Healthcare professionals prefer latex gloves for their comfortable fit and unparalleled strength. Unfortunately, numerous unscrupulous entities have attempted to replicate the feel and look of latex to make a quick buck at the expense of the material’s safety and quality. Unless you take the steps below, it can be challenging to distinguish between authentic and fake latex.
Here’s how to quickly tell if a pair of gloves are latex or not:
- Check their fit.
- Check their elasticity.
- Check their durability.
- Check if they’re powdered.
- Test whether the material can reseal after a puncture.
- Test the material against chemicals and solvents.
In this article, I’ll take you through these quick and straightforward ways to tell if a glove is made of latex or not. After reading this post, I hope you can choose your next pair with ease and confidence, knowing that you’re getting what you’re paying for and that you’re not sacrificing your ability to perform your job as a medical professional.
1. Check Their Fit
A tell-tale sign of natural, high-quality latex is the way it fits. The material has a certain feel that’s hard to replicate even with today’s technology. Therefore, checking how your sterile gloves fit is the first thing you should do to determine whether they’re latex or not.
Here’s how to check if your sterile gloves fit the way authentic latex does:
- Latex has a comfortable, second-skin feel. In other words, it should feel as though you’re not wearing anything on your hands.
- Latex has a higher touch sensitivity compared to other sterile glove materials. If you can’t feel much through your gloves, you’re probably not wearing genuine latex.
- Natural latex is very breathable. Natural latex facilitates good air circulation and can be worn for extended periods. Most knock-off materials (like polyurethane) will create condensation within the first few hours of wear — creating a humid, uncomfortable feel between your hand and the glove.
If you’re buying latex gloves, it’s better to go up a size for added comfort and range of movement. For example, if you’re a size seven, buy one that’s seven and a half. You can also use a measuring tape to determine the size of your knuckles and refer to the manufacturer-provided sizing chart for latex gloves.
But if you’ve never used latex gloves before, I recommend going with your usual size to get a feel for them. Going back to our previous example, it’s better to go with a size seven if you’re a size seven. Otherwise, an ill-fitting glove can increase your risk of injury and cross-contamination, not to mention roll off your hands when you least expect it.
To ensure you’ve gotten the right size of latex gloves, simply extend your fingers while wearing the gloves. If you have to stretch the material to an uncomfortable fit, it’s too small. On the other hand, your gloves might be too big if you see wrinkles and creases forming on the surface.
2. Check Their Elasticity
The elasticity gives latex gloves their second-skin feel, tear resistance, and ability to reseal after small punctures. (I’ll get to those in a moment.) In case you need to jog your memory of science class, elasticity refers to how a material reacts in response to tensile stress. The faster it returns to its initial state, the more elastic a material is.
On a more technical note, engineers define elasticity as the ratio of tensile stress to strain — i.e., elastic modulus. The higher the elastic modulus, the better a specific material can retain and return to its original shape. For example, genuine latex rubber has an elastic modulus of 1.2 MPa. In contrast, nitrile (latex’s most popular competitor) has a rating of 0.855 MPa.
The reason behind latex’s impressive elasticity is its composition. Natural rubber is derived from a kind of sap that combines acetone-soluble materials and proteins to produce an optimal ratio of tensile stress to strain.
Therefore, if you already have a pair of genuine latex gloves, you’ll want to compare the elasticity between that and your new pair to determine whether the latter is also made of authentic latex. Even though technology has come a long way, latex duplicates still cannot replicate the elasticity level of their genuine counterpart.
For the reasons above, higher-end elastic bands today incorporate latex. If you’ve been using latex for long enough, you’ll recognize that distinctive stretchy, resilient material that’s neither too soft nor hard when you put it through a few elasticity tests.
For example, you can use the inflation test to check the elasticity of your latex gloves. Here’s how to do it:
- Blow into your latex gloves as hard as you can. Be careful not to blow them to the point that they’ll pop.
- Twist the cuff of the gloves closed to hold in the air.
- Hold the gloves up to the light. If you don’t see any swirls, the gloves are real since the swirls indicate the presence of fillers found in “fake” latex.
However, after performing the above test, make sure you disinfect the gloves with 70% isopropyl alcohol if you plan to use them afterward. Alternatively, you can also consult latex glove experts on safe ways to test the authenticity of your gloves while keeping potential damage and infection to a minimum.
