A Better Alternative to Vinyl Gloves

Vinyl Gloves in Food and Aged Care

Countless studies on the suitability of vinyl glove use for hygiene practices within primary care facilities and the hospitality industry have revealed shocking results on its barrier integrity and ability to prevent cross contamination.

The molecular structure of vinyl gloves is rigid and more susceptible to tearing at the molecular level when stressed (Leakakos 1999). Despite this fact, vinyl gloves are currently being used in high-risk tasks over long durations, making this a greater risk to the health and safety of workers and people in their care. For example, the use of vinyl gloves for food preparation in an aged care centre significantly increases the risk of transmitting foodborne illnesses to residents.

According to Korniewicz et al. (1990), vinyl gloves are highly permeable to bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms. While glove barriers are not impervious to microorganisms (Montville et al. 2001), evidence shows that performing a combination of regular glove changes and effective hand hygiene techniques is important in minimising the risk of cross contamination.

In the case of vinyl gloves, contact with an alcohol-based hand rub prior to donning has been proven to raise the failure rate by 34% (Klein et al. 1990).

The continuation of vinyl glove use in aged care and food services is a growing concern, and should be a deterrent as Australian hospitals have long ceased the use of vinyl gloves for patient care. As more information becomes available on appropriate glove use and hand hygiene compliance, the threat of cross contamination becomes more manageable in the long term.

Nitrile Gloves: A Better Alternative

The selection criteria for types of gloves has changed considerably over the years, with a greater focus on latex free and powder free alternatives to combat various types of allergic reactions. The primary synthetic alternatives dominating the market are nitrile gloves and vinyl gloves, one of which provides favourable attributes for minimising the risk of cross contamination.

When compared to vinyl gloves, nitrile gloves are far superior for barrier protection and chemical resistance. For example, nitrile gloves alert the user once the glove has been punctured and allow the wearer to take appropriate action of performing hand hygiene and replacing the torn glove. To the contrary, research shows that 50-96% of glove punctures (e.g. pinholes) in vinyl gloves are unnoticed by users (Michaels et al. 2004), consequently increasing the risk of cross contamination within the work environment.

Reviewing the application of nitrile gloves and vinyl gloves within primary care facilities and the hospitality industry, reinforces the need to choose gloves that provide adequate protection and sufficient support for all types of tasks (see Table 1). According to Michaels (2004) the physical properties of hand gloves should be the determining factor for glove selection in food environments. For example, the low elasticity of vinyl gloves limits the fit and comfort for users and can ultimately impact on their job performance.

Table 1: Glove Attributes and Application of Vinyl Gloves and Nitrile Gloves in Infection Control Settings

Comfort and FitWide wrist diameter and loose-fitting cuff leads to hand fatigueForm fitting with greater comfortWound carePreparing food for serving
ElasticityLimited elasticity compromises dexterity (Michaels 2004)High elasticity and better glove conformityHandling soiled bed linenHandling raw food
Strength and DurabilityWeak glove film and low tensile strength increases puncturesHigh tensile strength and puncture resistanceManaging spills of body substancesCleaning contaminated surfaces

Long Term Costs of Vinyl Gloves

Vinyl gloves are best known for their affordability, especially in aged care and the food sector, where there is a high demand for protective apparel on an annual basis. When compared to nitrile gloves, the price per piece of vinyl gloves is typically cheaper and seemingly more cost effective in protecting workers from cross contamination.

However, the cost perception of vinyl gloves changes when failure rates are taken into consideration. Vinyl gloves fail 58% more than nitrile gloves, impacting on the total number of hand gloves required for staff annually (Rego et al. 1999). While the unit price for vinyl gloves is lower than nitrile gloves, the overall cost of buying vinyl gloves increases to cover the higher rate of replacements.

Nitrile gloves are more cost effective in the long term when weighed against vinyl gloves. With potential cost savings in the thousands per annum, the expenses associated with nitrile gloves can easily be justified, as it is an overall better and safer solution in reducing the potential for cross contamination across aged care and food service industries.


  1. Klein, RC, Party, E and Gershey, EL 1990, ‘Virus penetration of examination gloves’, Biotechniques, vol. 9, no. 2, pp.196-199
  2. Korniewicz, DM, Laughon, BE, Cyr, WH, Lytle, CD and Larson, E 1990, ‘Leakage of virus through used vinyl and latex examination gloves’, Journal of Clinical Microbiology, vol. 28, no. 4, pp.787-788
  3. Leakakos, T 1999, ‘All gloves are not created equal’, Surgical Services Management, vol. 5, no. 7, pp. 29-32
  4. Michaels, B 2004, ‘Understanding the Glove Risk Paradigm: Part II’, FoodSafety Magazine, viewed 24 January 2018, <https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/augustseptember-2004/understanding-the-glove-risk-paradigm-part-ii/>
  5. Michaels, B, Keller, C, Blevins, M, Paoli, G, Ruthman, T, Todd, E and Griffith, CJ 2004, ‘Prevention of food worker transmission of foodborne pathogens: risk assessment and evaluation of effective hygiene intervention strategies’, Food Service Technology, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 31-49
  6. Montville, R, Chen, Y and Schaffner, DW 2001, ‘Glove Barriers to Bacterial Cross-Contamination between Hands to Food’, Journal of Food Protection, vol. 64, no. 6, pp. 845-849
  7. Rego, A, Roley, L 1999, ‘In-use barrier integrity of gloves: Latex and nitrile superior to vinyl’, American Journal of Infection Control, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 405-410