve ever watched CSI or listened to a true crime podcast, you know that touching things without gloves can corrupt an investigation. This is why police officers and detectives will wear gloves and gowns on the scene. Gloves are also used by airport security, fire marshals, and military personnel.

Manufacturing

Factory workers will often wear rubber gloves while processing and packaging products. This is much more hygienic for both the employee and the end user.

Laboratories

Scientists and technicians are busy handling a bunch of chemicals. Exposure may not be safe, which is why PPE like rubber gloves and safety goggles are needed in the lab.

Gardening & Outdoor Work

You don’t want your thumb to actually turn green! Keep your hands safe by wearing rubber gloves while you’re pulling weeds, spraying pesticides, or picking up litter.

Child Care

Daycares and after-school program employees should wear rubber gloves for certain tasks. This would include cleaning up after snack time, wiping fingerpaint off tables, and of course, diaper duty.

Tattoos & Art Projects

Tattoo artists will wear a pair of rubber gloves before they create your new ink, while sculptors may rock some for their next project. It all depends on the artist and what they’re creating!

Disposable gloves are designed to protect our hands from potentially dangerous materials. They work the same as face masks or sneeze guards in providing a barrier from pathogens, chemicals, oil, and many other contaminants.

Are Rubber Gloves Reusable?

Certain brands of rubber gloves are reusable, while others are disposable. Gloves that are used for gardening, cleaning, and industrial work can typically be reused, while latex or nitrile gloves, like the ones in hospitals and restaurants, have to be thrown away after a single use.

Reusable

Reusable rubber gloves cover your arm all the way to your elbow. They’re most often used for cleaning and can be washed with hot water and mild detergent. If you see the color fading, that means it’s time to find a replacement pair.

Disposable

Disposable gloves are designed for one and done use. They’re not only common in medical facilities and for food prep, but they’re also great to slip on if you have to wipe down tables, chairs, or other areas with antibacterial wipes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that you should never reuse disposable gloves. There may be microscopic tears in the gloves, which increase your risk of exposure to viruses.

What Are Disposable Gloves Made Of?

“Rubber gloves” is a phrase that’s often used to describe any disposable gloves. However, they’re actually made from a variety of materials. Each is a little bit different, with some more beneficial than others depending on how they’re being used.

Disposable gloves can be made from any of the following materials:

  • Latex
  • Nitrile
  • Vinyl
  • Neoprene
  • Polyisoprene
  • PVC
https://www.amazon.com/-HOUSE-DAY-Protective-Disposable-Qual-ity/dp/B086ZH5C8Y

Latex

While not as common as they were in early medicine, latex gloves are still used today. Latex is comfortable and flexible, which makes the gloves easy to wear for auto repair and food service. They are made from natural rubber, so they also have the bonus of being biodegradable!

Pros: Eco-friendly, spacious, flexible

Cons: Causes itchiness, uncomfortable after prolonged use, people are often allergic

Nitrile

Nitrile gloves have been steadily growing in popularity. They are comfortable to wear for an extended period of time, resistant to punctures or damage, and offer great protection against many contaminants.

Pros: Form-fitting, long shelf life, resistant to punctures

Cons: Higher price tag, offers less tactile sensitivity (you can’t feel objects as easily), non-biodegradable

Vinyl

If you don’t want to buy new gloves every week, vinyl should be your best friend. This material has an insanely long shelf life and doesn’t break down easily. It’s also cheap to make, which means it’s easier to buy the gloves in bulk.

Pros: Long-lasting, doesn’t break down, cheap to make

Cons: Offers little protection from chemicals, not form-fitting, lacks flexibility

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Ever-bilt-Long-Cuff-Neo-prene-Glove-Large-EB00131-L/203613745

Neoprene

Scuba diving wetsuits are often made from neoprene, which means this material is very water-resistant. Neoprene gloves are recommended for painting, working with chemicals, or for hair salons that are working with dyes.

Pros: Water-resistant, withstands high temperatures, durable

Cons: Stiff, slightly uncomfortable, leads to sweaty hands

https://www.amazon.com/Dispos-able-Gloves-Polyiso-prene-7-5-PR/dp/B07PNWPNLT

Polyisoprene

You won’t find much difference between polyisoprene gloves and latex gloves. The key distinction is that polyisoprene is made from synthetic rubber, while latex is made from natural rubber. This means the protein that causes an allergic reaction to latex is not present in polyisoprene.

Pros: Allergen-free, breathable, strong elasticity

Cons: Not as easy to find, expensive, may result in dry hands

PVC

PVC is a type of plastic that’s commonly used for plumbing and to make household objects like window frames and gutters. It can also be used to make gloves that are extremely long-lasting, strong, and protective.

Pros: Resilient, protective against oils, won’t tear easily

Cons: Not very flexible, typically can’t withstand high temperatures, bad for the environment

Overall, there isn’t too much of a difference between nitrile, latex, and vinyl gloves. The same is true for less commonly used materials like neoprene and PVC. You really can’t go with any type of rubber glove if you’re in an industry that requires them. The only exception is medical professionals who should typically avoid using latex.

