Vinyl (PVC) gloves are a widely used as a protective solution in industrial settings. It is also a relatively inexpensive option, a factor which contributes to its broad use. Price, however, isn’t the best indicator of suitability and vinyl presents material limitations that may be difficult to identify at first glance.
Raw PVC exhibits very poor heat stability, so heat stabilizers are generally added during processing into a PVC product to improve thermal properties. The result is still a relatively low performance level when compared with alternatives — PVC gloves are not recommended for use in temperatures greater than 70°C. While the material may be taken to 80°C for short periods, it starts to soften (or melt) at 82°C, making it a poor choice for applications where the handling of hot materials or tools is required or where high heat is experienced. Untreated PVC is a hard and rigid material, so plasticisers are added to make it suitable for glove construction.
Using PVC as a defence against ketones, some concentrated acids and other solvent types is problematic because many of these materials break down the plasticisers used to soften the original raw material. Ketones — and acetone in particular — are a key component of industrial solvents and frequently used in paints, varnishes, resins, coatings and removers.
Removing the plasticisers causes the gloves to harden and become rigid, lessening flexibility and further depleting already compromised levels of tactility. The process by which plasticisers are removed occurs at a molecular level, making it impossible to discern through visual inspection and the ‘holes’ left behind post-extraction allow rapid chemical penetration, putting the wearer at risk or direct skin contact.
Due to the increasing price and limitations of PVC gloves, wearers are starting to look for alternatives. New generation nitrile gloves are now thinner and stronger than their predecessors, providing high levels of tactility, durability and sensitivity. It is increasingly used because it offers a high degree of chemical resistance.