Cleanroom Gloves: Which Construction is Best – PVC, Latex, or Nitrile?

The first of the “Five C’s” to consider when choosing a glove is Construction. Greg Heiland highlights the primary differences between the three main substrates of cleanroom gloves: PVC, latex, and nitrile. He explores the pros and cons of using each substrate based on the specific performance characteristics of each material.

Video Transcript

The first of the Five C’s for gloves is Construction. And what we refer to when we mean the construction is how the glove is dipped, what type of former it’s dipped on, and then what is the substrate material?

Cleanroom gloves started with PVC in the eighties, and then in the nineties the glove substrate of choice was latex. And now, most recently, the most common material is nitrile. So when we look at construction, the three substrate materials are PVC, latex, and nitrile.

Those are the three substrate materials. How is the glove dipped? If we look at the former upon closer inspection, we'll see that this former has an “L” on it, meaning that this is a size large glove. If you look at the textured fingertips, you can see that this glove is smooth in the palm, in the finger shaft,

and then the fingertip has a texture to it. When the glove is dipped, the glove material will basically mimic the shape of the former, and then when the glove is done through the dipping process, it's stripped and reversed.

So the inside of the glove basically becomes the outside of the glove. If you look at our nitrile glove, you'll notice that the nitrile glove is made from this type of former. By that, I mean, it has a smooth palm, smooth finger shaft, but textured fingertip.

That's the construction for nitrile. The construction for latex is basically a micro texture throughout the glove. And then the texture for a PVC glove is a former that's all smooth. So let's talk a little bit about the pros and cons of PVC versus latex versus nitrile.

When we think of a PVC glove, we think of what the glove comes from, which is a polyvinyl chloride derivative. PVC is a petrochemical derivative, meaning that it's very stable. It's like plastic. Lot to lot to lot, a PVC glove is not going to vary when a PVC glove is dipped.

It's basically a clean process. And when the glove is stripped from the former, it is a clean glove. A PVC glove is dipped, not using any powder in the process. So think of a PVC glove as a clean process.

The PVC glove also doesn't go through a vulcanization period to case harden it. So as a result, the PVC glove from the molecular level is very porous. Remember how we spoke about cotton wipers and poly cellulose wipers, how they tend to be open with their porosity?

They tend to lint, but they also tend to be more absorbent, because from a molecular standpoint, they're open structure. Think of the same thing with the PVC glove. It hasn't been vulcanized, so it's porous. Therefore, this glove is very bad around chemicals.

Chemicals can and will seep through the glove. With certain chemical exposure, this glove will start to get warm. It will bubble up. Operators will scream. They'll take the glove off and they'll go rinse their hand. So a PVC glove is clean, but it's really only clean in a dry process.

If you have prolonged chemical exposure, particularly IPA, this glove is not going to have chemical compatibility. But PVC glove, being a petrochemical product, is a fairly stable cost, and it's going to be consistent lot to lot to lot.

That's PVC. Why did the industry go away from PVC to latex? Well, as you saw, this PVC glove is not form fitting. So in the nineties, people want the latex. And the primary advantage of latex is it fits like a surgeon's glove. Because still, many surgeons prefer latex because it has very good tensile strength.

It has very good elasticity, and it’s very form fitting. So this is latex. The downside with latex is latex, basically, like maple syrup, comes from tree sap. Latex comes from the tree sap from a rubber tree. And so the quality of this latex batch to batch is a function of the age of the tree, the amount of rainfall,

the fertilizer. There's a whole host of influencers that are going to influence whether this glove is clean. And then in addition to that, PVC is very stable indefinitely. Nitrile is very stable indefinitely. By stable, I mean, it has a long, long shelf life.

If you put a latex glove under an ultraviolet light or a fluorescent light and you go back to that glove two or three months later, you're going to find that the glove is very discolored, that the fluorescent light has accelerated the aging and really degradated the performance efficiency of a latex glove.

But again, the reason why people went from PVC to latex, it really wasn't comfort. It really wasn't cleanliness. It was chemical compatibility and the comfort, right? Because you get much more form fitting comfort with latex versus PVC. So then let's talk a little bit about nitrile and why someone would consider nitrile.

So think of PVC as the glove that was introduced with the space race when President Kennedy said, “We're going to send a man on the Moon.” They were wearing PVC gloves, 60’s, 70s, and 80’s. Then in the late eighties, the industry started to migrate to latex. Nineties and 2000 in the millennium,

latex was the glove of choice. Well, now the glove of choice is nitrile. And why nitrile? Because when we look at the Five C’s, nitrile offers comfort. It rivals the comfort of latex, and I'll illustrate with this glove right here.

So you can see it’s form fitting, it conforms to the hand. So you have comfort that rivals latex. You have cleanliness that exceeds latex. You have superior chemical compatibility. I didn't mention it with latex, but latex gloves are only good with acids.

It's not good with solvents. A nitrile glove is good with both solvents and acids. And so a nitrile glove has full chemical compatibility. And finally cost. The surprising thing is, nitrile early on was four times the price of latex. When it was first introduced,

there was a four times price delta. About a year ago, there was parity between nitrile and latex. Now, because of the global latex shortage and the fact that when the economy really crashed in 2008, they didn't plant rubber trees.

It takes seven years from the time you plant a tree until a tree is full producing. That's contributing to a latex shortage. The explosion of the car industry and the cosmetics industry in India and China is contributing to the latex shortage.

So there's a global latex shortage, which means that even though from a cleanliness standpoint, latex is dirtier than nitrile, the latex substrate material is more expensive than the nitrile material. So now there are still people that are paying for latex.

They're paying a premium for a glove that isn't as clean, doesn't have as much chemical compatibility, is comparable in terms of comfort, right? In construction, it's very similar. So the $64,000 dollar question is, why are there still people using latex?

And that's the biggest challenge that we have, is that people get complacent. They just get stuck. Because a lot of people looked at nitrile gloves ten years ago when the case of nitrile gloves was $400 and a case of latex was $100.

And they said, “Wow, I really like the nitrile. It's cleaner than my latex. It has better chemical compatibility. It's about as comfortable. But the cost, I can't justify the cost.” So there's a huge opportunity to re-educate people to make them aware that, “Hey, now you can buy a cleaner glove for a lower price.”

So the industry started with PVC in the 60’s, 70’s. In the eighties and the nineties and the new millennium, it went to latex. Ultra clean facilities did go to nitrile eight, nine, ten years ago, but now in the 2010’s, most facilities can and should migrate to nitrile.

It's cleaner than latex and lower cost. Thank you.

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