Do Hospitals Use Latex Gloves?

Latex gloves are no longer used in many hospitals due to the fact that so many people are allergic. You will instead see nitrile gloves worn by doctors, dentists, vets, technicians, and many other healthcare professionals.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Food_and_Drug_Administration_logo.svg

What Are Sterile Vs. Non-Sterile Gloves?

Sterile gloves are used for surgical reasons and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Non-sterile gloves, on the other hand, are typically more inexpensive and are fit for use by the public. You won’t have an increased risk of infection if you use non-sterile gloves.

What is the Powder in Rubber Gloves?

Talcum powder or cornstarch is used inside of powdered gloves, though most have been banned by the FDA for use in hospitals since 2016. The powder is known to cause scars and inflammation in patients after they’ve had surgery.

Are you curious to learn more about powdered vs. powder-free gloves? This chart breaks it down for you!

Powdered gloves are better for certain industries, while non-powdered gloves are a must in medical facilities. Keep these differences in mind if you’re buying gloves for your employees.

How Often Should I Change Gloves?

You should change your gloves frequently, but it really depends on how you’re using them. For food prep, change your gloves every two to four hours. Medical use, on the other hand, requires more frequent changes such as every time you leave the room and in between patients.


Always change your gloves in the following situations:

You see holes, punctures, rips, tears, or any other damage

Immediately after you work with chemicals or any other contaminant

While handling raw meat and then switching to a different food product

Before beginning a new task or project

After touching your face, hair, or any other part of your body

If the gloves are soiled, wet, or dirty

At least every four hours (non-medical use)

Keep in mind – there’s a reason “fits like a glove” is a popular phrase! If your gloves are too big, they may fall off or allow the materials you’re using to creep inside. If they’re too small, they could easily rip. Make sure you’re wearing a pair that fits properly.

Do Gloves Make Your Hands Dry?

Unfortunately, wearing rubber gloves may make your hands feel dry and raw. This is known as dermatitis, and it’s very common in nurses, chefs, and anyone else who wears gloves for a prolonged period of time.

Here’s what you can do to keep your hands from drying out while wearing rubber gloves:

  • Change your gloves often.
  • Wash your hands with cool water.
  • Apply aloe or moisturizer before you put on the gloves.
  • Stop using fragrant soaps to wash your hands.
  • Pat your hands dry instead of rubbing them.
  • Take an oat bath when you’re at home.
  • Soak your hands overnight, wearing socks or mittens.
  • Reach out to a dermatologist for advice.

Tip #1: Change Your Gloves Often

You should frequently change your gloves for hygienic reasons, but it’s also a good way to avoid dry hands. Gloves get sweaty after being worn for an extended period of time, so a quick change will give your hands a little breather.

Tip #2: Wash Your Hands With Cool Water

Do yourself a favor and turn the cold water dial at the sink every time you wash your hands. Hot water isn’t proven to get rid of any extra germs, so you’re totally safe keeping things cool.

Tip #3: Apply Aloe or Moisturizer Beforehand

Apply aloe, moisturizer, or cream before you put on your gloves. You can also use natural oils, such as coconut, which helps keep your hands from cracking.

Tip #4: Stop Using Fragrant Soaps

As much as you love your lavender or vanilla-scented soap, it could be why your hands are drying out. Stick with natural ingredients instead and try not to overdo it on alcohol-based sanitizers either.

Tip #5: Pat Your Hands Dry Instead of Rubbing

Rubbing your hands is a bit too harsh and may strip your hands of their natural moisture. Try to pat your hands dry instead with a soft, clean paper towel.

Tip #6: Take an Oat Bath at Home

It may seem super weird, but Medical News Today swears taking a bath in raw or cooked oats can help rejuvenate the skin. Mix the oats with lukewarm water and soak in your tub before you go to bed.

Tip #7: Soak Your Hands Overnight

Your hands might feel raw and sore from a long day of wearing rubber gloves. Apply a moisturizing lotion or cream and slip on a pair of mittens or socks. Leave them on as you get a good night’s rest.

Tip #8: Reach Out to a Dermatologist

When all else fails, you can always make an appointment with a trusted skin specialist. They will be able to prescribe you a medication, or offer additional advice on taking care of the problem.

https://zerowasteboxes.terracycle.com/products/disposable-gloves-zero-waste-box

Can Rubber Gloves Be Recycled?

https://zerowasteboxes.terracycle.com/products/disposable-gloves-zero-waste-box

It’s extremely tricky to recycle rubber gloves because they’re often dirty or soiled. In fact, many PPE items end up in landfill, simply because they’ve been in contact with contaminants.

The good news is you can find companies out there who have green solutions. Take for example TerraCycle, a waste management company in New Jersey. The eco-friendly organization has created a Zero Waste Box for disposable gloves. You can send in latex, nitrile, vinyl, or plastic gloves and they will sort through and see what can and can’t be recycled.