3. Check Their Durability
As I mentioned, latex is one of the most durable materials used for medical gloves. This is partly due to latex’s remarkable elasticity (as discussed above) and partly due to the rich sap that comprises it. A high-quality pair of latex gloves should withstand even the harshest movements and conditions, and they should always last at least as long as you want them to.
Latex should fit better and be more elastic compared to nitrile, though nitrile has better durability.
That said, natural latex should still be more durable than its duplicates. Therefore, if you’re wondering whether your new pair of gloves is genuine latex, the best way to know is to compare their performance to another pair that you’re 100% sure is latex.
Another excellent way to identify authentic latex is to observe how it behaves under different temperatures. Latex shouldn’t react much to lower temperatures, but hotter conditions will usually affect the integrity of your gloves (assuming they’re the real deal). Real latex will start to show signs of damage if left in temperatures over 82°F (27.778°C).
However, be aware that some counterfeit latex materials are treated with chemicals to protect them from damage or corrosion. That’s why it’s essential — apart from carrying out the above experiment — to consult the manufacturer-provided information regarding the type and composition of gloves you have.
If you check the ingredients list, genuine latex should only be made of the following:
- Rubber and resin
- Sterol glycosides
4. Test Whether the Material Can Reseal After a Puncture
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that the “puncture” I’ll talk about refers to a needle prick or a similar type of damage. I will not cover tears and rips that expose your skin to a significant extent and warrant the replacement of your gloves altogether.
With that said, I’d argue that the puncture test is one of the most reliable ways to know whether a pair of gloves is real latex or not. According to a study published by the British Dental Journal, latex displays an impressive ability to reseal itself after a puncture. Only nitrile has a similar capacity.
When you puncture latex, the opening should slowly start to close in on itself as though it were alive and moving. This characteristic is due to the material’s unique composition and exceptional elasticity, allowing it to return to its original state regardless of the type or severity of external stressors.
As you can imagine, latex’s ability to instantly reseal is instrumental in a medical context since it can significantly reduce the risk of cross-infection.
Medical professionals who are allergic or sensitive to latex can use nitrile instead, as it has a similar resealing ability and doesn’t sacrifice comfort and safety.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of a latex allergy include:
- Runny nose
- Breathing difficulties
If you’re experiencing any of the above signs, it’s better that you forgo latex entirely.
5. Test the Material Against Chemicals and Solvents
I’ve explained latex’s strengths in great detail as a material for sterile gloves. However, it also has a significant weakness: the lack of ability to protect against chemicals and solvents. If you have a pair of sterile gloves you’re not sure about but don’t mind throwing away, it might be a good idea to do this final test.
Latex is notoriously poor when it comes to protecting against chemicals and solvents. If you’re curious about how the most commonly used glove materials fare against various chemicals, I urge you to check out this highly informative table from the University of Florida.
To test your latex gloves using chemicals, all you have to do is apply isopropanol (a.k.a. Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol) or a petroleum-based hand lotion on them and watch how your gloves react.
For the sake of brevity and clarity, I’m going to assume you’re using isopropanol for the chemical test as follows.
- Wear a glove or wrap a piece of material around your gloved finger.
- Gently press your finger on the surface of a dish filled with isopropyl alcohol. If your gloves are made of authentic latex, the alcohol should penetrate through them within 10 minutes, give or take.
- Remove your hand from the dish as soon as the alcohol penetrates the glove. Prolonged skin exposure to isopropanol could lead to itchiness and redness.
As manufacturing technologies for sterile gloves advance, it can become increasingly challenging to determine whether your newest gloves are made of real latex.
However, by carrying out a few simple tests, you can determine the nature of the material you’re dealing with in no time. You should test for fit, elasticity, durability, the presence of a powder, resealing ability, and reaction to certain chemicals.
On the hunt for reliable latex gloves? Here at Allied USA, we have a wide variety of latex gloves to choose from, making it easy for you to find exactly what you need for your medical practice. Browse our selection and stock up today!
- Nature: Puncture resistance and stiffness of nitrile and latex dental examination gloves
- Gloves: Nitrile vs. Latex Gloves – What’s the Difference
- Chemistry Stack Exchange: Elasticity of latex
- Web Files: CHEMICAL RESISTANT CHAR
- Past Medical History: The History of Surgical Gloves
- Corrosion Pedia: What is a Tensile Stress?
- Eagle Protect: How To Estimate the Quality of Your Disposable Gloves Video
- Made How: How latex is made
- Cleveland Clinic: Latex Allergy