Comparing Vinyl, Latex, and Nitrile Gloves

Ray Alaigh, CEO and Founder of Medical Examination Gloves, sat down with Medical Eexamination Gloves (MEG) to discuss the relative attributes of vinyl gloves, latex gloves, and nitrile gloves.

MEG: Ray, how would you have your customers think about the differences that distinguish vinyl, latex, and nitrile medical examination gloves?

Ray: We are talking about three materials that are different and distinct, physically and chemically. Vinyl is plastic PBC. Latex is a tree-sap material. And nitrile is a petroleum product. Quality-wise, vinyl is on the low end of the spectrum and latex is the middle. Latex gloves feel and fit like a glove, in the real sense. They fit snugly on the hand. Nitrile has the same snug feel, but nitrile gloves are both more protective in terms of chemicals and more puncture-resistant.

MEG: You said that latex will give you a snug fit. Does that mean that vinyl will just fit loosely on your hand?

Ray: Vinyl is a little loose because of the physical nature of the plastic itself. Plastic doesn’t have the rubbery feel of latex. By the way, a lot of people refer to vinyl gloves as “latex-free.”

MEG: I thought that “latex-free” was a term used because some people are allergic to latex. Is there another reason they might choose vinyl gloves?

Ray: The primary factor people shy away from latex and choose vinyl is allergies. Less than one percent of the population is allergic to vinyl.

MEG: Nitrile is also latex-free, correct?

Ray: Yes, nitrile is also latex-free. However, there could be somebody out there who has an allergy to petroleum products.

MEG: Should the user be concerned about vinyl gloves not fitting snugly? Would a looser fit increase the chances of exposure?

Ray: Vinyl has been considered loose compared to nitrile and latex, but nowadays we have synthetic vinyl gloves with stretch properties. A stretch vinyl glove does cling on to your hand and it almost feels like latex. As a matter of fact, untrained eyes can’t tell the difference between latex and stretch vinyl gloves. It’s that close.

MEG: Oh. Yes, tell me about the stretch vinyl. That sounds like some kind of cross between vinyl and latex, is that right?

Ray: It’s not actually a cross. Additional chemicals have been introduced to add a stretching quality to the vinyl, but it doesn’t have any latex. It’s an added step in production, and at slightly added cost.

MEG: So the difference between stretch vinyl and vinyl is strictly how snugly the glove fits your hand?

Ray: Correct. The stretch vinyl is slightly costlier, but not a whole lot. Stretch vinyl gives you similar protection to what one gets from latex, at a lower cost.

MEG: It seems like it’s a matter of your preference about how the glove fits your hand. In your experience, do most people like the feeling of a glove that is snug as opposed to one that is loose-fitting?

Ray: Yes. A snug glove gives you better dexterity and a more accurate sense of touch. When you touch a needle or something you can feel that you’re picking up a needle.

MEG: Would you tell someone planning to get a vinyl glove they should at least get the stretch vinyl glove because it’s a nominal difference in cost but it’s a lot better for dexterity?

Ray: Right.

MEG: Okay. Tell me about powdered medical examination gloves. Do products that you carry have powder on them? Is powder good or bad?

Ray: We don’t carry many powdered gloves because of allergies. Some people are allergic to powder. By the way, the powder is corn starch — that’s what’s required by the FDA, and all types of gloves, medical examination gloves, fall under the FDA’s jurisdiction. The powder is part of the manufacturing process. Powder is put on the forms that shape the gloves, and that makes it easier to roll the finished gloves off the form.

MEG: So the powder is a benefit to the manufacturer, not to the consumer?

Ray: There’s absolutely no consumer benefit. Some people feel that having the powder makes the gloves easier to don. But the latest generation of gloves are polycoated inside to make them easy to put on.

MEG: So people who are buying powdered gloves are simply not aware of the new technology.

Ray: Sometimes. But powder is still being preferred in some cases because powdered gloves are slightly cheaper than the powder-free gloves.

MEG: Is the choice of powdered or powder-free strictly an issue for vinyl gloves, or is there also such a thing as powdered latex and powdered nitrile?

Ray: There are powdered latex and nitrile gloves, but they are not very popular. More than 90 percent of the medical examination gloves sold are powder-free.

MEG: You have gloves from a number of manufacturers at medicalexaminationgloves.com. Can you help us understand the real differences among the types of medical examination gloves?

Ray: With the majority of them, you can’t tell the difference. There are some instances where a company has mixed some kind of vitamin or moisturizer into the glove and patented it.  And there can be a difference when it comes to the thickness of the glove. In vinyl gloves, the majority of the gloves are 5 mils thick. But there are heavier gloves for EMTs, people who want a thicker glove. They may ask for nitrile gloves as thick as 8 or 9 mil. They want something very durable, very protective.

MEG: When we look at your site will we see the thickness specifications in the product descriptions so we can make an informed choice?

Ray: Most have the thickness listed, and the recommended uses are described.

MEG: Is it fair to say that medical examination gloves are a commodity, and, if so, would the intelligent buyer buy on price?

Ray: Well, as with any commodity, you have slightly better or slightly inferior product-based features. What’s the thickness of the glove? What’s the stretching factor (elongation) of the glove? What’s the shelf life of the gloves? You will see gloves on the market that will last only two years on the shelf, but our standard is at least five years of shelf life.

MEG: Back to my question about commoditization. If you carry only the very best products available, and most of them are commoditized, should the intelligent buyer visiting your site simple choose the least expensive ones?

Ray: I would say that’s pretty fair way of picking because you can pick a product that basically suits your needs and have a choice from less expensive to very expensive. Some people still think that if they spend more money on a product it means that product is supposed to be better. But often the less-expensive product is perfectly adequate. I like to use the example of soap: No matter how expensive soap is or how cheap soap is, soap’s main job is to clean. Expensive soap might leave your hand a little more moisturized at the end because of a heavier fat content in the soap. But it serves the same purpose.

A disposable medical examination glove is there to protect you. For instance, a glove that costs $6 will protect you and the glove that costs $8 will protect you — without much difference. Keep in mind, though, that the glove that cost $2 may not protect as well. Which is why we are carrying only the better products.

MEG: Is that why there’s not much price difference among the SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) you carry on this site?

Ray: Yes.

MEG: Given all this, which of the least expensive SKUs on this site would you recommend?

Ray: Our own product, Rovin Med, which is priced very competitively. That’s because we don’t have two or three layers of middlemen in there. We take all the importers and distributors out of the equation, which lets us offer better quality at a more  competitive price. The brands that we carry like Ansell and Cardinal are a little more expensive because they have multiple layers of people in their supply chain.

MEG: For your to offer an Ansell product, you have to make a profit as well as them. Does that mean that if I wanted an Ansell product, I should go to ansell.com? And, if I did, would I find that Ansell product at a price that is comparable your price for your product?

Ray: What you’ll find is that ansell.com and cardinal.com and sempermed.com and the other big companies will not sell to you directly. The don’t sell to the end-users. They sell to the big distributors who in turn give the product to the small distributor in your area who then ship the product to a local store which sells it to the end-user at a premium. To answer your question, Ansell won’t sell to you directly. Cardinal won’t sell to you directly, especially if you’re buying one case or one box or 10 cases. You’d have to be ordering gloves by the container for the big companies to consider you as a customer.

MEG: It sounds as though you’ve kind of created a new sub-category, which is direct-to-consumer medical examination gloves.

Ray: Right.

MEG: That sounds very smart. This has been a very informative conversation. Thank you Ray Alaigh, CEO and Founder of Medical Examination Gloves.