Do Rubber Gloves Help Against the Coronavirus?

Rubber gloves aren’t going to do much to slow down the spread of a virus like COVID-19, according to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the CDC, these are all proper times for you to wear gloves:

  • While cleaning or disinfecting surfaces like tables, chairs, or the sneeze guards set up at your store
  • If you are caring for someone who is sick
  • Any time you are in contact with chemicals or bodily fluids
  • Working at a hospital, medical center, nursing home, or any other healthcare facility

You don’t have to wear rubber gloves to the grocery store, or while running errands or interacting with strangers. It’s much better for you to be mindful of sanitary practices instead like washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Stats for Success

An estimated 300 billion disposable gloves are used in the United States every year.

Nitrile gloves have experienced an annual growth rate of 6.3% in the United States.

The projected revenue for rubber gloves in 2023 is $3.71 billion.

The Bottom Line

The market for rubber gloves is steadily on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to wear gloves to the grocery store, or while visiting a park with your child. Your #1 defense against germs should always be washing your hands!

References

Johns Hopkins. (2008, January 14). Rubber Gloves: “Born” – and Now Banished – at Johns Hopkins. Retrieved from,
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/rubber_gloves_born___and_now_banished___at_johns_hopkins

MPH Online. Outbreak: 10 of the Worst Pandemics in History. Retrieved from,
https://www.mphonline.org/worst-pandemics-in-history/

Lathan, S. (2010, October). Caroline Hampton Halsted: The First to Use Rubber Gloves in the Operating Room. Retrieved from,
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943454/

Leyden, J. (1990, November 27). The Strange Story of Surgical Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1990/11/27/the-strange-story-of-surgical-gloves/a4b63531-1b0a-4799-ae13-24ec3f2c33d1/

Barton, M. (2018, September 19). The History of Surgical Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.pastmedicalhistory.co.uk/the-history-of-surgical-gloves/

Cascade Healthcare Solutions. (2012, May 4). History of Latex Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.cascadehealthcaresolutions.com/History_of_Latex_Gloves_a/338.htm

MCR Safety. Disposable Gloves: All-in-One (Latex, Neoprene and Nitrile) (Nitrile and Vinyl). Retrieved from,
https://www.mcrsafety.com/blog/disposable-gloves-latex-neoprene-nitrile-vinyl

Thomas Net. Top Nitrile Gloves Manufacturers and Suppliers. Retrieved from,
https://www.thomasnet.com/articles/top-suppliers/nitrile-gloves-manufacturers-and-suppliers/

Gragert, A. (2020, April 21). How to Clean and Disinfect Rubber Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.hunker.com/13421162/how-to-sanitize-rubber-gloves

Torres, M. (2020, April 8). Can You Wash and Reuse Disposable Gloves? Retrieved from,
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disposable-gloves-washed-reused_l_5e8df7a7c5b61ada15c121ab

Sakurra, K. (2020, May 5). 4 Alternatives To Disposable Gloves & How To Choose Them. Retrieved from,
https://naturecode.org/disposable-gloves-alternatives/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020, May 9). When to Wear Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/gloves.html

Gordon Food Service. How to Use Disposable Gloves Properly in Food Service. Retrieved from,
https://www.gfs.com/en-us/ideas/how-use-disposable-gloves-properly-food-service

Glove Nation. What Are Gloves Made Of? Retrieved from,
https://glovenation.com/blogs/default-blog/blog-what-are-gloves-made-of

PAC. Vinyl, Latex and Nitrile Gloves: What Are the Differences? Retrieved from,
https://blog.gotopac.com/2013/03/15/vinyl-latex-and-nitrile-gloves-what-are-the-differences/

Safety Gloves. (2019, November 28). Powdered Vs. Powder-Free Gloves: The Facts. Retrieved from,
https://www.safetygloves.co.uk/blog/powdered-vs-powder-free-gloves-the-facts.html

Glove Nation. Powdered Vs. Powder-Free Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://glovenation.com/blogs/default-blog/blog-powdered-vs-powderfree-gloves

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016, March 21). FDA Proposes Ban on Most Powdered Medical Gloves. Retrieved from,
https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-proposes-ban-most-powdered-medical-gloves

#EveryNurse. (2019, May 16). Five Ways Nurses Can Prevent Dry Hands. Retrieved from,
https://everynurse.org/blog/five-ways-nurses-prevent-dry-hands/

Fletcher, J. (2018, March 15). How Do I Get Rid of My Dry Hands? Retrieved from,
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321212

Eagle. Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle Disposable Gloves? Retrieved from,
https://info.eagleprotect.com/glove-recycling

Statista. (2018 March). Size of the Rubber Gloves Market Worldwide in 2017 and 2023. Retrieved from,
https://www.statista.com/statistics/817147/size-of-the-global-rubber-gloves-market/

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.