The Difference Between Nitrile, Latex and Vinyl Gloves

If you’re planning to buy disposable gloves, it’s important to know which version will best suit your requirements. There are three main types of disposable gloves to select from: nitrile, latex, and vinyl.

Each of these medical gloves has pros and cons and is best suited for different conditions. Selecting the right glove is determined by what you want protected against, your budget, and the quality, durability, and flexibility you require. It is important to understand each glove’s attributes so you select the best style for your specific environment.

Below I’ve rounded up the main attributes, benefits, drawbacks of each type of glove. I’ve also drawn comparisons between specific types which will help if you’re stuck deciding between two of the three types mentioned here. Once you’ve finished reading this article you’ll know all the main differences between nitrile, vinyl and latex gloves.

nitrile vs latex vs vinyl gloves
Nitrile Gloves vs Latex Gloves vs Vinyl Gloves

Image credit: MediSupplyWarehouse

Nitrile Gloves

Many people learnt about the importance of nitrile gloves for the first time during the covid-19 outbreak. This is when gloves became a commonly used form of personal protective equipment. Since the issue of glove quality is a concern in dangerous environments, nitrile stands out as one of the most highly sought after glove materials.

Nitrile is a synthetic rubber that came to prominence as a latex alternative. There are many attributes that make nitrile gloves popular. They are latex-free, and hence do not cause latex allergy reactions. Latex allergy is a big problem for many people who use gloves.

These gloves are more durable than other gloves too. They also offer better chemical resistance than latex and vinyl gloves. For this reason, they are often recommended for handling hazardous and corrosive chemicals. You will often find them being used in labs and workshops.

Nitrile material offers exceptional puncture-resistance as well, making these gloves suitable for rough environments. Other attributes making nitrile gloves stand out are a comfortable fit and long shelf life. They can be worn for an extended period without compromising protection.

Nitrile gloves do offer slightly less protection against bacteria and viruses compared to latex gloves. Due to this, often latex is used in their place if surgeons or front line staff have no latex allergies. Another disadvantage of nitrile is that is dissolves if it comes into contact with acetone. Nitrile is perfect however for handling pharmaceuticals drugs as well as many other industrial uses.

You will usually find nitrile gloves in blue, however they are also available from some brands such as Intco and Kimberly-Clark in other colors including black, purple, and pink. Darker colors make it easier to identify a puncture.

Latex Gloves

Latex gloves have been around for over a century. Their use can be traced back to the 1880s, when they were first used in hospitals. For decades, latex gloves have been used to reduce exposure to contaminants and diseases. They gained popularity during the HIV panic of the 1980s and early 1990s.

This type of glove is still a popular choice for medical and industrial use. The issue of latex allergic reaction still remains a major drawback however. Latex is a natural rubber that can cause allergic reactions to the wearer. This is the main driving factor that has led to the popularity of nitrile gloves. When allergy is not a concern, latex stands out as the best choice. This is because of several attributes and advantages latex have over other materials.

Latex material fits like a second skin and has a higher degree of touch sensitivity than nitrile or vinyl. These gloves are very elastic, and thus they fit to the hand very well. The natural rubber can be worn for a long time as long as long as there are no allergies, making them perfect for arduous, long, and difficult surgeries.

Latex offers the best protection against bacteria and viruses of our three glove choices. They do however, offer less protection against chemicals. You can’t rely on them when handling certain hazardous chemicals. High-quality latex gloves usually come lightly powdered for ease when putting them on.

The above attributes make latex gloves ideal for high-risk environments such as hospitals when staff can tolerate wearing the material. They are often used gloves in operating rooms, emergency, and recovery rooms.

Vinyl Gloves

Vinyl gloves are another type of disposable glove that can be used for medical and industrial use. As the name suggests, they are made from PVC material. They are inexpensive to manufacture and hence, more affordable than both nitrile and vinyl.

Vinyl gloves are less durable than the other two types, however. They also do not provide as strong protection against bacteria and viruses. Because of these lower protection levels, they are not well suited for use in high-risk environments. They are a good choice for industrial use however, especially in the food industry.

