What Is the Difference Between Latex and Nitrile Gloves?

If you were to put a nitrile and a latex glove side by side, it would probably be hard to tell the difference. On the surface, they seem pretty much the same. They look the same, come in the same colors and sizes, are similar in their matte finish and are packaged the same.

But, put those two gloves in front of a healthcare worker, and we bet they’d be able to pick out which is which nine times out of ten. For people who routinely wear gloves, and especially ones who were in the field during the proliferation of latex gloves, the differences are night and day.

Talk to most any healthcare worker and they’ll tell you which glove they prefer. An overwhelming majority choose nitrile gloves as their go to for a variety of reasons, reason we’ll dive into here.

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That’s just an overly technical way of saying how much stuff each material lets through. Both latex and nitrile do a good job of protecting people from the substances they don’t want on their hands, but nitrile is a step above thanks to its synthetic nature.

Nitrile is better suited to resist:

  • ils. Ones such as mineral, vegetable, and other cooking oils along with petroleum based ones such as motor and hydraulic oils. Latex’s organic nature makes it more susceptible to break down by these products, creating small pores through which oil can seep inside the glove. While nitrile is not failproof with petroleum based substances, it can hold its ground longer than its latex counterpart.
  • Acids. Once again, nitrile owes its ability to handle caustic substances to its synthetic origins. Organic materials are exactly what acids were designed to breakdown, making latex a poor choice for handling these dangerous liquids.
  • odily Fluids. Why do doctors, nurses, and paramedics wear gloves? It’s a simple idiom of “if it's wet and not yours, you don’t want it on you”. Healthcare workers need to protect themselves from exposure to blood, urine, feces, mucus and phlegm on a daily basis. Latex is well suited for the job, but is continually outperformed by nitrile, especially during long duration exposures such as surgeries.
Puncture Resistance

A glove with a hole in it is as useless as no glove at all. The healthcare workers we were just discussing also turn to gloves as the only line of defense against accidental needle sticks. Needle exposure is the leading cause of disease transmission in the healthcare field and guarding against it is at the foreground of all healthcare workers’ minds.

When it comes to strength, nitrile gloves:

  • Are highly puncture resistant. Studies have shown them to be 3-5 times more so than latex based gloves.
  • Less likely to tear when exposed to pulling forces.
  • ess likely to rip at pressure points such as the outside of the hand or the space in between fingers.
  • ar more durable during long wear times. Latex is broken down at a rapider pace because of its organic nature by factors like sweat, heat, and foreign substances.
Comfort and Dexterity

Anyone who is wearing gloves while doing their job wants one thing; for the gloves not to impact how well they can do it. How well a glove fits the hand, how flexible it is, and the sensitivity that is conveyed back to the wearer influence how likely someone is to use a glove.

Gloves that address all of these concerns are more likely to be used, and the wearers are less likely to make mistakes because of them, which is what everyone involved wants to hear.

When compared to their latex counterpart:

  • itrile gloves conform better than latex gloves because of the butadiene monomer used to create the glove. This is a flexible synthetic rubber that can mold and take the shape of whatever it is applied to.
  • Tactile sensitivity, or the feel someone has while wearing gloves, is far better with nitriles. As body heat warms the glove, the chemicals that make up the polymer create almost a shrink wrap effect not seen by latex.
  • his shrink wrap effect molds to the wearer, and gives them the feel of not wearing a glove at all.
  • he non-porous nature of nitrile gloves as a synthetic allow heat to be trapped inside the glove. This aspect is loved by those who have to wear them outdoors during the cold winter months. Paramedics for instance are forced to wear gloves for hours at a time while operating at incidents in the cold, this insulating factor keeps their hands warm when they aren’t able to wear typical winter gloves.
  • Latex is hailed as a breathable material. New mattresses made from latex tout how well the bed circulates air and keeps the user cool during the night. Latex gloves work the same, however, that may not be such an attractive trait in a product that is supposed to act as a barrier.
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Although the factors we listed above are a big reason why so many people choose nitrile gloves over latex gloves now, they are not the driving factor for their invention.

Latex allergies have been a major risk in the healthcare field for as long as they have been utilizing latex products. Unfortunately, for many people, they weren’t aware of this allergy until a surgeon’s hands were inside their abdomen, or a latex breathing tube was placed in their airway.

Allergies are a natural part of life for humans, but the latex allergy was causing people to get sicker or even die in environments where they were seeking help for an already existing injury or illness.

According to a recent study, approximately 220 cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions) are caused by latex each year in the United States. These cases can easily end in death if not treated immediately and appropriately.

In contrast, the instance of allergic reaction to nitrile is so rare, it’s not studied or deemed an applicable threat to the general public.

It was due to this constant threat that an alternative was sought after and ultimately why nitrile gloves came into existence.


Latex has often gotten the “organic” label so fervently chased after these days. That doesn’t mean it's green or eco friendly though. Latex is derived by collecting the remnants of the rubber tree of Asia.

Nitrile is a synthetic derivative and has a much higher prevalence of renewability. While we are not going to slap the “green” label on nitrile, the current trend shows that it is more environmentally friendly than latex.

Tomayto is not Tamotto

They say that if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. That’s true when it comes to birds, but not everything.

While on the surface, latex and nitrile gloves seem almost interchangeable, we hope that the information here has shown that they are as different as a duck and an elephant.

Nitrile gloves provide more protection against the elements and foreign substances while remaining flexible and comfortable. Their durability is unmatched and the safety for both, the user and those who come in contact with a user cannot be beat.

It’s a rare thing when two products of identical use are so contrasted in what they provide a consumer, but that is certainly the case when it comes to nitrile gloves versus latex gloves.

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