THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF GLOVE MATERIALS: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
What are gloves made out of? Let’s first stress this is a complex answer to a relatively simple question most would consider. Protecting today’s modern-day workers from all the potential workplace hazards requires a wide assortment of options. So asking us which glove material makes up most of our gloves opens up a lengthy discussion.
Work gloves are essential for protecting workers’ hands across almost every industry. They are made from different materials to cater to specific tasks, hazards, and environments. As you can imagine, our glove portfolio has ballooned to over 1,000 gloves utilizing many different materials over time. Today, MCR Safety’s work glove lineup consists of roughly 49 materials, utilizing numerous synthetic coatings, man-made fibers, and organic materials. The list of glove materials runs from natural, such as bamboo and cotton, to synthetic string knit materials, such as DuPont™ Kevlar®.
How did we reach a point where 40+ glove materials were necessary for producing work gloves? Until 1970, leather, cotton, and jersey fabrics represented most of the industry’s hand protection offerings. We encourage you to read our OHS article, The Golden Era of Hand Protection, which provides a historical overview of how we got here. We are in the Golden Age of protecting people’s hands!
In general, the different materials improve a glove in one of three areas:
- Better comfort
- Better fit
- Better overall protection
So, what are gloves made out of? We will keep this article short as possible and only cover some of the most requested materials for gloves. Let’s start highlighting the best materials for gloves!
High-Performance Cut-Resistant Material
Many work gloves incorporate high-performance cut-resistant fibers, essential for workers in industries that involve handling sharp objects. High-Performance materials provide users with the most significant protection. Because of their enhanced features, there has been a progressive shift to utilizing more seamless knit shells as liners.
Since OSHA was founded in 1970, the quality of PPE technology has significantly improved, most notably with the advent of recent cut-resistant technologies. High-performance work gloves offer enhanced abrasion, cut, tear, thermal, and puncture resistance protection. The most common, DuPont™ Kevlar® and DSM Dyneema®, are covered more in the next section.
Let’s highlight the most requested high-performance materials in our product lineup.
Aramid fibers create gloves made from a strong, lightweight synthetic fiber that provides exceptional cut and puncture resistance. They are often used in industries that handle sharp objects like glass and metal. Manufacturing industries, such as automotive, are heavy users of aramid-based products.
KEVLAR® fibers withstand temperatures of up to 900° F, making it ideal for cut hazards that involve heat. Its tensile strength is five times stronger than steel in its ability to withstand the amount of tension applied.
HPPE fibers utilize ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers, providing excellent cut and abrasion resistance without sacrificing hand movement. They are used heavily in food processing, metal fabrication, and glass handling industries.
Recognized for being 15X stronger than steel, with excellent abrasion and cut protection levels. Dyneema is recognized as our premium HPPE fiber, achieving superior comfort and protection. Additionally, when combined with fiberglass or steel, it achieves even higher levels of cut resistance.
Leather is a traditional and popular material for work gloves. It offers excellent durability, abrasion resistance, and heat resistance. Often overlooked characteristics include absorbing shock and providing good puncture resistance. Below is a good look at the core advantages of leather material.
- Grain leather is the external portion of the hide and provides a smooth, soft, and comfortable leather. Grain leather allows for better hand movement and a sense of touch. It is priced higher than split leather due to its demand from the automobile, furniture, sporting industry, and apparel market.
- The split leather comes from the inner portion of the hide closest to the flesh. Leather’s strength is due to the density of fibers and will vary depending on which portion of the hide is used. Split leather is valued due to its abundance and diversity.
The most common leather glove types are cowhide, goatskin, pigskin, deerskin, and synthetic leather. Each type of leather offers its benefits.
For more details of leather types, pls check another related article: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LEATHER GLOVES.
Cotton work gloves are known for being lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. The traditional cut-n-sewn cotton glove was one of the first-hand protection offerings ever offered and a staple product recognized for protecting workers’ hands. Unfortunately, they offer minimal protection due to limited cut resistance. However, they are a budget-friendly option for general-purpose environments, protect products handled, and provide moderate heat protection. Cotton gloves are a go-to for handling light materials, inspection areas, oil and gas operations, and packaging products.
New introductions include cotton canvas, double palm, and dotted double palm styles available in high visibility yellow, green, or orange fabrics. Below are some common areas in which each cotton style is used.
- Lisle/inspectors: Keeps oil and grease off products, computer chips, low lint applications, cosmetics, electronics, film processing, and pharmacy.
- Chore gloves or Quilted Fleece: Farming, oilfields, and foundries.
- Double palms: Oilfields, foundries, and light heat applications.
- Hot mill: Medium heat applications and some foundry operations.
Rubber Glove Materials
What gloves are made from synthetic rubber? Let’s first stress that latex and rubber are closely related but different. Latex is natural rubber; however, rubber applies to a broader class of materials that can be natural or synthetic. Synthetic rubbers can be made from petrochemicals and can be manufactured differently from latex.
Latex is a natural rubber harvested from the sap of rubber trees, particularly the Hevea Brasillensis, via a process known as tapping. It is a milky white sap-like substance trapped beneath the bark of rubber trees. Over 80% of all latex gloves are made in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Malaysia alone produces over 60%. Once collected, it becomes preserved in ammonia and used in manufacturing.
The work gloves made from latex offer users excellent flexibility and elasticity, exceptional fit and comfort, and exceptional tear resistance.
What is nitrile? The unique properties of nitrile polymer result from its chemical structure, consisting of acrylonitrile and butadiene. The existence of the nitrile (CN) group in the acrylonitrile units gives the polymer its excellent resistance to oil, fuel, and other chemicals, while the butadiene units contribute to its flexibility and high tensile strength.
Often considered the “jack-of-all-trades” polymer because of its wide usage across industries due to its resistance to oil, water, and chemicals. It is known as the workhorse of industrial industries and is commonly referred to as nitrile-butadiene rubber (NBR) and is the go-to polymer when oil is involved.
Nitrile work gloves are primarily known for being strong, durable, and latex free.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a thermoplastic substance known as vinyl. It was first discovered in 1835. However, it took scientists over ninety years to find a use for this material. PVC is produced by polymerizing vinyl chloride and adding plasticizers to unstiffen the material, making it softer. It’s the economical solution for industries that only require protection for short periods in general-purpose areas and frequently change out PPE.
Vinyl is not PVC. It’s a specific type of plastic made from PVC resin, creating gloves known for affordability and ease of use. Essentially, they are in the same family, but not the same thing.
PVC work gloves are primarily known for being a durable glove, yet also affordable.
Chemically resistant gloves derive from special polymers, such as neoprene or butyl. Neoprene comes from chloroprene rubber, a chemical compound derived from the chlorination of butadiene or isoprene. It contains a high proportion of chlorine atoms, making it resistant to numerous chemicals. Unlike other polymers that excel in a specific area, Neoprene combines many attributes into one polymer: resistance to oil, fuel, continued light exposure, ozone, and oxidization. Neoprene
Neoprene work gloves are primarily known for offering wearers a unique combination of comfort, durability, and excellent chemical, heat, and oil resistance.
PU is one of the most used polymers for coating knitted shells with a lightweight yet durable coating since it provides excellent resistance to abrasion and good resistance to both ANSI cut and puncture environments.
Polyurethane-coated work gloves are known for being lightweight and flexible, offering the best tactile sensitivity and breathability.