It’s No Mystery: Understanding Industrial, Exam Glove Distinctions

A pair of hands wearing single-use indigo-colored gloves as the right hand stretches the glove on the left hand.

We often encounter confusion about different types of disposable gloves and which is the right choice for any given job.

A great example is “surgical gloves.” You may have heard or seen—in media coverage or TV police procedurals—a criminal said to be wearing surgical gloves while committing a crime, whether it’s a bank heist or (shudder) a serial killer at work.

Thing is, surgical-grade gloves are most likely not the culprit. Not only are they too expensive for all but the most well-to-do villain, but they are made in smaller quantities aimed at a niche medical market.

Ultimately telling one glove from another is not complicated, but the important differences between grades and their usage can be mystifying for the uninitiated. It doesn’t help that there is a lot of misinformation making the rounds on the internet or in the media.

We’ll start with the basics: The two primary types of single-use gloves are industrial grade and medical or exam grade.

The pinhole test strikes again

Those distinctions are determined by Acceptable Quality Level (AQL), a topic recently examined in this space. Medical gloves have an AQL of 1.5 to 2.5, meaning that 1.5% to 2.5% in a particular batch will have pinholes during testing in which gloves are filled with water and suspended with fingers pointing down. Industrial gloves have an AQL of 3.0 to 4.0.

Within the exam-grade group, there are further distinctions.

Non-sterile exam gloves are suited for most routine medical procedures. Although AMMEX is primarily a distributor of industrial gloves, we also sell non-sterile exam gloves including AMMEX Professional Black Nitrile (ABNPF), Blue Nitrile (APFN), Indigo Nitrile (AINPF), and Blue Nitrile (ACNPF). The latter is rated for exposure to chemotherapy drugs and fentanyl. Also available are three heavy-duty gloves: the 8-mil Gloveworks Blue (GPNHD) and 6-mil Black (GWBEN) Nitrile, as well as the 14-mil Blue Latex (GPLHD). Those are popular with emergency medical technicians.

Sterile gloves for sterile needs

Sterile exam gloves are for invasive procedures that contact sterile parts of the body such as protecting immunocompromised patients or delivering babies.

Then there are surgical gloves, perhaps the most misunderstood category. Not only are surgical gloves sterile, but they are, as mentioned, not widely available. The manufacturing process is complicated and expensive, and they’re packaged in pairs instead of 100-count boxes to further avoid contamination.

Another facet of surgical gloves is precise sizing. Many are made specifically for the left or right hands—most disposable gloves are ambidextrous—and are available in half-sizes so the fit enhances sensitivity. Sterile gloves have the strictest AQL of 1.0 to 1.5.

Stick with industrial most of the time

For most non-medical applications, industrial-grade gloves are an excellent choice for getting the job done. They are versatile, come in nitrile, latex, and vinyl, and deliver first-rate hand protection as well as value.

Knowing the distinctions between industrial, medical, and surgical gloves is another way to ensure you get the right glove for the job, every time.

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