How Are Nitrile Gloves Made?

Disposable gloves have become indispensable in a wide variety of industries, usually ones that consider hygiene in the workplace to be of utmost priority. From medical, dental and surgical uses to food handling and mechanic work, disposable gloves are here to stay, and there are limitless options of glove types to choose from. In this article, we will be dissecting and having a closer look at nitrile gloves, of which 100 billion are expended in the United States annually.

What are Nitrile Gloves?

Nitrile gloves are utilized as an alternative to the two other main glove types out there: latex and vinyl gloves. They are known for being latex-free and durable, making them a preferred choice for those who have allergies to latex in an industry that necessitates gloves. In fact, even if you did not originally have a latex allergy, you could develop skin irritation and an allergic reaction if you were exposed to frequent contact with latex.

According to a study done during the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 17% of healthcare workers were at risk of developing allergic reactions to latex, particularly operating room personnel, laboratory personnel, dentists, dental assistants and ambulance attendants.

The effects of latex gloves on the skin is what gives nitrile gloves their edge in these industries, as many hygiene-related environments are choosing to be better safe than sorry by switching to these safer and gentler alternatives. Moreover, they are powder-free, durable, comfortable, and tear-resistant, making them ideal for jobs in which workers handle sharp objects and contaminants.

Most commonly, although not exclusively, nitrile gloves are used in chemistry labs, since their resistance to cuts and abrasions make them ideal for handling corrosive acids and other hazardous materials. Vinyl gloves are known to be a good alternative, but there are a number of differences between vinyl and nitrile gloves.

What are they made of?

Nitrile is actually an abbreviation of the NBR label, and the more scientific name of the material is Nitrile Butadiene Rubber. NBR is for some reason sometimes referred to as NBR latex, even though it is famously latex-free. NBR is made of a synthetic rubber copolymer, which means it is made of the bonding of two molecules (or monomers): acrylonitrile and butadiene (similar to the scientific name).

These two molecules are responsible for the superior attributes nitrile gloves offer, as acrylonitrile is what gives the gloves their chemical resistance, while butadiene is in charge of their flexibility and tear and puncture resistance.

The Process of Making Nitrile Gloves

So now we have these two monomers, what is the process of manufacturing nitrile gloves?

The first step is to actually bond the acrylonitrile and butadiene to make nitrile. The monomers are placed in a stainless-steel vat, and then through performing hot or cold polymerization, a chemical reaction takes place that connects the molecules to give rise to nitrile. The nitrile born out of the reaction is still unstable, so the next step is to filter and blend the material with an antioxidant to stabilize it.

The concoction at this point is in liquid form, so adding coagulating agents, the third step is to solidify the material, which is then washed and dried. The end result of this chemical reaction is labeled “crumb rubber”, which is used to manufacture other products made of nitrile synthetic rubber as well, including cables, sponges, adhesives, and floor mats to name a few.

Now we have created pure nitrile that has no additives, and the next step is to soften nitrile's rigidity by adding some other chemicals to it to transform it into a soft, low modulus (stretchy and elastic) material.

So, we've arrived at the material we need, how does it then get molded to create nitrile gloves? Before arriving at the factory, manufacturers use equipment to clean ceramic hand-shaped forms, by running them through water and bleach. After drying, the forms are submerged in a calcium carbonate and calcium nitrate blend, an important step that helps the NBR to gel properly around these forms.

Now that we have the forms ready to create our gloves, we dip them in our NBR materials from earlier, and heat them at a high temperature so that the gloves begin to take shape from liquid to solid as the heat makes them dry. The final step is simply to remove the gloves from the hand forms, called “the stripping phase”, and voila! We have our nitrile gloves!

The Nitrile Gloves for You

In the last 20 years and especially through the pandemic, nitrile gloves have evolved as manufacturers continue to come up with new and improved formulations.

Whether you work in a food handling, cosmetic, surgical, or dental industry, and the list goes on, there are a variety of nitrile gloves with different features that you can choose from, including options with textured fingertips andextended cuffs. For color-coding work environments, nitrile gloves are available in a variety of colors, including pink, black and blue. You can choose to order a box or two depending on the frequency of use, or you can order them in bulk and store them for when you need them, and finally, they are offered in sizes XS to XL.

Before the gloves are shipped to distribution facilities and can actually be sold to customers, they have to go through quality assurance testing to ensure they meet the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory standards. WellBefore's nitrile gloves have all undergone a 510(k) submission, and they are FDA cleared!