If you’ve ever been in a hospital or undergone surgery, you may have noticed that the surgical gloves worn by doctors and nurses are often a yellowish color. However, this is not their natural color, as these gloves are usually white (latex gloves) or blue (nitrile gloves). So why do surgical gloves turn yellow?
Surgical gloves turn yellow due to exposure to the natural oils on the hand, reactions with acids in sweat, and heat. Prolonged UV exposure discolors these gloves. These factors cause the latex or nitrile material to degrade, making the gloves turn yellow.
The rest of this article will explore why surgical gloves turn yellow and the consequences of this discoloration. Read on to learn more about these and how to keep surgical gloves in the best shape for the longest time possible.
The Science Behind Surgical Gloves Turning Yellow
Surgical gloves are designed to protect patients and medical staff from infection. They are typically made of latex or nitrile, which are resistant to bacteria and viruses.
However, these materials can degrade over time, causing the gloves to turn yellow.
The color change is caused by oxidation, which occurs when the latex is exposed to oxygen. Latex and nitrile break down when this happens, releasing chemicals that cause the gloves to change color.
Factors That Influence Surgical Glove Discoloration
Surgery is a notoriously dirty business. From the blood and tissues to the chemotherapy drugs and radiation, there are countless opportunities for contaminants to come into contact with surgical gloves. Over time, this can lead to discoloration.
While some level of discoloration is to be expected, several factors can influence how quickly gloves become stained.
Gloves Are Made From Latex Or Nitrile
One of the most significant factors determining how long your surgical gloves will stay white is the material they’re made of. Latex gloves, for example, are more likely to discolor than gloves made from synthetic materials.
This is because latex is a natural material that contains proteins that can break down and cause the glove to turn yellow over time.
On the other hand, nitrile gloves are made of synthetic materials and are less likely to discolor than latex gloves. This is because they don’t contain the same proteins that can cause degradation.
How Long You Wear the Gloves
How long you’ve been wearing your gloves can also influence how quickly they discolor. The longer you wear them, the more opportunity there is for the latex or nitrile to come into contact with sweat and other bodily fluids, which can cause the gloves to turn yellow much faster than if you only wore them for a short period.
Caution: If you’re using gloves past their expiration date, they may turn yellow even sooner. So it’s important to always check the expiration date on your gloves and replace them when necessary.
The Type of Procedure You’re Performing
The type of procedure you’re performing can also impact how quickly your gloves discolor. Chemotherapy drugs, for example, can cause gloves to turn yellow in as little as a few hours. Specifically, some of these drugs contain folinic acid, which can quickly break down the latex or nitrile material.
Similarly, radiation can also cause gloves to turn yellow because radiation causes the material to break down and release chemicals that can discolor the gloves.
The Temperature Of the Operating Room
The temperature of the operating room can also affect surgical glove discoloration. Gloves exposed to high temperatures, such as those in an operating room heated up by a lamp, are more likely to discolor than those that aren’t.
The heat can cause the latex or nitrile material to break down and release chemicals that can discolor the gloves.
Gloves Color By Being Exposed To the Sun
Sunlight can also cause surgical gloves to turn yellow. The ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can cause the latex or nitrile material to break down and release chemicals that can discolor the gloves.
In addition, gloves stored in an area where there is a lot of sunlight, such as a windowed room, are more likely to discolor than those that aren’t.
The Way the Gloves Are Stored
How you store your surgical gloves can also impact how quickly they discolor. If you keep them in an area exposed to sunlight or heat, they’re more likely to discolor than those stored in a cooler, darker place.
Similarly, gloves stored in a moist environment are more likely to discolor than those kept in a dry environment.
How the Gloves Are Handled
How you handle your surgical gloves can also impact how quickly they discolor. If you’re not careful and handle them roughly, they’re more likely to discolor than those handled with care.
Similarly, if you fold or bunch up the gloves, they’re more likely to discolor than those kept in a flat position.
How Often You Wash Your Hands
How often you wash your hands can also affect how long your surgical gloves stay white. If you don’t wash your hands properly, the dirt and grime on your hands can cause the gloves to turn yellow much sooner than if they were washed clean.
So it’s essential always to make sure you wash your hands properly before putting on a new pair of gloves. This will help ensure that they stay clean for as long as possible.
Tips for Maintaining Sterile Surgical Gloves
Maintaining a sterile surgical environment is key to the success of any surgery. One way to ensure sterility is to use gloves, but they can quickly become contaminated if not handled and disposed of properly. That’s why it’s essential to know how to keep them clean.
Here’s a rundown of some of the best practices for maintaining clean and sterile surgical gloves.
Store Surgical Gloves in a Cool, Dark Place
Surgical gloves are essential for protecting both patients and healthcare providers from infection. Gloves exposed to light or heat can deteriorate, making them more likely to tear or disintegrate during use.
Therefore, you must store these gloves in a cool, dark place to maintain their integrity.
