Powder Free Gloves: Chlorination vs. Polymer Coating
Popularity of powder-free gloves continues to rise, especially for latex gloves where allergy concerns are greatest. Whereas in 1998, only 20-25% of latex gloves were powder-free1, today this number is more than half. In industries like healthcare, use of powder-free gloves has become nearly ubiquitous.
Without powder, gloves are tacky, making them difficult to remove from formers during production and tough to don and doff. The two most common alternative donning agents, chlorination and polymer coating, are each effective but vary in their methodologies.
Chlorination involves washing gloves in a diluted chlorine-based solution to reduce tackiness. After the chlorine wash, gloves are rinsed with water, immersed with a neutralizing solution to inhibit further reaction between the chlorine and the glove, then rinsed again before drying. When both sides of the glove are chlorinated (known as double chlorination), gloves are inverted and the process repeated. Chlorination traditionally occurs after gloves are removed from the assembly line, but some modern facilities do utilize a less labor intensive online chlorination process where formers are dipped into chlorine tanks while still on their formers.
A more recent approach involves application of a polymer coating. This coating is most often polyurethane-based, but other polymers are sometimes used depending on whether coating occurs online or offline2.
Either method is effective for improving donnability, and when manufactured properly, both are capable of producing gloves exceeding FDA and ASTM performance standards. Each method does, however, offer its own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Chlorination, thanks to its multiple wash cycles, greatly reduces protein content in latex gloves1. Polymer coated gloves offer improved shelf life versus chlorination3, better color consistency (chlorination sometimes results in a yellow or cream-like color), and are virtually odorless.