Disposable gloves are standard equipment in the medical, food prep, and cleaning industries. They’re an inexpensive way to protect hands from harmful chemicals, bacteria, viruses, dirt, and other health threats. But disposable gloves aren’t just for the pros. Keep a box of them on hand at home to keep your hands sanitary and germ-free for routine household tasks ranging from cleaning to gardening.
Single-use gloves come in a range of materials and types and have differing levels of protection, comfort, and durability. This guide breaks down these shopping considerations to help you find the best disposable gloves for you.
Types of Disposable Gloves
There are four basic materials used to make disposable gloves, and each is designed for specific purposes. The material determines the gloves’ protection level and the task for which they’re best suited. All disposable gloves offer some protection against germs, stains, and harsh chemicals.
Latex is a versatile material made from natural rubber. It offers the most comfort, flexibility, fit, and tactile sensitivity in a glove. Latex is a good option for those who want gloves that fit like a second skin. They offer protection against microorganisms and are favored for first aid tasks and gardening.
The biggest downside to latex is that some people are allergic to it, so wearing a pair of latex gloves can cause them to break out in a rash. Latex is not resistant to all chemicals, but it can stand up to most acids, bases, chlorine, iodine, and formaldehyde. It’s a biodegradable material made from a renewable resource, so used latex gloves won’t sit in a landfill for years.
Nitrile is the most versatile material used in disposable gloves. It’s available in many thicknesses and is hypoallergenic, so it’s safe for those with a latex allergy. Nitrile is resistant to most household chemicals and is not easily punctured or ripped. It’s safe to use in tasks that deal with sharp items, like cleaning up glass shards. Nitrile gloves are flexible, durable, and offer protection against bacteria and viruses. Nitrile gloves come in a variety of colors that indicate their uses and protection levels. Blue nitrile gloves are a standard in the medical industry, for example, while black nitrile gloves are used in the automotive business.
Vinyl gloves are best suited for low-risk tasks like food prep, cooking, serving, and housekeeping. Vinyl is naturally anti-static, an advantage when you’re working with wires and cords, and they provide dexterity. Vinyl offers little chemical resistance, but for low-risk tasks where gloves are needed for short periods, vinyl gloves are a great low-cost option.
Poly or polyethylene gloves are an inexpensive solution for food preparation or other low-risk tasks where you don’t need precise dexterity in your hands. They are often over-sized and do not offer a tight, close fit. Poly gloves are suitable for household tasks such as food prepping that require you to change gloves frequently because they’re easy to pull off. They’re not suitable for medical purposes or contact with chemicals. They are primarily used for food handling or other light-duty tasks. Vinyl gloves are hypoallergenic and powder-free. They’re the least expensive disposable glove option.
What to Consider When Buying Disposable Gloves
The level of protection you’ll get from disposable gloves depends on factors beyond the material type. Factors including thickness, durability, size, and fit must also be taken into consideration. Keep the following factors in mind when choosing the best disposable gloves for you.
How you intend to use disposable gloves affects the choice in material, and to a lesser extent, the durability and thickness of the gloves. When shopping for single-use gloves, you may want to purchase different types for specific tasks around the house, such as nitrile gloves for cleaning the bathroom, and vinyl ones for preparing food. Consider whether the tasks you plan to wear them for carry a risk of coming in contact with harmful microorganisms, in which case you should go with latex or nitrile gloves. On the other hand, if keeping your hands clean from dirt, grime, or other low-risk substances is your primary concern, vinyl and poly gloves should suffice.
Durability & Thickness
Disposable gloves come in a range of thicknesses measured in mils. A mil is one-thousandth of an inch of thickness, or gauge. Most disposable gloves for household use have a gauge of between 2 and 8 mils. Thinner gauge gloves—between 2 and 4 mils—allow better dexterity and flexibility, but are not as durable. Thicker gloves—6 mils and up—are not as flexible, but offer more protection.
Gloves that don’t fit properly are less comfortable and will have a tougher time protecting your hands. A properly fitted glove will have gripping power and reduce hand fatigue. Materials like latex and nitrile offer more flexibility in hand movement than vinyl or poly gloves.
Most disposable glove sizes range from extra small to extra large. Measure your hand to make sure you buy the right size. Wrap a tape measure around your palm at its widest point and take your measurement in inches. This will give you an estimate of the size you need. Common glove sizings are:
- XS: 7 inches
- S: 7-1/2 to 8 inches
- M: 8-1/2 to 9 inches
- L: 9-1/2 to 10 inches
- XL: 10-1/2 to 11 inches
Powder-Free vs. Powdered
Some disposable latex, nitrile, and vinyl gloves have cornstarch powder added, which makes them easier to put on and prevents gloves from sticking together and to your skin. They’re referred to as powdered gloves and are specified as such in their packaging.
Powder-free gloves can be harder to remove, and it can be difficult to get a firm grip on a small item in a powder-free glove. In general, powder-free gloves are more expensive than powdered ones. Powder-free options usually come with better resistance to chemicals, water, and oil as well.
Since disposable gloves usually fit snugly against your skin, they can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. Latex gloves are more likely to cause irritation than other materials because some people are allergic to latex. Nitrile, vinyl, poly, and neoprene are less likely to cause allergic reactions or skin irritation.
Powdered gloves may also cause irritation, but there are plenty of non-powdered disposable gloves available. If you have sensitive skin, stick with non-powder disposable gloves in nitrile and vinyl.
Our Top Picks
Disposable gloves are rated for industrial, medical, or food usage, so select the gloves based on the household task you intend to use them for. These recommendations reflect some of the best disposable gloves available in their respective categories.