The onset of the pandemic has introduced many habits that help protect us from the virus. These habits include using medical gloves, essential equipment for many of those on the frontlines as protective barriers.
Medical gloves expire because their base materials deteriorate naturally over time. Some materials, like vinyl, tend to break down faster. Certain factors such as exposure to light, moisture, and chemicals can hasten its degradation. If stored well, gloves can be used past the expiration date.
The proper usage of medical gloves is practical knowledge that can go a long way in protecting you. Thus, we highly recommend you keep reading this article to learn more about the factors that contribute to glove degradation, when you should use gloves past expiration dates, and where to get quality gloves.
Things To Know About Using Expired Medical Gloves
Some examples of medical gloves are non-sterile patient examination gloves and sterile surgical gloves. They are often for single use only and are thus, disposable. They have become highly in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are recommended to use when dealing with or in contact with positive patients.
While they have expiration dates, this does not necessarily mean that they should be disposed of immediately. If stored in a suitable environment, their quality should be retained even past recommended shelf life, making them still usable.
1. Manufacturers Are Not Required To Put Expiration Dates on Non-Sterile Medical Gloves
Non-sterile medical gloves are not intended for sterile purposes and are regarded as “germ poor” in Germany, indicating a low infection risk. These are often used for patient examinations and protect the user from contamination and chemicals. They also serve as a barrier by preventing infection of users and the spread of disease-causing agents.
If you have a box or so of medical gloves, you might find an expiration date indicated in the packaging. This date suggests a period by which the manufacturer can guarantee the quality of the product. Beyond that, there is less assurance because the product may deteriorate.
Indicating an expiration date for non-sterile medical gloves is not required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States. However, most manufacturers place them.
Even if there is no date indicated, the type of material may give an idea of the period within which they are best used. You can also contact the manufacturer to get more information. Besides that, they need to have a shelf-life of at least three years to fulfill their purpose effectively.
2. You Should Not Use Sterile Gloves for Sterile Purposes Beyond the Expiration Date
Sterile gloves are intended for surgeries or invasive procedures that involve contact with sterile body parts like tissue. They are essential in preventing infection.
Thus, they have more stringent standards and inspections to abide by and have better packaging than non-sterile ones to preserve their sterility or germ-free status.
Unlike non-sterile gloves, sterile gloves need to have expiration dates because you cannot use them for sterile purposes beyond such a period. These types of gloves do not have any microorganisms due to sterilization. There may be specific requirements to be met to be considered sterile.
3. Expiration Dates Depend on the Material of the Gloves
Gloves can be made from various types of material – latex, vinyl, nitrile, neoprene, etc. They can be natural or synthetic.
The base materials of gloves can affect their longevity. Natural rubbers like latex have relatively short shelf lives of three years. Meanwhile, you can store synthetic materials like vinyl or nitrile for longer than five years. But, if kept properly, you can preserve glove quality for longer.
If the gloves were not stored correctly, removed from their packaging, or exposed to degrading factors, their shelf lives and quality could deteriorate more quickly than the expected duration.
Types of Gloves Based on Material
- Latex. One of the most common medical gloves is latex gloves, made from natural rubber. It is comfortable, durable, elastic, flexible, and stable. It also offers the best protection against pathogens like viruses. However, it is known to trigger allergies. They also have the shortest projected shelf-life: three years.
- Vinyl. Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a low-cost, synthetic rubber commonly used to make medical gloves. It is an alternative for those allergic to latex. However, its durability and performance are subpar compared to other types. Thus, it is recommended for low-risk activities only and not for surgeries.
- Neoprene. It is a high-cost, synthetic rubber. Neoprene is also known as polychloroprene or chloroprene rubber. It has high tensile strength and remarkable resilience but is less elastic than latex. Its properties can be described to be a mix between latex and nitrile.
- Nitrile. Although synthetic, nitrile is similar in performance to latex. It may even be better since it is more resistant to punctures and chemicals. Thus, it is used for surgical procedures. However, it is said to be less elastic and comfortable than latex.
- Polyurethane. A type of polymer or plastic made from diisocyanates and polyols. It is versatile and used in making other products besides gloves, such as foam.
- Polyisoprene. This is another type of synthetic glove. While it has similar properties and quality to latex, it is the most costly option. Its advantage is the lack of latex proteins, which can trigger allergies.
It may also be best to note that thinner gloves may degrade faster and have shorter shelf lives than regular ones.
4. Exposure to Moisture, Ozone, or Light Can Shorten the Shelf Life of Medical Gloves
While most gloves are suitable to store and use after a few years, that is only true if they are not exposed to various elements, such as moisture, light, or ozone. These can accelerate the degradation of glove material. Thus, exposure to them should be kept minimal.
Here are some effects of light, temperature, moisture, and ozone on the quality of medical gloves:
- Light. Natural light (i.e., the one we get from sunshine) is a source of ultraviolet (UV) rays. A particular thesis discovered that UV rays could catalyze the deterioration of both latex and nitrile gloves.
