Myth Busting: Six Things You Thought Wrong about Work Gloves

Oct. 1, 2007
If the truth will set you free, then when it comes to gloves and hand protection, the truth will free you from costly errors – errors that have a lot more to do with safety rather than just dollars and cents.

The truth is, if you are making decisions about gloves using the wrong information, you might be making a huge mistake. There are several things people tend to take as self-evident truths about gloves that are, in fact, false. In some cases, the opposite is true.

Myth No. 1 – More Expensive is Better

This is never more true than in the area of leather. Take your basic leather, fitted glove style, for example. Leafing through the pages of the average safety supply catalog, you are faced with a myriad of choices in the “leather palm” category. Pattern, leather choice, cuff style and, of course, price, are the main factors to be considered, not to mention options like knuckle straps and extra protection in certain areas.

It is the leather choice itself, however, that goes furthest in terms of abrasion-resistance and longevity of the glove. Although more expensive grain leather is a great choice when appearance, ability to repel water and dexterity are important, for most rugged applications, suede leather (or as we in the trade call it, split leather) is the best choice. It performs significantly better than top- grain leather in terms of wear, abrasion and tensile strength, which also illustrates the folly of choosing protection by using price as a gauge of quality. The choice should be based on the level of protection alone. Top-grain leather is always more expensive than the suede leather version of the same glove, but does not necessarily offer increased protection for the increased price.

Myth No. 2 - More Layers Equal More Protection

Construction in the palm area of leather gloves also leads to some misconceptions. When sizing up gloves in a catalog, it is tempting to believe – based on appearance alone – that a patch palm is going to double your protection. To the uninitiated, palm patches would seem to offer greater protection, as the double palm looks like it would give twice the protection in that area.

The reality with most patch-palm leather glove styles is that the patch exists as a kind of bridge between two pieces of leather to create a full palm. This enables the glove manufacturer to maximize use of the full hide by using up all the smaller leftover pieces. While this is wonderfully resourceful, one should not think that a patch palm glove gives you twice the wear. The fact of the matter is, if the thread wears away on the patch, the glove palm splits in two.

Myth No. 3 – Fancier Grip Patterns Equal Better Grip

Latex, nitrile or neoprene gloves in a dishwashing style are another target of marketing ploys. Various and decorative grip patterns are created by manufacturers, all with the goal of leading the end-user to believe that this one or that one will give the ultimate grip. There are diamond pattern grips, sandpatch grips, Z-pattern grips, pebble grips and scallop grips.

These grip patterns might have a small effect on dry grip, but you are not wearing a dishwashing style to handle dry things. When it comes to wet grip, like in wet, soapy water, our tests have shown all grip patterns perform relatively the same. There are ways to change grip characteristics by changing the glove compounding itself, but grip pattern alone has little-to-no effect on wet grip.

Myth No. 4 – Gloves That Can Tolerate Chemicals CanTolerate Anything

Chemical resistance demands attention to detail, of course; from MSDS sheets to various charts created by manufacturers, there is no shortage of information to assist with such decisions. Breakthrough time and degradation ratings are a must-know, but it’s sometimes what the glove cannot come into contact with that is of utmost importance. A PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) glove, for example, which stands up to many of the harshest chemicals and solvents known to man, will dissolve in water. Another example is the negative impact gasoline has on latex gloves. So, knowing what chemicals a glove protects against is great, but inquiring as to which chemicals weaken it is helpful to know too.

Myth No. 5 – If the Glove Doesn’t Burn, Your HandWon’t Either

When it comes to a glove’s heat resistance, be sure to watch the meanings of descriptive words. While a Kevlar glove will withstand temperature contact up to 1,000 F without burning or melting, this Kevlar outer layer does little to protect the hand beneath it, not without a really good layer of insulation in between. That’s because heat resistance and insulating properties are two different things.

So you could take a seven-gauge string knit Kevlar glove, and grab something as hot as 800 F, and the glove would look fine. No charring, burning or smoking. Your hand would be a different story. Just because the material can take the temperature, doesn’t mean the glove has been designed to insulate against that temperature.

Myth No. 6 – Certain Gloves are Cut-Proof

Every glove material or new wonder fibre has its Achilles heel. A fibre like Kevlar is both cut- and heat-resistant, and it is used in all kinds of different gloves. But it is the equivalent of pouring water over the Wicked Witch of the West if you bleach it in the laundry. Another glove fibre, Dyneema, is very cut-resistant but not heat-resistant, having in fact a very low melt point of under 300 F.

When talking about the property of cut resistance, the most important distinction to make is that gloves are cut-resistant, as opposed to cut-proof. In fact, there is not a glove in existence that can claim to be cut-proof.

So, the next time you’re faced with a decision about which glove to buy, keep in mind that, somewhere in the collective effort of suppliers to promote product, lies the truth. (Not that anybody is lying to you!) You must take the time to look a little more closely and read between the lines. The reason there are so many glove styles out there is as complex as the hand itself, the care of which, like our sight, is critical to our survival in the work world.

One final fact: Did you know that hands, like the eyes, are “paired organs” and are controlled by opposing brain hemispheres?

Tony Geng is president of Superior Glove Ltd. (, which was founded in 1910.

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