Avoid places where the temperature fluctuates when selecting a storage location, such as near windows or doors. Also, the storage areas should be free of dust and other contaminants.
Here are a few guidelines on choosing the ideal storage for surgical gloves:
- Keep surgical gloves in a cool, dark place.
- Store surgical gloves away from direct sunlight.
- Do not store surgical gloves near heat sources.
- Do not store surgical gloves in a moist environment.
Note: Once you remove surgical gloves from their packaging, use them as soon as possible to prevent contamination. Any gloves showing wear or damage should be discarded and replaced immediately.
Replace Expired Surgical Gloves
As a medical professional, you must take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your patients from infection. One of the most important things you can do is make sure that your surgical gloves are always fresh.
Most surgical gloves are made of latex and nitrile, which degrade over time, making them more vulnerable to ruptures. If you use expired gloves, you may be putting both yourself and your patients at risk. Therefore, it’s crucial to discard expired gloves and replace them with a new, fresh pair.
There are a few easy ways to tell if your gloves are no longer effective, which include:
- Check the expiration date on the box. If the date has passed, it is time to get new gloves.
- Look for signs of wear and tear, such as rips, tears, or holes. If you spot any of these, discard the gloves and replace them with a new pair.
- Smell the gloves. If they have an off-putting smell, they are likely expired and should be replaced.
- Inspect the gloves for any discoloration. If they are yellowing, they have expired and should be replaced.
Wash Your Hands Thoroughly Before Putting On Gloves
It’s essential to wash your hands thoroughly before putting on gloves. Otherwise, you may contaminate the gloves with bacteria or other microbes.
Once the gloves are contaminated, you can transfer the bacteria to the patient, leading to infection. To avoid this, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before wearing gloves.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. However, it’s important to note that hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water at removing dirt and debris from your hands.
Therefore, it’s best to use soap and water whenever possible. By taking these simple steps, you can help protect yourself and your patients from potential infection.
Note: You should also wash your hands thoroughly after removing gloves.
Avoid Touching Your Face While Wearing Gloves
One of the ways that you can spread bacteria and other microbes is by touching your face while you are wearing gloves. This is because your hands may be contaminated with organisms that can cause infection.
Try to avoid touching your face while wearing gloves.
Pro tip: When putting your gloves on, make sure that you do not touch the outside of the gloves with your hands. Also, be careful not to contaminate the gloves by rubbing them on other surfaces. If you touch your face while wearing gloves, immediately remove the gloves and wash your hands thoroughly.
Check the Gloves for Damage Before Use
Another critical step in protecting yourself and your patients is to check the gloves before you use them. As I mentioned earlier, surgical gloves can become damaged over time. If they are torn or have holes in them, they may not be effective in protecting you from infection.
In addition, gloves that are stained or discolored should not be used. These gloves may not be sterile and could potentially contaminate the environment or the patient.
Handle Gloves With Care
Surgical gloves are delicate and should be handled with care. Do not use your teeth, fingernails, or other sharp objects to open the package.
Also, avoid squeezing the gloves or bending them in any way, as this can cause them to tear or become damaged. If you need to adjust the fit of the gloves, use only the fingers on the outside of the gloves. Don’t put your hands inside the gloves.
If you need to take the gloves off, do so slowly and carefully. Don’t pull them off your hands like a pair of socks.
Do Not Fold or Bunch up Gloves
It’s crucial to handle surgical gloves with care. Folding or bunching up gloves can damage them and make them less effective at doing their job to protect you from infection.
When you put on surgical gloves, you want to ensure that they are snug against your skin, so there are no gaps. Gaps can allow bacteria and other contaminants to contact your skin inside the glove.
In addition, folding or bunching up gloves can make it challenging to get a good grip on instruments, leading to slippage, which can cause cuts or other injuries. So, be sure to handle surgical gloves with care and avoid folding or bunching them up.
Here’s an excellent tutorial on how to put on surgical gloves:
Dispose of Gloves Properly
Once you have finished using the gloves, dispose of them properly. Don’t just throw them in the trash can. Instead, place them in a biohazard bag and seal it shut. This will help to prevent the spread of bacteria and other contaminants.
Don’t place used gloves near unused ones, which can contaminate the unused gloves and make them less effective in protecting you from infection.
Surgical gloves are a vital part of ensuring a sterile environment during surgery. Generally, these gloves turn yellow over time due to environmental factors and extensive usage. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to take a few simple precautions to keep them sterile and in tip-top shape for the longest duration possible.
To protect yourself and your patients from potential infection, follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before putting on gloves.
- Check the gloves for damage before use.
- Handle gloves with care.
- Do not fold or bunch up gloves.
- Dispose of gloves properly.
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- NCBI: Folinic Acid
- ScienceDirect: In-Use Barrier Integrity of Gloves: Latex and Nitrile Superior to Vinyl
- PubMed: Protein Content of Latex Gloves Used in Hospitals
- PubMed: Oxidation of 2-Mercaptobenzothiazole in Latex Gloves and Its Possible Haptenation Pathway