Sterile vs. Non-Sterile Gloves: Choosing the Best Protection for You
Disposable gloves are some of the most commonly used PPE (personal protective equipment) in a wide variety of industries. From healthcare to beauty, to food, in warehouses and salons, disposable gloves are highly versatile and safe for employees performing a wide assortment of tasks in the workplace.
As you shop for disposable gloves, you may wonder whether sterile or non-sterile gloves are appropriate for your staff.
This post highlights the details of both kinds of disposable gloves, including the similarities, key differences, and various use cases and scenarios through which each type of glove can be properly and safely used.
For healthcare professionals and patients, sterile gloves are a protective barrier for both parties. They reduce cross-contamination and protect the skin from bacteria, pathogens, and infections that may be present during invasive medical procedures.
What Are Sterile Gloves?
Sterile gloves are designed for medical and surgical procedures to be worn by healthcare professionals. Simply put, sterile gloves are free of all microbial life forms in order to protect patients and medical professionals against infection or exposure to viruses, bacteria, or germs.
Sterile gloves are worn during surgeries and specific medical procedures because the threat of infection is much higher than in non-surgical procedures.
The FDA has regulations and guidelines about the acceptable quality level that sterile gloves must abide by to be deemed safe, which involves sterilization before use.
Sterilization Techniques Used for Sterile Gloves
Multiple sterilization techniques are used to clean medical supplies and equipment, but two are explicitly used to sterilize gloves to the FDA's predetermined acceptable quality level (AQL) of sterile. The two techniques are radiation and ethylene oxide.
Radiation kills germs and neutralizes organisms that can cause disease. It's a standard method of sterilization for medical equipment and supplies that yields consistent results and protects millions of people worldwide. Gamma irradiation plants sterilize over 40% of medical supplies worldwide every year, making them highly safe and cost-effective.
Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a flammable, colorless gas that can sterilize plastic with gentle penetration that won't damage the product. It is often used on items that will warp or melt through other sterilization techniques like using steam.
The FDA regulates these two sterilization techniques and keeps sterile surgical gloves safe in healthcare facilities for medical procedures, surgeries, and examinations.
Non-sterile gloves have not been through one of the FDA-approved sterilization techniques mentioned above. These gloves are still sterilized for safety purposes but not to the degree that sterile gloves are.
This does not mean non-sterile gloves aren't safe to use in a medical procedure, but there are limitations on what exams and procedures can be done while wearing non-sterile gloves. These restrictions are strictly designed to keep patients and healthcare staff safe during any procedure.
Non-sterile gloves are referred to as medical or examination gloves because they can be used in more general settings. These types of gloves must be certified by the FDA to be used safely in medical settings; they just aren't sterilized in the same format as sterile gloves.
Non-sterile gloves are designed to act as a barrier for germs during various procedures, exams, and in other industries like food service and cosmetology.
Sterile vs. Non-Sterile Gloves: Key Differences
A few key differences between sterile and non-sterile gloves are essential to note as you select the right product for your business! Let's discuss the notable differences:
As discussed above, the primary difference between sterile and non-sterile gloves is the sterilization techniques used for each type of glove. Sterile gloves are sterilized through ethylene oxide or radiation, which are the most effective ways to remove any microbes from the gloves and protect against the spread of pathogens.
Non-sterile gloves are not sterilized by the manufacturer but are still tested by the FDA to ensure they meet specific requirements of sterilization and safety.
The FDA's acceptable quality level, or AQL, differs for sterile and non-sterile gloves. Because of the thin, elastic material that safety gloves are made from, pinholes are sometimes a prevalent issue. The FDA's AQL exists to ensure that in batches of safety gloves, the risk of pinholes is extremely low and controlled in order to protect healthcare professionals and patients in various medical settings.
The AQL for sterile gloves is 1.5; meaning in a sample size of 100 sterile gloves, less than 1.5 can have pinholes to be deemed acceptable by the FDA guidelines.
In non-sterile gloves, the standard is more relaxed. The AQL for non-sterile gloves is between 1.5 and 2.5, meaning that in the same sample size of 100 gloves, between 1.5% and 2.5% of the gloves may have pinholes and still be considered safe to use.