Vinyl gloves are perfect for non-hazardous environments, where protection is not a huge concern. Apart from the food industry, they are often also used for handling pharaceutical drugs. There are several other attributes that make these gloves a great choice for some buyers, but the main one is their price point. They are cheaper to manufacture and purchase, than either nitrile or latex. They are also latex-free, so no latex related allergic reactions will occur.

Vinyl gloves are lightly powdered for easier wear and removal. Since they are the cheapest of the three types of gloves, they make the best choice for purchasers on a budget who aren’t in high-risk environments. For a cheaper option for use in a suited environments, buyers will usually opt for vinyl gloves to save on expense.

nitrile vs latex gloves
nitrile vs latex gloves
Nitrile Gloves compared to Latex Gloves

Image credit: MediSupplyWarehouse

Nitrile Gloves vs. Latex Gloves

The biggest glove debate rages between these two types of disposable gloves.

Often people confuse them, believing them to be the same, but they are completely different materials. In fact, the use of ‘synthetic latex’ which you sometimes see, referring to nitrile material, is misleading. There is nothing latex about nitrile, and there are many features that set the two gloves types apart.

Nitrile has several advantages over latex material and vice versa. Nitrile gloves have higher durability than latex. It also offers better protection against chemicals than latex gloves, and provides slightly better puncture resistance.

Nitrile Gloves compared to Latex Gloves

Image credit: MediSupplyWarehouse

Conversely, latex gloves offer better dexterity and protection against viruses and bacteria. They are also biodegradable and usually slightly cheaper than nitrile. Where protection against bacteria and viruses is a major factor, latex gloves are the best — that is, as long as the wearers aren’t allergic to the material. Above is a graphic representation of Nitrile Gloves vs. Latex Gloves rating each for durability, touch sensitivity, comfort, stretchiness, virus protection, bacterial protection, chemical resistance and affordability.

Nitrile Gloves vs. Vinyl Gloves

Nitrile is, without a doubt, a superior material to vinyl for gloves, judging on overall features. Nitrile gloves are more durable and offer a higher level of comfort than vinyl gloves. There are however, some areas where vinyl gloves do score better than nitrile.

It’s proven that nitrile offers better resistance against viruses and chemicals. If you are handling harsh chemicals, nitrile would be the best gloves to wear out of these two. Vinyl does perform better in overall chemical resistance than latex gloves, and they aren’t far below nitrile on the scale, so this small difference may not matter too much to buyers.

Vinyl gloves offer almost exactly the same level of bacterial protection and tactile sensitivity as nitrile, but at a much cheaper price. If it doesn’t matter to you if the gloves you purchase are inelastic and a little loose fitting, vinyl might be your best choice. Below is a graphical representation of this data so you can make a more visual comparison.

nitrile vs vinyl gloves
nitrile vs vinyl gloves
Nitrile Gloves compared to Vinyl Gloves

Image credit: MediSupplyWarehouse

Latex Gloves vs. Vinyl Gloves

Both latex and vinyl gloves are great when used in the environments to which they are best suited. Latex gloves are perfect for medical use (unless the people wearing them have allergies to latex) and vinyl is well suited to industrial use. There are several unique features that differentiate these gloves. For example, latex gloves are more durable compared to vinyl.

Latex material offers higher touch sensitivity and better comfort than vinyl. When compared in terms of virus and bacteria protection, latex performs better. This is why latex medical exam gloves are widely used in operating rooms, which are high-risk environments.

If you need a more stretchy glove, then latex material again stands out against vinyl. However, vinyl gloves stand out on chemical resistance and affordability. They’re not really suitable for use in high-risk environments however, due to the limited protection they offer against viruses and bacteria mostly due to their looser fit. Below we have a visual comparison comparing latex gloves to vinyl gloves.

latex vs vinyl gloves
latex vs vinyl gloves
Latex Gloves vs Vinyl Gloves

Image credit: MediSupplyWarehouse

Different Varieties of Disposable Gloves

The three main types of medical gloves, as discussed above, come in multiple different forms. Below, we discuss and compared options available for nitrile, vinyl and latex gloves.

