The most common materials for gloves include latex, vinyl and nitrile. All three materials of gloves can be available in powdered or powder-free.
What’s the difference, you ask? The powder vs. powder-free conversation refers to the inside composition of the gloves and how easy they are to put on.
Powdered gloves have cornstarch added to prevent the material from sticking together which makes them easier to put on. You know when you lick your finger to flip the page of a book? Imagine the
powder is the power of the lick. It gives you just enough oomph to separate the pages and continue reading seamlessly. Or in this case, it gives you the power to slip your fingers in their individual holes
without them getting all tangled or stuck on your skin when you put your hand in the glove.
The powder also absorbs any extra moisture (read: sweat) from your hands. This helps reduce your hands from slipping around inside the glove.
If the powder makes the gloves easier to put on, it makes sense that it also makes them easier to take off. Since the insides of the gloves will be dry, they slide off your hands more-easily. The extra grip you have inside the glove makes it easier to remove the glove on your opposite hand, regardless if the outside part of the glove is wet.
The problem with the powder? It can be messy. The white cornstarch powder doesn’t only stay in the glove. As soon as the box is opened, powder circulates in the air. It also spreads to your clothes and around the exam room, leaving a residue.
The floating powder particles can get in your nose or mouth causing you to sneeze or cough; especially when a large cloud of powder comes out of the gloves when you first put them on.
When you’re done with your task and take your powdered gloves off, they often leave your hands with an unmistakable smell. Thankfully, a good handwash should get rid of that quickly!
If gloves are powder-free, they must be coated with another
material to help with easy application and removal. Chlorination and polymer coatings are the most popular ways of creating gloves without a powdery residue.
Chlorination is the process that helps make gloves less form fitting so that powder is not needed for easy donning (putting on) and removal. During the chlorination process, gloves are treated with a chlorine solution, rinsed with water and dried to remove most of the powdered residue. After the process, the gloves have a hardened and smooth surface.
Double-chlorinated gloves receive the treatment on both the inside
and the outside of the glove. Afterwards, they are smooth with little
tack and are suitable for double donning because they won’t stick to
The other option to create powder-free gloves is to add a polymer coating. Polymer coatings are applied to the interior surface of the glove to give it a smooth finish for fast and easy donning. The coatings normally include hydrogels, acrylics, silicone polymer, polyurethane, polymer-blends and nitrile. These coatings do not have a smell.
The main “pro” for powder-free gloves is that they are powder-less. Go figure! Because they don’t have a risk of spreading loose powder around, they are typically better suited for food and manufacturing environments. They are also the preferred option for medical use.
The issue with powder-free gloves is that despite their coatings, they can be hard to remove quickly. The chlorination process may also decrease the firmness of the glove’s grip.
Additionally, powder-free gloves are usually more expensive than powdered gloves due to the extra effort involved in the chlorination/
When choosing between powder or powder-free gloves, consider the environment you plan to use them in. Will a little powder residue cause a problem? If so, it seems your decision is made for you!
Remember, read the product specifications before purchasing!
This blog is meant for educational purposes about medical products, medical devices, and related subjects only. It contains only general information about medical products. It is not meant to be medical or clinical advice and should not be treated as such. The information contained in this blog is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties. Emergency Medical Products, Inc. (“EMP”) makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy of information, the products discussed, or advice given in connection with this blog. EMP is not a medical provider and is not engaged in providing medical or clinical advice. This blog may contain external links to EMP’s website where certain medical products and medical devices can be purchased from EMP.