- Extreme temperatures. Extreme temperatures hamper the durability of nitrile gloves. It can disturb the molecular structure of butadiene, a component of nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR).
- Moisture. Moisture does not just exist in liquid water form. It may also be present in the atmosphere, primarily through the humid air. Exposure to these can affect the quality of stored medical gloves over time.
- Ozone. It is a reactive gas with the chemical formula O3. Ground-level, man-made ozone has been detected and found to result from reactions between volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, which are air pollutants. Furthermore, it is used in disinfecting various objects, such as water and equipment.
5. Gloves Expire Taken Out of Their Original Packaging or Not Stored Properly
The quality of medical gloves can only be assured if they are kept in their original packaging and stored correctly through the years. Otherwise, they would be exposed to air, moisture, light, ozone, and chemicals that could accelerate its degradation.
Sterile gloves are packaged more carefully than non-sterile ones to preserve the germ-free product. They are often packed in pairs and can only be used for medical or surgical processes if they were not stored outside their undamaged packaging. Otherwise, there is no assurance that it is sterile and might be risky to use for such purposes.
Meanwhile, you may often buy non-sterile, disposable gloves in boxes. To maximize their shelf lives, they must be stored in a cool, dark, and dry area. They must stay in their original packaging until use. There must be little to no risk of exposure to UV, moisture, ozone, incompatible chemicals (which we shall discuss later in this article), and extreme temperatures.
6. Expired Gloves Can Still Be Used for Non-Sterile Purposes
If you somehow come across a box of medical gloves beyond their expiration date, should you toss them out? No. If they look and feel normal, you may still use them.
You may still use expired medical gloves for low-risk, non-sterile activities, like gardening. However, you must check its quality first before using them. There should be no discolorations, tears, or holes. The gloves should not be brittle or crack when stretched. Otherwise, discard them.
If you are still a bit iffy about using expired medical gloves, you might be more assured to hear that even the FDA and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in the United States are alright with it. However, it can only be for purposes when there is no exposure to pathogens and when barrier protection is unnecessary.
7. You Should Not Use Discolored Gloves and Those With Tears or Holes
As we have mentioned, you should discard gloves when there is apparent damage, like holes or tears. You should also not use them if they are discolored. Discoloration can be due to various factors.
Specific discolorations can indicate the damage or degradation the glove may have incurred during storage or manufacture. Whitish regions may be a sign of ozone damage. Browning can be attributed to manufacturing problems, such as too much chlorine, heat, or drying or exposure to metals like copper, brass, and iron.
Yellowing may be due to the rubber used to make latex gloves. However, it can also be caused by exposure to heat, UV, acids, and oxygen. Contact with these elements during use can also change the glove’s color.
Signs of discoloration are not an automatic sign or confirmation that the glove has deteriorated and is not safe for use. However, it may be best to err on the side of caution.
8. Gloves Should Not Be Used or Exposed to Incompatible Chemicals
During storage or even use, gloves can be exposed to different chemicals. This exposure can induce damage or degradation, and you should not use them afterward.
Thus, you should store them in places with the least exposure to incompatible materials. Incompatibility with a specific chemical can depend on the base material of the gloves.
Many chemicals used in hospitals or clinics for disinfection or sanitation may be incompatible with some types of gloves, and these include the following:
Alcohol-based sanitizers are known to degrade vinyl gloves and should not be used with them. Nitrile is also regarded to have poor resistance to alcohols like ethanol, methanol, and n-butanol. However, a CDC article states that most nitrile and latex brands maintain their quality when exposed to alcohol-based sanitizers.
Experts do not recommend using oil-containing or petroleum-based products like lotions or anti-inflammatory creams while wearing gloves as it can degrade the product. Oils such as mineral, coconut, and lanolin, are just some examples. However, gloves made of nitrile and neoprene are said to be oil-resistant and can be used with them.
Nitrile gloves act as poor protection against concentrated acids, like acetic acid, nitric acid, and sulfuric acid. The chemicals can degrade and penetrate the material quickly, leading to tears and possible contamination. If you plan to be in contact with concentrated acids, you should choose the appropriate acid-resistant gloves.
This chemical is a transparent and oily liquid used for disinfecting surgical instruments, cosmetic preservatives, hardening agents for X-rays, and many other applications. It also has a pungent odor.
Exposure to glutaraldehyde can cause adverse effects such as difficulty breathing.
Glutaraldehyde also affects the integrity of medical gloves when in contact with the cleaning agent.
You may be more familiar with this chemical, also used as a disinfectant and preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. It can also be found in glues, fertilizers, pesticides, building materials, pressed-wood products, cigarette smoke, resins, etc.
Formaldehyde is colorless, flammable, and has a strong odor. Low levels of exposure can irritate, but high levels can lead to cancer. A particular study found that formaldehyde can permeate through natural rubber gloves, but they stated that its permeation rate is not high enough compared to specific standards.