Powdered and Powder-Free Gloves

Powder is widely used in latex and vinyl gloves to help get rid of static energy. This is the energy created when the glove material rubs the skin when wearing or removing the gloves. The charge increases the friction, and this can increase the likelihood of tearing or puncturing.

The Difference Between Powdered and Powder-Free Gloves

Powdered gloves are easier to put on and remove. The powder can however, for some people, cause irritation to the skin. It can also impede healing if it comes into contact with broken skin tissue. That’s why there are also powder-free gloves on the market.

Powder-free gloves cause no addditional reactions. These gloves are also cleaner since they do not leave residue after removal. Strangely, it is not uncommon to find powder-free gloves at a slightly higher price than powdered gloves.

Chlorinated and Non-Chlorinated Gloves

Chlorination is an option provided for powder-free disposable gloves. The gloves are exposed to chlorine gas to harden the surface and reduce friction. The idea is to make them easy to put on without worrying about allergic reactions. So, this is an alternative to the powdering of disposable gloves.

The Difference Between Chlorinated and Non-Chlorinated Gloves

Chlorinated latex does not cause latex allergic reaction, making these gloves usable by anyone. In fact, this is one of the reasons why this type of gloves is gaining popularity . Those with latex allergies can now use late gloves without fear of irritation or itching. There are some drawbacks too however, non-chlorinated gloves they have less of a chemical odour.

Chlorinated gloves also have a shorter lifespan. The acidic component in chlorine eats away the material over time. Within a year of manufacturing, the gloves will become brittle and useless. Non-chlorinated gloves (without powder) are harder to put on, however.

Other Gloves Options

There are other types of disposable gloves but these are usually harder to find available in large quantities. Uncommon options are also a bit more expensive when they are available due to their unique features. One of these is chemotherapy gloves. These are a special type of glove with added protection for working with chemotherapy-specific drugs.

Another unusual type of glove are gloves made with oatmeal. The oatmeal helps prevent and protect dry skin. Aloe vera gloves are also made with the same idea in mind. Everyone knows the health benefits of aloe vera, which include keeping skin soft and supple. There are several other niche types of gloves available, but they will almost always be more expensive and harder to source.

What Is The Best Type of Disposable Glove for You?

From this guide you should be able to see that each individual glove type has its own uses. Nitrile, latex and vinyl gloves are all different, and none of the three gloves is better than the other under all circumstances. What matters is the purpose for which you need the glove. The choice of disposable gloves for a surgeon who needs surgical exam gloves may be different from that of a chef, or a chemist. The environment is the biggest determiner of the kind of glove that you need.

Start with the understanding of the environment the glove will be used in before buying. This will help you get the right gloves to suit your needs. If you need gloves for the food industry, cheaper vinyl gloves will usually work just fine for you. Latex gloves are often the most ideal for surgeons and nurses because of the high protection against bacteria and viruses — as long as the wearer’s don’t have latex allergies. Nitrile gloves are a good all round glove, and seem to be the most popular type of glove since the coronavirus outbreak arose. Because of the high demand, the price for nitrile gloves has skyrocketed and it is now the most expensive type of glove to buy in bulk.

Conclusion

There are 3 main types of disposable gloves you can purchase from manufacturers. The differences between latex, nitril and vinyl and the environment that they will be used in will determine which glove type will best suit. There are also serveral options for each glove type to select from, such as powdered and powder-free gloves. If you’re looking to by gloves in bulk but don’t know which type is best for you, get in touch with a glove supplier or distributor to find out what they would recommend for your specific situation.

Special thanks goes to Hazel and Jay for their assistance with compiling the numerical data and doing up the graphics in this article.

Medical Products Wholesaler with 20+ years of industry experience. Interested in health, longevity, fitness and wellbeing.