All About Medical Gloves

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Throughout history, infectious diseases have been part and parcel of the human experience. Ever since the Middle Ages, we have known that some infections have the capacity of passing from person to person. Therefore, the wise medic will take measures to protect themselves from becoming the next victims.

I’ve written frequently over the last decade or so about the importance of personal protection gear in good times or bad. Mostly, those discussions were centered around face masks. Today, let’s talk about medical gloves, an item that should be in good supply in everyone’s survival medical storage. You’ll be using gloves more often than masks when performing medical tasks. In busy hospitals, it’s estimated that caregivers in busy centers change gloves 80-160 times a day.

The first disposable gloves (made from rubber) used for medical procedures were introduced by Dr. William Stewart Halstead, first chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, around the year 1890.

Note: Some of the “mosquito” hemostatic clamps we use in our medical kits are also called “Halstead clamps.”

Now, most gloves are made from latex, nitrile, or vinyl:

Latex: Latex gloves are made of natural rubber and are thought to have the highest level of comfort and flexibility. They provide good defense against bacteria and viruses and many surgeons prefer them because of their sensitivity.

Nitrile: Nitrile gloves are made of synthetic materials and provide excellent protection against viruses and chemical exposure. They are stretchy, durable, and puncture-resistant. Nitrile is the best option for those with latex allergies or who may have patients with latex allergies, an issue becoming more common every year.

Vinyl: Made of polyvinyl chloride, vinyl gloves provide good protection against nonhazardous chemical exposure and are cost-effective. They tend, however, to be less elastic and not fit as well.

Gloves are often separated into exam gloves and surgical gloves. Non-sterile exam gloves are used for evaluating patients, performing blood tests, and disinfecting. They usually come is sizes from small to extra-large.

Surgical gloves are used for medical procedures and must meet higher quality standards. They come in more precise sizing than regular exam gloves in order to increase tactile sensitivity. If you’re the medic, it’s helpful to know what size fits you. Surgical gloves are often numbered, with the most common sizes ranging from 6 to 8 ½.

Tips for choosing gloves are pretty basic: Find one that fits well and is designed for the intended use. Check each glove for any punctures or tears. Once gloves are on, avoid touching anything but the area that is at issue. In most cases, gloves are meant to be used once only and then safely disposed. Reasons to use a fresh pair include:

  • Between patients or tasks.
  • When gloves become dirty or contaminated.
  • When gloves get torn.
  • When gloves have been used for four consecutive hours.
  • After sneezing, coughing, or touching one’s hair or face.
  • During dressing changes between removing the old dressing and placing a new one (between any contaminated procedure and a clean procedure).


In normal times, all exam and surgical gloves should be discarded after use, a good reason for the family medic to have a plentiful supply. In survival scenarios, however, they’ll eventually be expended and no fresh supplies will exist. Is there a way that medical gloves can be disinfected and reused?

Some controversially suggest that, in austere settings where no new supply of gloves is forthcoming, a 0.5% chloride solution may be employed to disinfect them so they may be reused. First wash gloves with soap and water to remove visible contamination. This may be best performed while still wearing the gloves. Remove gloves then add one part 3.5% plain bleach to six parts water and soak for ten minutes. For stronger disinfection, use a pressure cooker at 15 psi for 20 minutes and allow to dry in the container. Be aware that this may degrade the gloves in a percentage of cases.

A Turkish study found that liquid soaps containing 4% chlorhexidine and 7.5% povidone-iodine effectively eliminated all pathogens. Another study, conducted by Johns Hopkins Hospital, found that disposable gloves could be most effectively disinfected using an alcoholic-based chlorhexidine. In fact, some research suggests that disposable gloves can be disinfected several times (up to 10!) using these types of solutions. If going from patient to patient, wash with soap and water and sanitize while on the hands.

If cleaning and reusing gloves is the only option, examine each glove carefully after disinfection to determine if there are tears, punctures, or other evidence of deterioration. When putting on and removing gloves, make every effort to avoid touching the outside of the glove. In any case where contamination is caused by blood or feces, discard the gloves.

It should be noted that gloves do not replace proper handwashing. Wash and dry hands before putting on a pair and when replacing with new ones.

Joe Alton MD

Dr. Alton

If you believe in our mission to put a medically prepared person in every family, please check out Nurse Amy’s entire line of quality medical kits (some one-of-a-kind), individual supplies, and personal protection gear at You’ll be glad you did.

Coming Soon! More on this in the near future.

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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