The price difference between sterile and non-sterile gloves is significant. Because of the requirements to be certified and approved by the FDA, along with the individually wrapped packages, sterile gloves can be costly for organizations to invest in for their staff.
On the other hand, non-sterile gloves are more affordable and can be purchased in bulk, so you'll always have stock on hand. Because non-sterile gloves have many uses outside of medicine and healthcare, they are more widely manufactured and are easier to produce and sell without stringent FDA restrictions.
Non-sterile gloves can be made from vinyl and are ideal for heavy-duty cleaning or when working with harmful chemicals. Latex-free non-sterile gloves are typically used in cosmetology, hairdressing, and specific food handling scenarios.
Use Cases for Sterile vs. Non-Sterile Gloves
Each type of disposable glove has its own unique use case for patient care, which we will highlight below.
Non-Sterile Glove Uses
Along with non-surgical environments, non-sterile gloves can be used in and for:
- Non-surgical procedures and medical examinations
- Changing and dressing wounds
- Medical check-ups and blood tests
- Catheter removal
- Non-surgical dental procedures, like simple dental extractions
- Medical labs
- Food preparation
- Electrical work
This is not to say that non-sterile gloves are never used in medical examinations. They certainly are, but the threat of infection must be very low. Non-sterile gloves protect against body fluids and bacteria in every situation, not just medical settings.
Sterile Glove Uses
The most common uses in medical settings for sterile gloves include the following:
- Invasive procedures
- Surgical procedures
- Changing dressing on surgical wounds
- Handling surgical equipment and supplies
- Scientific research
What Does Partially Sterile Mean?
Some surgical gloves are deemed partially sterile, which can be misleading in some scenarios. Partially sterile means the gloves have been disinfected, reducing the risk of contact with dangerous microorganisms, but it does not remove them altogether. Partially sterile gloves are safe in non-medical examinations and procedures and in the food services industry.
Choosing Sterile or Non-Sterile Gloves for Your Business
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
At WellBefore, we pride ourselves on offering the highest quality gloves for a variety of industries and uses. If too many options overwhelm you, we've highlighted a few of the best choices you can buy in this section. Here are a few of our highly recommended and popular non-sterile and sterile gloves.
Our WellBefore Endeavor nitrile examination gloves are powder-free and tear-resistant, offering high elasticity properties and textured fingertips for a durable grip.
The McKesson Confiderm 3.0 nitrile gloves are another great option. Featuring a snug fit, ambidextrous sizing, and beaded cuffs, these non-sterile gloves are ideal for food handling, cosmetology, and medical exams.
These are just two of our many high-quality and durable non-sterile options. You'll find many more glove options on our website to keep your staff and customers safe and healthy.
The McKesson Perry synthetic surgical gloves use the sterilization technique of gamma rays to be certified by the FDA. They are a popular choice among healthcare professionals, particularly surgeons, and are often used in doctors' offices. These sterile gloves are latex-free, offer an anti-slip finish, and enhanced roll-down protection that is crucial during surgical intervention.
Another great sterile glove option is the Gammex Non-Latex PI surgical glove. These come individually packaged for the acceptable quality level determined by the FDA, along with a smooth finish and extended cuff length to fit a wider variety of sizes.
Get the Best Gloves for Your Business Today
Whether you're in food safety, contracting, health, beauty, or healthcare, WellBefore has the disposable gloves you need to keep your staff and customers safe.
We offer an assortment of gloves, including non-sterile nitrile gloves, vinyl gloves, and more. We offer gloves with the necessary features and qualities for various tasks, including anti-slip features, beaded cuffs, and tear resistance for the ultimate protection of staff and patients.
As you decide whether sterile versus non-sterile gloves are the best choice for your business, you can shop with the confidence that WellBefore offers top-quality products in the industry. Our main goal is to support you in keeping your employees, patients, and workplace safe with the best personal protective equipment that money can buy.
Questions about sterile and non-sterile gloves? Live chat with us as you browse our website. We're here to help you find the best gloves for you!