Nitrile vs. Latex Gloves: What’s the Difference?

Nitrile and latex are two of the most common types of general-use disposable gloves. Choose the best material for protecting your hands.

Single-use gloves aren’t an essential accessory on most days, but they can be an effective illness-preventing measure. When you should wear gloves depends on what you’re doing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The type of disposable gloves you wear is up to you. Gloves used as personal protective equipment (PPE) are made of many different materials; some are used in chemical laboratories, while others are best for medical workers. Nitrile and latex are two of the most common materials for general-use disposable gloves. Before deciding between nitrile vs. latex, there are a few questions to answer: What are nitrile gloves, and how do they compare to latex?

What Are Nitrile and Latex Gloves Used For?

PPE, such as a face mask, is most often used by people who work with the public, including lifeguards, first responders and healthcare providers. When it comes to nitrile vs. latex, both serve the same basic purpose. Latex and nitrile gloves are lightweight, stretchy hand coverings that protect the wearer from direct contact with whatever they may touch, which defends first aid and healthcare providers from bloodborne pathogens. They can also prevent foodborne illnesses and skin irritation caused by household cleaners, as well as the spread of infectious diseases.

The CDC recommends wearing PPE when caring for someone who is sick and when sanitizing and disinfecting your home. Frequently-touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches and countertops harbor tons of germs, and the cleaning products that actually disinfect can be harsh on your skin.

While disposable gloves help keep you safe by blocking direct skin contact, they are not the most effective way to prevent getting sick. The most important protective measure is frequent and thorough hand washing. Always wash your hands with soap and water after removing gloves. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend reusing or washing disposable gloves or other disposable PPE — effectiveness wanes with repeated use.

Why Would Someone Choose Nitrile vs. Latex?

Although nitrile and latex gloves are incredibly common forms of PPE, there are a few reasons why you might pick one over the other. The first is whether you or anyone in your household has a latex allergy. Use of latex gloves can cause a rash, hives, swelling and more when used by someone with a latex sensitivity. Gloves made from “synthetic materials, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), nitrile, or polyurethane,” are safer for people with latex allergies, according to the FDA.

Latex gloves are popular due to their elasticity and comfort, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guide to personal protective equipment. Nitrile gloves, on the other hand, are more durable and resistant to punctures and chemicals. Overall, nitrile gloves may be the more versatile option. Whichever you choose, always stock protective gloves in your garage, shop or cleaning cupboard to keep your hands safe and sanitary.