Disposable gloves have gone from the industrial world, and become a staple in many homes across America.
It’s not a good thing to have, especially when there are at least four durable alternatives that meet nearly every single at-home need imaginable.
Disposable gloves are required for a lot of things in our lives: they’re absolutely necessary to treat patients in hospitals and hold biohazardous waste, they’re necessary in food processing where we rely on clean food to keep us safe and healthy, and while there are better alternatives that will crop up in the future, right now that is unavoidable.
When it comes to your home, you have the power to prevent littering and immense plastic waste.
These alternatives are meant to be reused as much as possible to mitigate environmental damage and waste.
You can still keep your home clean, prepare food in a clean manner (since it’s non-commercial use and you aren’t held up to FDA standards), all without enlarging your carbon footprint.
- 1 1. Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)
- 2 2. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- 3 3. Neoprene Gloves
- 4 4. Spectra
- 5 Understanding the Types of Disposable Gloves and Why They’re Not a Good Option
1. Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)
PVA gloves are very situationally specific.
For instance, if they meet alcohol, they will begin to dissolve (which is ironic given their name). If they go into water, they might begin to degrade.
These are lightweight gloves that can work well against in-home cleaning chemicals, as well as preventing cuts and abrasions.
If you’re using any tool or chemicals to clean in your home, these will help preserve your skin and prevent chemical burns.
2. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
We know PVC as a toxic plastic that you don’t want to find in the environment.
As such, it’s best to get high quality PVC gloves so you can have them forever, so you won’t add to plastic pollution in oceans and landfills.
With that responsibility in mind, PVC gloves can be absolutely excellent for a number of reasons.
These are used commercially to protect workers and processors from chemicals, oils, and are extremely puncture resistant.
PVC gloves may feel a little bit stiff, but that’s the thick polymer at work that prevents sharp objects from getting through.
If you’re using a safety razor or knife to scrape something during cleaning, it’s not going to slice your glove is you slip up and graze it. For this, they’re effective at personal preservation.
3. Neoprene Gloves
You may know neoprene as the water-resistant lining in your winter gloves or jacket, but there’s a much better use of neoprene.
Fully neoprene gloves (the ones that are clearly labeled as being safe for this) are resistant against chemicals and abrasions.
If you skid your glove against the side of a cabinet or on a countertop, abrasion and pressure isn’t going to damage the gloves or split and cause the chemicals to get on your skin.
These can be used in home cleaning, for safety when painting, and even if you decide to dye your own clothes at home with natural dyes.
There’s a lot of applications, and these will last you for as long as you take care of them. The only thing you need to worry about is mold buildup from excessive and constant sweating. If these can’t be machine washed, then find a way to clean and air dry them.
Spectra is a very specific brand and proprietary material that isn’t open to the market, but are purchasable for a low cost.
These are used primarily in food processing, which is not the entire food sector. These gloves can be bleached and cleaned over and over again, and be used for a decade or more before degrading.
Food processing usually has to do with raw food, such as chicken, fish, and other meats. These can pose the risk of salmonella is not handled properly. Prepared foods, or RTE (ready to eat) foods are a different thing entirely, which is where single-use gloves are primarily used.
Understanding the Types of Disposable Gloves and Why They’re Not a Good Option
We told you that you should stay away from disposable gloves, but now it’s time to explain why, and in full detail.
Nitrile is a synthetic rubber, one that is usually seen as the alternative to latex, as some people can have potentially fatal latex allergies.
Nitrile is one of the most puncture-resistant disposable gloves available for purchase, which is why they’re often used in food processing and medical facilities.
If you see a glove that’s being called medical grade, it’s likely to contain nitrile. You could take a lot of different things to a nitrile glove and still not puncture it, due to the hyper elasticity.
These are perfect to use in situations where infection is a risk.
Latex is one of the most common glove types, though it can cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction, which is why vinyl and nitrile exist as alternatives.
Latex gloves are typically more comfortable for the wearer, and have a wide range of protective properties.
They’re one of the most cost-effective methods, which is why you’ll see them used nearly everywhere, and why you find the question about latex allergies on your medical forms. If they can be used, they will be used to cut costs.
Vinyl is wildly inexpensive, but cannot be used for medical grade reasons like latex and nitrile gloves can.
Vinyl is anti-static, free from latex (making them safe for use with prepared foods), and have the least harmful environmental impact.
These offer the least protection, because they are meant to be used for a few minutes to maybe two hours before being discarded. They fit loosely, cannot be used with chemicals, and are the least tear or puncture-resistant of any glove material.
A ridiculously long decay period.
They’re all made out of some form of polymer, which takes a literal millennium to degrade in nature.
Synthetic polymers (not naturally occurring in nature, like wool, cotton or leather) cannot break down from microorganisms like organic materials can. Instead, they rely almost entirely on ultraviolet rays from the sun.
That means that if they end up in the middle of a landfill with no sunlight coming through, there’s no telling how long they could take to decompose.
Another thing is that regardless of the material, you cannot have a 100% nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves.
There are other additives at work, which can make up to 10% of the chemical composition of the gloves.
What’s worse is that these chemicals that take up 1/10 of the glove’s makeup could actually be more harmful for the environment than everything else in the gloves.
Since these gloves are designed to be used for a short period of time, the chemicals associated with them don’t have to have the same 1,000 year lifespan that the synthetic polymers do.
Instead, they break down in a few years after being introduced to a landfill, at which point they bleed into the soil, poison that soil, and eventually wash away to a body of water, destroying everything in its path and threatening marine life.
Can These Alternatives Cause Allergic Reactions?
The bounds of allergies are absolutely insane.
Some people can be allergic to chicken, which is a very rare allergy, and some people are even allergic to water.
The same can be said for any of the alternative disposable glove types that we’ve discussed here today.
While it’s not common in the slightest, you can have an adverse reaction to PVC, though it usually does not lead to anaphylaxis.
Having an anaphylactic reaction is potentially fatal is not treated right away, where your throat will close and not allow air or liquid into your body.
Even if you don’t have allergies that could produce an anaphylactic reaction, there are still other problems associated with plastics.
Excessive exposure to plastics can cause children and young adults to develop eczema and asthma, two conditions that sit with you for the rest of your life.
It’s one more reason why disposable gloves are not good for practice in your home, and why you should minimize your contact with prepared foods that have been handled with disposable gloves.
How Long do Alternative Gloves Last?
You’ll see shelf lives or expiration dates on multiple glove types, including PVC and PVA, because after a while they are deemed to be less effective.
This isn’t even FDA-regulated like other expiration dates are, it’s simply a preventative measure for most gloves that may be used in food processing or medical use.
Since these gloves don’t degrade for a thousand years, you can reasonably expect them to last a lot longer than the five-year shelf life that most of them are branded with.
If you get gloves that are designated to be reusable, storing them properly is the key to their longevity. Clean them thoroughly, air dry them, and store them in a cool dry place between uses.