Ever wondered how your nitrile gloves get to be so sturdy? Or what goes into the process of making gloves?
We’ve found that when it comes to gloves (nitrile included), how it’s made makes a world of difference in the final product. Here’s a review of what goes into the making of each nitrile glove and how to find the perfect pair of nitrile gloves for your team.
What is Nitrile?
First, it helps to understand what nitrile actually is.
Nitrile, sometimes called nitrile butadiene rubber, is a copolymer of butadiene and acrylonitrile. A copolymer is simply a polymer made up of two or more monomer species, created by bonding the monomers together on a molecular level through a process called copolymerization.
This is important for nitrile, because it derives several key benefits from both butadiene and acrylonitrile. Butadiene provides nitrile’s famed flexibility and puncture resistance (three times as puncture resistant as latex), while acrylonitrile enhances the chemical resistance.
How are Latex, Nitrile, and Vinyl Gloves Different?
This is also important to understand because it makes nitrile chemically unique from latex or vinyl. Technically, all three are a variety of rubber gloves. However, unlike latex, nitrile is not made using natural rubber, while vinyl is derived solely from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymers.
These unique chemical qualities are what give each material its benefits as a glove. Latex, for example, is the most flexible of the three, while nitrile is the most durable, and vinyl is the least expensive.
The Benefits of Nitrile Gloves
Thanks to butadiene and acrylonitrile, nitrile gloves have a few unique benefits that you won’t find in other gloves.
First and foremost is nitrile’s tensile strength. Nitrile is one of the most durable glove materials currently on the market, offering three times the durability of latex.
In addition, nitrile offers impressive heat resistance, with a functional temperature range between −40 to 226 °F. This makes nitrile an excellent choice for anyone who needs to handle hot and cold materials for extended periods of time (like dishwashers, for example).
Thanks to acrylonitrile, nitrile gloves offer good general resistance to:
- Weak caustics
- Weak acids
- Some organic solvents
However, nitrile has poor resistance to:
- Aromatic hydrocarbons
- Concentrated acids
- Halogenated hydrocarbons
The net result is a glove that offers good all-around resistance to wear and tear, such as tool handling, machinery, or hot water, along with a certain degree of chemical resistance (like what you would need for general cleaning).
The Manufacturing Process for Nitrile Gloves
So, what goes into making nitrile gloves? The thing about protective gloves is that aside from the chemical composition, they’re generally made using the same process. Here’s how it works.
Producing the Material
First, chemists have to synthesize the material–in this case, molecularly bonding butadiene and acrylonitrile monomers. Again, this is through a common and fairly straightforward process called copolymerization. Once nitrile is synthesized, the raw material goes to a factory for production in gloves.
Producing Protective Gloves
Once the raw materials head to the factory, the process is pretty comparable for latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves, though latex manufacturing has a few critical differences.
The basic process begins with a hand-shaped mold on a conveyor, usually made of ceramic or aluminum. The molds are dipped in hot water with chlorine or bleach and then dried, which gets rid of any lingering residue from previous batches.
Next, the molds are coated in a rubber stick, which means dipping them in calcium nitrate solution (to coagulate the rubber) and calcium carbonate (to keep the gloves from sticking to the molds). After the molds dry, they’re dipped into a tank of nitrile.
At this point, the production process is unique for each material.
In the case of nitrile, the molds are dipped into a tank of nitrile and then a tank of liquid rubber, baked to form, and dried. They may also be exposed to chlorine (which would make them easier to take off) or coated with polymer (which lubricates them).
After coatings are added, the gloves are stripped from their molds. This is usually done by human workers, since nitrile is stickier than latex.
Regulatory and Quality Check
At this point, the gloves are fully manufactured, but they don’t head to the shelves yet. First, they have to be tested. This is when gloves get their protective ratings.
Every glove batch undergoes two tests: a test to ensure it meets regulatory requirements, and a batch test to ensure quality. The regulatory tests ensure that a glove is safe enough to warrant a medical rating (the highest safety rating a glove can achieve), while batch tests ensure quality aligned with standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Ratings are granted based on how many gloves fail the test. For example, if 1.5 out of 100 gloves fail, the glove batch is acceptable for use in medical applications. Industrial-grade glove batches can only have 2.5 gloves per 100 fail.
The tests check pretty much everything about a glove to ensure it’s safe for use. For example, there are sterility tests (which ensure the gloves are sterile), pinhole tests (which check leakage), dimension tests (which check thickness), and aging tests (which check tensile and elongation performance over several hours).
How to Choose the Right Nitrile Disposable Gloves
In other words? When you buy a pair of nitrile gloves with performance ratings from the FDA and ASTM, you’re getting gloves that are tested and proven to perform under pressure.
That said, there is an art to choosing the right nitrile glove for your specific use case. It’s all about understanding what your gloves are made for. Here’s how you can choose the right pair of nitrile protective gloves.
What a Nitrile Glove Protects Against (and When Not to Wear a Nitrile Glove)
First, it’s important to keep in mind what a nitrile glove protects against (and when it falls short). Otherwise, you’re measuring your gloves by the wrong yardstick.
As a material, nitrile naturally excels in tests of tensile strength and durability. It offers some degree of chemical protection, though it is not universal. As such, nitrile will perform best in tasks where you need gloves to hold up to some abuse. Keep in mind that it’s not as flexible as latex, so you sacrifice a bit of dexterity and tactile sensitivity.
Nitrile naturally offers more durability than latex and vinyl at any thickness. However, the thicker the glove, the more protection you get. A glove at or below 2 mil is considered thin, while gloves above 2 mil are considered thick. You get the most tensile strength at 4 mil to 6 mil or higher. Dentists might use 2 mil to 4 mil nitrile gloves, while industrial workers need gloves between 5 mil to 7 mil.
That said, keep in mind that the thicker the glove, the less tactile sensitivity. This is fine if you prioritize protection, but if you need to feel what you’re doing, opt for a thinner glove. This is why medical workers and dentists use thinner gloves, while workers who just need to protect their hands opt for a much thicker glove.
Best Industries for Nitrile Gloves
Because nitrile is the heavyweight champion of durability tests, it performs best in industries that demand a highly durable, highly puncture-resistant glove. Industrial workers are the best example of this, along with mechanics and dentists.
That said, the combination of durability with temperature resistance makes it a good choice for dishwashers or anyone who repeatedly handles hot and cold materials throughout their shift. It can also be a great choice for general cleaning services, since it’s durable enough to stand up to a long day and offers enough chemical resistance to get around most general use cleaning supplies.
Fit Translates to Function
Last but not least, pay attention to how the glove fits.
In general, because nitrile is less flexible than latex, you can expect nitrile gloves to be more fitted (as opposed to vinyl food service gloves, which are quite loose and only intended to provide a basic protective barrier).
A good nitrile glove will be designed similarly to a classic latex glove, with a stretchy fit over the hand combined with a loose cuff. This will make it easy to put on or take off the gloves, but it also ensures a non-slip wet or dry grip while you work.
Nitrile Gloves Your Whole Team Can Trust
Once you know how nitrile gloves are made, it’s that much easier to select the perfect nitrile gloves for the job. That’s where we come in, with nitrile gloves designed like the most comfortable latex glove and tested to meet rigorous FDA and ASTM testing standards. Better still, you get great performance for a great value. What more could you ask for in a glove?
If you’re ready to order, be sure to add your nitrile gloves to your cart. Or, if you’re ordering for your whole organization, our customer service team will be happy to set up a wholesale order.