Vinyl or Nitrile? The Realities of Today’s Disposable Glove Market

Vinyl gloves are versatile and much more available right now than nitrile gloves. Photo by Chokniti Khongchum from Pexels.

Now is a great time for disposable glove distributors to consider introducing their customers to the many positive qualities of vinyl gloves.

In the world of disposable gloves, nitrile is king.

The material, made from nitrile butadiene rubber or NBR, has become the standard across just about every industry. From medical needs to automotive repair, users in the front lines typically choose nitrile gloves.

COVID-19, however, has imposed cruel realities on today’s market. Because of enormous demand brought on by the global pandemic, NBR is in short supply. That means the cost of everyone’s favorite disposable glove material—beloved for its barrier protection, puncture resistance, and superb fit, feel, and comfort—has soared. Glove manufacturers cannot even remotely keep up.

The short-term future is challenging

It all adds up to a critical shortage of nitrile gloves. And it will not get better anytime soon, with the shortfall expected to last well into 2021 at least.

NBR, a synthetic form of rubber, is challenging to scale up in a hurry. The glove industry, after decades of fairly stable production, was not prepared for the sudden jump in demand, and neither were makers of NBR.

In Malaysia, which along with Thailand produces 90 percent of the world’s disposable gloves, several corporations have announced plans to build NBR plants. This obviously would benefit the long-term manufacture of nitrile gloves, but timing is the key consideration. Construction would not start until 2021, with production beginning in 2023. That does nothing to alleviate the current shortage.

Simply not enough gloves to meet demand

Nitrile is not the only problem. The world needs hundreds of billions more gloves, of all varieties.

This is where vinyl enters the picture. While vinyl gloves, made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), may not be everyone’s first choice for hand protection, they have come a long way from their humble beginnings as a cheap alternative to latex.

Less elastic than nitrile and latex, vinyl has a loose fit and a smooth, comfortable feel. Because it has no latex proteins, it will not cause allergic reactions to natural rubber.

Synthetics open up new possibilities

Stretch synthetics, a latex-free blend of synthetic elastomers and PVC with excellent tensile strength, have a fit and feel much closer to latex at a much lower price point. They are available in both medical and industrial grades to suit a wide variety of tasks.

In the current market, vinyl gloves are the most readily available. Manufacturers face the fewest constraints in terms of raw materials.

With COVID-19 continuing to spread and no alleviation in sight, disposable gloves will remain in high demand and short supply. Those who have always used nitrile might seriously consider vinyl, at least during this period of deprivation. Buy now, before prices go up again.

As always, we advise our partners to take the best deal they can get.

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