As the coronavirus strain omicron made its way around the world in late 2021, health officials responded with revised and updated guidelines to mitigate the spread. Among questions that surfaced alongside the new virus included the question of whether hand sanitizers and other disinfectants used on disposable gloves would degrade the integrity of the items, further putting their wearer at risk.
By and large, it is true that certain chemicals like alcohol-based hand sanitizers (ABHS) may degrade the integrity of some disposable gloves over time. However, exactly how much depends on the type of disinfectant used and the material that the gloves are made of. Furthermore, health officials have revised certain policies relating to the reuse of gloves in extreme instances.
Generally, is not a good idea to use hand sanitizer on gloved hands in order reuse them, as medical gloves are considered single-use items. In fact, the World Health Organization said in 2009 that “every possible effort should be made to prevent glove reuse in health-care settings.” And in 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that it did not recommend the reuse of gloves.
But that response has largely changed in the years following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, in part due to shortages of personal protective equipment.
For starters, reuse depends partially on the type of disposable glove being used, which most commonly are made of either nitrile, rubber latex, or vinyl. In addition to the different materials used, gloves can also come in different thicknesses that may make them more apt to wear and tear provided by various disinfectants.
The purpose of using gloves is also important. For example, the American Biological Safety Association recommends that per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, disposable gloves should not be reused and should be changed frequently throughout the day in large part because they can develop pinholes over time.
“Chemicals like alcohol (hand sanitizer) and bleach can affect the porosity of gloves, causing them to become more porous and/or sticky. This can mean that chemicals, or potentially infectious agents, you are working with can reach the skin,” noted the organization.
A technical report compiled by SW Safety Solutions Inc., a “hand health technologies” company based in California, found that intermittent repetitive exposure to commonly used ABHS did not significantly impact the integrity of 5-millimeter, single-use nitrile gloves, even after 20 exposures within two hours. In short, the report found that single-use nitrile gloves “can be recommended for frequent and repetitive hand sanitization,” using ABHS.
Similarly, a study published in 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Laboratory Medicine found that latex and nitrile gloves showed an excellent resilience to ethanol and isopropyl alcohol for up to 10 cleansing cycles. When it came to alcohol disinfectant, the gloves included in the study remained intact after 30 cleanses — one brand of latex gloves even lasted 100 times.
But neither of the two studies above offer a guarantee that reused gloves will protect their wearer against contamination. That’s because pinprick holes are often too small for the eye to see and may occur from extended use or by way of chemical degradation. The only surefire way to protect hands against possible contaminants is to throw out used gloves and don a new pair.
As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend using hand sanitizer on gloved hands, unless there is an extreme glove shortage, or if the gloves are non-disposable and are intended to be washed and reused, like heavy rubber gloves.
In general, experts recommended following manufacturer’s guidelines, as different brands and types of gloves may be constructed differently. In times where gloves may be in limited supply, the Los Angeles-based medical equipment supplier ICU Production Inc. notes that high-quality medical grade gloves made of nitrile or latex can withstand up to six disinfections with hand sanitizer and up to 10 washes with soap and water. Certain brands of medical-grade nitrile gloves have also withstood permeation when applied with a bleach solution.
Regardless, the CDC recommends that gloves should be warn in accordance with standard precautions and any time the wearer comes in contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials, like mucous membranes, non-intact skin, or contaminated equipment. Gloves should always be changed if they are damaged or visibly soiled with blood or body fluids, or when the wearer is changing workstations from one patient to another, for example.
In response to the pandemic, the CDC updated policies surrounding personal protective equipment, in particular the use of gloves, here. The FDA also supports certain conservation strategies found here.
“Can You Apply Hand Sanitizer to Latex Gloves?” ICU Production, 11 Sept. 2021, https://www.icu-production.com/can-you-apply-hand-sanitizer-to-latex-gloves/.
CDC. “Healthcare Workers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/gloves.html.
Chang, Jiyoung, et al. “Intactness of Medical Nonsterile Gloves on Use of Alcohol Disinfectants.” Annals of Laboratory Medicine, vol. 38, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 83–84. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3343/alm.2018.38.1.83.
COVID-19 FAQs PPE Use. American Biological Safety Association, ABSA International, The Association for Biosafety and Biosecurity, 4 May 2020, p. 6, https://absa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ABSA-200502-PPE-FAQs.pdf.
Glove Use Information Leaflet. World Health Organization, Aug. 2009, https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Glove_Use_Information_Leaflet.pdf.
Health, Center for Devices and Radiological. “Medical Glove Conservation Strategies: Letter to Health Care Providers.” FDA, Nov. 2021. www.fda.gov, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/letters-health-care-providers/medical-glove-conservation-strategies-letter-health-care-providers.
“Medical Gloves for COVID-19.” FDA, Nov. 2021. www.fda.gov, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/medical-gloves-covid-19.
Healthcare Providers | Hand Hygiene | CDC. 8 Jan. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/providers/index.html.
Technical Report – Hand Sanitizer and Nitrile Gloves – SW Safety. https://swsafety.com/technical-report-hand-sanitizer-nitrile-gloves/. Accessed 27 Dec. 2021.
“Types of Disposable Gloves – Which Is Right for You?” Optimum Medical, 3 Dec. 2020, https://optimummedical.co.uk/products/types-of-disposable-gloves/.