A Guide to Chemical-Resistant Gloves

Chemical Resistant Gloves

Chemicals are a necessary part of many employers’ operations. Protecting employees from chemical hazards must always start with following the hierarchy of controls: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and finally personal protective equipment. Elimination often is not feasible as often the chemical is essential to the process and there are no alternative processes that can minimize the exposure. When possible, the employer can substitute less dangerous chemicals, install engineering controls to minimize exposures and implement administrative controls to further reduce exposures. Implementing controls however, does not completely eliminate employee exposure to, severe health hazards from chemicals such as:

– Respiratory injury
– Burns
– Central Nervous System Damage
– Organ Failure
– Sterility
– Blindness
– Cancer
– Death

When exposures exist, there are both moral and legal obligations to protect workers from hazards caused by chemicals. It is important to note: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be the last line of defense offered. Glove selection should be done only after efforts to engineer the problem out and may also include administrative efforts to limit the exposure time of the workers.

Why Chemical Resistant?

Chemical-resistant gloves are essential to protecting employees from hazardous and toxic chemical exposures. They are the final barrier between the employee and a potentially fatal health hazard. Exposure to acid can lead to burns, or even dissolve the employee’s flesh. While this gruesome thought might be the most obvious example of a chemical hazard, it is not the only hazard, nor is it the worst.

Some chemicals can pass through a person’s skin, entering their bloodstream and making their way to vital organs. Victims of these exposures are not always immediately aware there is a problem; they might have only had a small rash or a bit of discomfort where the chemical contacted their skin. What they may not be aware of, though, is the internal damage that the chemical is causing to their bodies. Cancer cells may begin to grow and spread rapidly; tissues in their lungs, heart, kidneys, or liver may be destroyed or mutated, laying the groundwork for organ failure in the future. Some exposures may take years for the symptoms to develop, and for the damage to be identified.

Start with Questions

Before selecting chemical-resistant gloves for a specific use, consider these questions:


      • What types of chemicals are being handled?

      • What is the nature of the contact? Is it total immersion or splashes?

      • What is the duration of contact?

      • Is it just the hand that needs protecting, or the forearm and arm as well?

      • What kind of grip is needed?

    After asking and considering these important questions, you can begin selection.


    Types of Gloves

    Chemical-resistant gloves are made of different materials that each react to chemicals differently, so there is not one type of glove that protects against every chemical exposure. When considering types of gloves, there are a few common terms:

    Breakthrough Time
    The elapsed time between initial contact of the chemical with the glove material and detectable amounts of the chemical on the other side of the material. This time is specific to the chemical and the glove material.

    Permeation Rate
    How quickly a chemical will move through or penetrate clothing or other materials. This is typically measured by micrograms of a chemical transferred through one square centimeter of fabric per minute.

    The continual wearing-down of material – often associated with decomposition. In talking of PPE, it’s important to understand the equipment will wear over time and will not remain in like-new condition.

    A Note on Thickness:
    While thicker USUALLY means greater protection, this is not nearly as important as breakthrough time. A thicker glove might protect you longer (depending on the chemical it’s exposed to) but it also decreases dexterity and mobility. A thick material that does not hold up well to a chemical may provide less protection than a thin glove that is resistant to the effects of the same chemical.

    Synthetic Rubber

    Synthetic rubber offers good protection against peroxides, highly corrosive acids, strong bases, ketones, esters, and nitro compounds. Butyl holds up well to oxidation and abrasion and works well in cold temperatures because it does not stiffen. Best for: Usually corrosive but not ALL corrosives. Best for working with gases as the gloves have a very low permeability rating.


    Generally found to be comfortable and make a good general-purpose glove. They offer protection from water solutions of acids, alkalis, salts, and ketones, have strong elasticity, and function well in cold and hot environments. However, latex allergies can prevent them from being used by some employees. Best for: household chemicals, bio-hazardous exposures, light-duty work for the purpose of keeping hands clean.

    Good for use under a more protective glove to protect your hands from exposure to chemicals on the outer glove when doffing.

    Quick Tip!

    Glove thickness is stated in either mils or gauge. A 10-gauge glove equals 10 mils or 0.010 inches. Check the chemical manufacturer’s test data for the required thickness.



    Very dense and resists tears well. It also is very pliable and allows for better fine manipulation. Generally considered to be superior to latex. Strong and durable, resistant to degradation. Best for: chemicals, oils, corrosives


    Light duty gloves, stronger than latex and a good alternative for those who are allergic to latex gloves. More cut and puncture resistant than latex. Best for: cleaning, food processing, and bio-medical protection.

    Finishes and Linings

    Gloves come with a variety of finishes and linings. Textured finishes are applied to gloves to give a better grip. Flock and knit linings are offered on many styles of gloves. Cotton flock linings are applied for basic perspiration absorption. Knit linings do this too, as well as offer a small amount of temperature protection.

    Inspection and Care

    Even the best chemically resistant gloves break down after chemical exposures. While ideally, each pair of gloves should be used only once when exposed to chemicals, if the gloves are to be used again, they must be inspected for signs of chemical degradation such as swelling, cracking, shrinking or discoloration of the material. If detected, it means the glove material has undergone a physical change due to chemical contact and will no longer provide chemical protection. Also, during the inspection, look for signs of holes or punctures and remove the gloves from service if any are found. For complete care and maintenance instructions, refer to the glove manufacturer’s information.

    Quick Test for Wear:

    Fill the glove with air and seal by rolling the gauntlet towards the fingers. Pression on it firmly, and check the outside of the glove for visible punctures or wear. Continue to apply pressure and see if any air leaks from the glove. This is a simple way to detect punctures that are not clearly visible to the naked eye.


    Deciding which gloves to use and when to use them doesn’t have to be complex. Start by asking simple questions and checking the Safety Data Sheet from the manufacturer. From there, it’s simply a matter of finding a glove that protects against the exposure and allows the employee to perform the job well.

    If you have questions about Chemical Resistant Gloves or any other safety-related questions, feel free to contact us!