Exam Gloves vs. General Purpose: What’s the difference?

June 4, 2021

Gloves, a form of personal protection equipment (PPE), are one of the first defense lines in protecting workers from injury and other serious health risks. According to a study, North America generated 2.68 billion dollars from disposable gloves in 2019. This increasing demand in the market is probably due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Growing patient population, increase in the number of medical practitioners, and increase in hygiene standards.

Figure 1: Disposable Gloves Market Size Growth in North America

The use of gloves has become a new norm along with the use of masks. As the infection is prevalent, people are leaning more towards prevention and safety than ever. Moreover, disposable gloves are now also being used in food industries and other locales to meet safety standards. Choosing the right pair of gloves has been difficult with the variety of gloves available in the market. Did you know that exam gloves can be used as general purpose gloves? But general purpose can not be used as an alternative to exams gloves. So you knew it. Then, have you ever thought why? What’s the difference? Both are merely gloves and look almost similar. Then what are the differences, and how to distinguish them from each other? Don’t worry, this blog will help you find not only the differences and similarities but the types of gloves as well. Firstly, let’s dig into the types of gloves.

Types of Gloves

Before moving to the major types of gloves that we’re going to discuss in this blog, sneak peek at the categories on which the glove type is divided. There are three types of gloves mainly, based on the material they are made of. It includes:  
  1. Latex gloves
  2. Nitrile gloves
  3. Vinyl gloves
Based on these three categories, you will note the differences between exam gloves and general purpose.

What is the difference between exam gloves and general purpose?

Exam gloves, also known as medical gloves, are used for examination in clinical settings and medical laboratories. They are used when an examiner needs to come in contact with a patient. A study conducted at the end of 2019 showed that 49.1% of the total market share of gloves is in hospitals and clinics.

Figure 2: Market Share of Disposable Gloves Around The Globe
On the other hand, general purpose gloves, also known as industrial gloves, are used generally in daily life for non-medical activities. They are usually used for safety or to meet hygiene standards. Let’s dig deep into it. Here are some major differences that will enable you to distinguish between the two.    

  1. Material
The material of both types of gloves is almost the same, with a few exceptions.   All the gloves are made up of latex or other synthetic material including nitrile or vinyl. The exception in medical gloves and industrial gloves is that their quality is stronger than the latter.   Latex is the first choice when it comes to the manufacturing of gloves. It is made of natural rubber extracted from trees. This material is used as both, exam gloves and general purpose gloves. Nitrile is a synthetic rubber, which is more durable than latex. It can withstand harsh chemicals and punctures. That is why this type of material is used in the manufacturing of most medical gloves. Vinyl is another synthetic material used in gloves. Due to its delicacy, it can not be used in medical laboratories or surgeries. This type of material is only used as general purpose gloves.    

  1. Requirement or certification
Exam gloves need to pass all the safety standards set by the FDA. It’s only dispatched into the market after rigorous testing and FDA approval. No medical glove can be used without the official ‘approved’ tag by the FDA. The gloves are passed through a series of tests to make sure that the product is:
  • Chemical resistant
  • Microbe resistant
  • Puncture and tear-resistant
On the other hand, general purpose gloves are not tested by the FDA before they enter the market. Even though they meet all the safety standards set by the FDA, they are not officially approved.    

  1. Size and texture
The size of the gloves varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. They have a size chart, offering a wide range of sizes. Usually, general purpose gloves come in a smaller size than exam gloves. The length of general purpose gloves is typically 9 and a half inches while that of exam gloves is 12 inches. Exam gloves are thicker in texture than general purpose gloves. The thickness of gloves is measured in mills. As for medical gloves, it is 8 mills while that of general purpose gloves is 4 to 6 mills.

Figure 3: Size of Gloves by Turtleskin Glove  

  1. Color
Primarily, gloves come in blue and white colors. Nitrile gloves that are mostly used as medical gloves in clinical settings come in blue color. Latex gloves, on the other hand, used as general purpose gloves are white. This difference in hue is to differentiate nitrile gloves from latex gloves. So that people with latex allergies do not confuse the white one with the blue. But wait, with the advancement it is now being manufactured in various colors, especially, bright and vibrant colors. These types of gloves are used as industrial gloves by professionals other than medical. For example, mechanics in industries use yellow or orange gloves as their work demands. Also, black gloves are used by postal workers to trace white residues. Some medical professionals also use colored gloves underneath their blue gloves. This helps them to spot any puncture or tear on their blue gloves during surgical procedures.    

  1. Comfort and flexibility
When it comes to comfort and flexibility, latex gloves tops the list. Why? The natural rubber-like material is more soft and flexible to fit the hands perfectly. Contrarily, medical gloves made of nitrile are stronger and stiffer than those made of latex. Whereas, vinyl gloves (usually used as general purpose gloves), are less flexible than both and fit loosely on hands.    

  1. Protection
While both medical and exam gloves are made for safety and protection, they do not offer the same degree of protection. Medical gloves tend to be safer from cross infections than general purpose. In other words, nitrile and latex provide more protection than vinyl gloves. This is due to its thick material and texture of the gloves. Also, nitrile is more resistant to chemicals and tears. Then comes latex in terms of durability and then vinyl gloves, which are the least durable.    

  1. Cost
The cost of medical gloves and general purpose gloves also varies due to the difference in their material. As medical gloves are made up of high-quality nitrile, they are a little costly compared to general purpose gloves. Latex gloves are the least expensive and used for general purposes. Vinyl has a cost in between nitrile and latex. However, the cost has increased during the past few years due to the pandemic. A study shows that there is a 45% increased demand for disposable gloves since the coronavirus outbreak.

Sterile vs non-sterile gloves

Sterile gloves vs non-sterile gloves are some other confusing terms. Both are categorized as exam gloves or medical gloves. They differ in AQL, which stands for ‘acceptable quality level of pinholes’. It indicates the percentage of pinholes in a glove. For example, if a glove has 2 AQL, it means that 2% of the gloves have pinholes. Sterile gloves are sterilized by the manufacturer and then tested by the FDA for approval. They have smaller AQL ranging from 1.0 to 1.5. Such gloves are primarily used in surgical procedures. On the other hand, non-sterile gloves are those that are not sterilized by the manufacturer. However, the gloves must meet all the safety standards set by the FDA. These types of gloves are also approved by the FDA. They have a larger AQL ranging from 1.5 to 2.5. These gloves are used exclusively for examination and non-surgical procedures.  

Powdered vs powder-free gloves

As the name implies, powdered gloves have some powder on them. This powder is practically corn-starch, which makes it easier to slip the glove over the hand. Powder from the gloves can cause issues if it enters the wound or exposed body tissue during surgery as it can slow down the healing process.   Contrarily, powder-free gloves are those that do not have any sort of powder on them. They are not easy to wear and have the advantage of being non-allergic. This is the reason that almost all surgical procedures require powder-free gloves, and manufacturers now use special processes to give them the same easy on/off properties of powdered gloves.  

Final thoughts

Personal protective equipment has always had its own importance in all medical settings but ever since the coronavirus outbreak took place, it has increased the usage of PPE drastically, not only in all medical settings but in our regular normal lives as well. Safety and hygiene have been our priority ever since. Choosing the right type of glove is critical as you cannot afford risks, especially in the medical profession. You need the right glove to keep you and your staff protected. Each type of glove has its own task it can perform as well as pros and cons. Based on the information in this article, you’ll now be able to distinguish between exam gloves and general purpose gloves. As both these gloves have their own specifications, considering key differences like material, size and uses will help you find the right match.

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