You can be exposed to xylene through paint thinners, paint removers, lacquers, solvents, petroleum, and wood processing. Xylene is a colorless liquid with a sweet aroma, but exposure can induce dizziness, headaches, and confusion. High levels can even lead to death. Xylene may also compromise the integrity of your medical gloves.
An example of a hypochlorite solution is sodium hypochlorite and calcium hypochlorite. These are used as disinfectants, with sodium hypochlorite being a standard component of bleach. A specific study found that bleach can weaken nitrile gloves, although the effects are not as severe as ethanol.
There are many kinds of drugs or agents used in chemotherapy. Examples include abiraterone acetate, altretamine, antimetabolites, alkylating agents, and antitumor antibiotics.
The chemicals outlined above are just some of the potential materials that can degrade gloves. Their effect ultimately depends on the base material of the gloves and other factors, like glove thickness. Thinner gloves get penetrated easily compared to regular or thicker gloves.
Should You Reuse Medical Gloves?
There can be a shortage of medical supplies, such as gloves, in this pandemic and other periods of health scares. A way to deal with the deficit is to use expired gloves for non-sterile purposes, but you might also be curious if reusing gloves is a way to go with it.
You should not reuse medical gloves as one pair of disposable gloves should only be used for one patient. However, extended use of medical gloves has been applied during times of shortage, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Proper disinfection must be done in between patients.
It is recommended to use alcohol-based hand sanitizers or soap and water when disinfecting gloves. Check if the material is compatible with the sanitizer to avoid degradation.
Where Can You Buy Medical Gloves?
You can buy medical gloves from most pharmacies, drug stores, or other shops that sell medical supplies. Medical gloves are used for many purposes and applications, not limited to hospitals or clinics.
However, the pandemic may have caused a shortage in most onsite shops, leaving many to look for supplies through online stores. But you would not have to look too far in the net because we have them right here for you.
Before buying them, though, make sure you know your size. A well-fitted glove is essential in optimizing function and efficiency. Too small gloves can rip.
Also, make sure to buy only as needed and avoid hoarding, especially since many healthcare workers need them. There is no need to wear gloves when going out during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping. But if you have to care for a Covid-19 positive individual, it is recommended, along with disinfection.
Powdered Medical Gloves Are Banned in Some Countries
You might also be interested to know that powder-free gloves are banned in the United States and many other countries like the Philippines, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong.
This decision is grounded on the risks brought about by the use of powdered gloves, such as allergies, surgical complications, inflammatory response, and infection.
People Also Ask
This section will address other popular queries related to the article’s topics. We hope to clarify specific questions that you may have through this portion.
Do Nitrile Gloves Have an Expiry Date?
Sterile nitrile gloves have an expiry date indicated. Non-sterile ones are not required, but manufacturers usually include them in the packaging. They typically have a storage life of up to five years, provided that you keep them in their proper packaging.
Nitrile gloves can still be used after five years if kept in the same packaging and stored correctly.
Can You Still Use Expired Gloves?
You can still use medical gloves beyond their expiration dates for activities with low exposure to disease-causing agents, like training, demonstration, gardening, etc. However, they must not display discoloration and apparent damage like holes or tears. Otherwise, use another pair.
Using expired gloves for non-sterile purposes is a way to reduce unnecessary waste. Thus, before disposing of a box of gloves, do a quality check first by examining signs of degradation. If they do not look or feel deteriorated, they can still be used for non-medical purposes.
What Can You Use Expired Latex Gloves For?
You can use expired latex gloves for non-sterile and non-medical purposes. Latex gloves, made from natural rubber, tend to deteriorate faster than synthetic ones. They have a short shelf life of three years only. However, if kept well, you may use them even after three years of storage.
There are plenty of uses for expired gloves, such as in your household or the garden when working with the soil. Provided that you do not need gloves for sterile situations, medical gloves can serve several functions.
What Is the Lifespan of Medical Gloves?
Natural rubber or latex gloves have three years lifespan or shelf life, while synthetic gloves like nitrile, neoprene, and vinyl can last five years in storage. However, you can use them even after ten years as long as they are stored properly and are not damaged or deteriorated.
Medical gloves can expire because their base materials can deteriorate naturally. However, such processes can be accelerated by improper storage and exposure to elements like heat, chemicals, UV, and ozone. These items should be stored away in a cool, dark, and dry place to maximize their shelf life.
You may use expired medical gloves for non-sterile purposes only. Latex has an earlier expiration date than synthetic rubbers like nitrile and vinyl.
Allied USA Offers a Wide Variety of Medical Gloves
We are Allied USA, a company that sells a wide variety of medical supplies, such as medical gloves. We have many gloves available: surgical, non-sterile, and exam.
There are also options for cuff lengths, either extended or standard. The base materials can be nitrile, vinyl, and latex. Prices vary according to brand and type, with some going as cheap as less than $1.
- Allied USA: Gloves
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