Latex vs Rubber Gloves: What is the difference?

Donald Gillespie All, latex, Unigloves, rubber
Reading Time: 5 minute

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Unigloves has been making natural and synthetic rubber gloves for over 30 years and has become one of Europe and the UK’s leading disposable glove manufacturers. In that time, we’ve found that one of the most common misconceptions people make when searching for the right glove is to assume that rubber gloves are a different kind of glove entirely to latex gloves. Here, we demystify the different types of rubber gloves – both synthetic and natural – to help you select the best glove for your workplace or application.

Latex vs rubber: What’s the difference?

Latex is a stable emulsion of polymer microparticles in an aqueous medium. It is found naturally, but synthetic latexes (or latices) can be made too.  It is the liquid form, usually before it is converted into a solid product.

Rubber is a durable, waterproof, elastic substance made from latex, either natural or synthetic.  This is usually the finished product or at the very least a solid intermediary.

 

Even at reasonably senior levels within health & safety industry including HSE, this got mixed up.  HSE for a time thought rubber gloves were washing gloves made from one material while latex gloves were medical gloves made from an entirely different material.

Natural rubber versus synthetic rubber

The term ‘rubber’ refers to durable, waterproof and elastic material made from natural or synthetic latex. Where rubber is usually the finished product, latex refers to the liquid form; a stable emulsion of polymer microparticles in an aqueous solution. It can be found naturally or manufactured synthetically and is eventually processed into a solid (non-liquid) rubber product.

‘Natural rubber latex’ (NRL) is sourced from the Hevea brasiliensis or ‘rubber tree’, which is then processed by manufacturers to create rubber. Depending on how it is treated, the resultant product is elastic, waterproof, and resistant to a range of chemicals and other hazards. Nowadays the term latex is used interchangeably with rubber, which is why we see the confusion in searches for ‘latex vs rubber’.

What is latex - Unigloves

Natural rubber latex and synthetic rubber latex are both common household and industrial product materials and can be found in many homes and workplaces all over the world in the form of latex gloves, surgical equipment, tyres, condoms and more. Latex gloves are one of the most popular varieties of disposable rubber gloves on the market and are something we specialise in here at Unigloves.

 

Nitrile gloves

When people search for ‘latex vs rubber gloves’, they are sometimes mistakenly referring to nitrile. Nitrile is a form of synthetic or ‘man-made’ material which is composed of acrylonitrile, butadiene and carboxylic acid monomers. This protein-free composition means that nitrile gloves are a great alternative to latex, as they do not cause latex allergies and are safe for use by those with Type I sensitisation. Nitrile gloves are also generally stronger, more puncture and tear-resistant, and provide greater protection against a range of hazards - including oil-based chemicals - than their natural rubber latex counterparts.

Unigloves nitrile gloves in use for metal fabrication.

Like latex gloves, many nitrile gloves are medical grade and tested as safe for use in medical applications. Many varieties are also safe for use in contact with food products, making them incredibly an incredibly versatile product.

Why choose natural rubber latex gloves?

Latex gloves have been around in one form or another since the 1800s and are still one of the most popular glove varieties on the market. They are incredibly elastic, meaning they easily mould to your hand for a firm and comfortable fit. This elasticity combined with the strength of natural rubber latex makes them resistant to tears and punctures, and their waterproof, chemical resistant composition means they protect hands against biological hazards such as bacteria and viruses, and even bodily fluids. They can also provide protection against water-based chemicals and common cleaning products such as detergents and alcohols. These factors make latex gloves a great choice for care workers, surgical and healthcare applications, dentistry and dental hygiene, cleaning, laboratory work and more.

Why choose natural rubber latex gloves? In use in a laboratory setting.

For workplaces where latex allergies are deemed a risk, low-protein latex gloves are a preferred choice. These gloves are less likely to result in reactions in those with latex allergies, yet still provide the dexterity, touch sensitivity and elasticity for which latex gloves are renowned.

Why choose synthetic gloves?

Where latex is not an option due to the risk of allergies, or where greater hazards are posed by chemicals or abrasive materials, synthetic gloves are a preferred choice. Nitrile gloves offer a higher degree of protection against punctures and tearing than latex gloves, and also safeguard hands from a variety of corrosive materials, acids, skin irritants, biological hazards, and more. For more information about the protective qualities of nitrile gloves, see our recent blog article, What Do Nitrile Gloves Protect Against?

Although latex is considered to offer wearers a ‘second skin’ feel, nitrile gloves from Unigloves have been developed to offer a latex-like feel, with greater touch sensitivity, dexterity and comfort than many other nitrile gloves on the market.

Why choose synthetic gloves? Synthetic gloves in use in a beauty salon.

Which is the best glove for you?

Choosing the right glove for your application will depend on a number of factors, including the hazards involved, the comfort and safety of users, and price.

Latex: Widely considered to be the most comfortable glove type available, offering a ‘second skin’ feeling, latex offers protection against water-based chemicals, biological hazards, and skin irritants. However, they generally aren’t as robust as nitrile gloves, and can result in allergic reactions to latex.

Nitrile gloves: Generally more robust and resistant to tears and punctures, nitrile gloves are the workhorse of the disposable glove world. Resistant to a wide variety of chemicals and irritants, including oil-based chemicals, acids, and pathogens, they are the preferred choice for many more hazardous workplaces. The advanced formulas of Unigloves’ nitrile glove ranges make them comfortable and suited to longer wear; however, they are often a more expensive option than latex or vinyl gloves.  

Vinyl gloves: Vinyl gloves are a type of plastic glove which offers a cost-effective choice for the food industry and in other fields where regular glove disposable is required, but where dexterity and tear resistance are not as important. Less elastic than latex or nitrile gloves, vinyl gloves are not as form-fitting and aren’t as suited to applications where intricate or precise work is required.

At Unigloves, we have developed a comprehensive range of glove options for our clients, including both synthetic and natural rubber glove varieties. No matter your industry or application, there is a Unigloves glove solution for you. To browse our full range, download our product catalogue. Or get in touch with our team to help find the perfect glove today.

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