Many acids, solvents, and other liquids found in art, craft, theater, and conservation materials are capable of damaging the skin. Dermatitis is the leading industrial disease, and solvents and lubricants are the two types of chemicals responsible for this disease.
Choosing the right glove for different uses can be difficult since there is such a variety of plastic and rubber gloves on the market and they all have different properties. There is no one type or brand of glove that is resistant to all kinds of liquids: one brand might be able to resist turpentine, but will dissolve in xylene, while another brand may do the opposite. Appearances are deceptive - gloves that may seem resistant to a liquid can actually allow permeation of the substance's vapor. Dishwashing and surgical gloves almost never protect wearers against the solvents and acids found in many art materials.
Liquids, especially solvents, may penetrate gloves either in liquids or gas form (as vapors). In liquid form, solvents can cause some glove materials to dissolve. This is usually apparent to the wearer as the gloves soften and disintegrate. Concentrated solutions (eg concentrated acids) will penetrate gloves faster than dilute solutions. Gloves made by dipping the hand mold into a solvent-based solution are more resistant than gloves made from latex solutions. Obviously, the thicker the glove, the more resistant it is. Other factors such as heat and abrasion will also adversely affect glove performance.
Vapor penetration or permeation of gloves is more difficult to detect and may leave the glove unchanged in appearance. Instead, they must be obtained through direct experimentation.
Selection of Gloves
Glove selection begins with knowledge of the chemical composition of your materials. A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) with the listing of ingredients can be obtained from the manufacturer.
Glove charts from safety supply distributors list chemical resistances rated on performance under ordinary conditions. For gloves used in special circumstances, such as with heated solutions or with abrasive action, it is recommended that you consult the manufacturer or test the glove in its particular application to ensure suitability.
Gloves are available in various sizes and lengths, and it is important that the glove fit well. Make sure you select a glove of sufficient length to adequately protect your hand and forearm while working. As regular cleaning and drying of your gloves is necessary to maintain them, you'll need a spare pair while your regular gloves are begin cleaned.
Types of Glove Material
It is important to remember that glove performance varies between manufacturer even if the actual glove material is the same. Therefore, each chemical resistance chart is supplier-specific.
-Information not Available
Buna-N Butyl PVC PVA Polyethylene Nitrile Rubber Chemical
G E E G G P G E Organic Acids
E E E E E F E G Caustics
E E E G P E G
MethanolE E G E E F E E
Aromatics TolueneP F F F P P EE
Petroleum NapthaE E E F P P E E
Ketones Methyl Ethyl Ketone
G G F E NR F G F
NR F F NR NR E G G
CellosolveG F - - F E G P
F NR NR F F E F FBenzene
NR P G NR F E F G
E E E E E P E F
F G F G P F G F
EE G G E E E
P E E G G E E E
TurpentineF G E F F E G E
F E G G G P E NR
- F G G G G E E
E E G G F E E E
EE F P P
F P FFlexibilityF G F G F F G GDry Grip
E G G F E E G GWet Grip
*from glove manufacturer data
Art Hazard News, Volume 11, No. 4, 1988
This article was originally printed for Art Hazard News, © copyright Center for Safety in the Arts 1988. It appears on nontoxicprint courtesy of the Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, who have curated a collection of these articles from their archive which are still relevant to artists today.