Hardly anyone wants to make the same purchase again and again. But when it comes to the gloves that you wear for work day in and day out, replacement is normal. Surprised? Well, if you think about it, some gloves are a one-and-done sort of deal. You wouldn’t want your doctor or dentist to wear the same work gloves for an entire day, right? But then, some gloves are designed in a more durable fashion. If they aren’t involved with giving shots or checking that itchy rash, they should last for a while.
The longevity of work gloves depends on the type of gloves that you need, the job that you perform and how often you go to work. It also depends on how well you take care of your PPE. Toss them under a work truck seat or at the bottom of a tool bag, and they might not last as long as they would if you were a bit more cautious.
Many factors combine to give you a guideline for when to replace your work gloves. Here are a few of the things you should consider when trying to decide whether yours have seen better days or if they’re safe for a few more shifts.
1. Wear and Tear Is the Clearest Sign for Replacement
You might get away with wearing a ratty old pair of cotton knit gloves to operate the lawnmower or trim hedges at home. It doesn’t matter as much if your pinkie is poking out when you’re not working on a deadline or handling industrial machinery.
But when the work gloves you use to protect your hands on the job show signs of wear, that’s something different. And it’s especially true when you require cut, puncture or chemical protection.
Fraying along seams, worn fingertips, tears and holes leave you at risk for injury. Although they might have been rated ASTM ANSI Cut Level 4 and ASTM ANSI Puncture Resistance Level 4 when they were new, you may not have realized that any area of damage reduces the level of protection that they’re able to offer. And if the fabric of the gloves is torn or punctured, of course the protection in those areas plummets to a great big zero.
Examine your work gloves daily, before every shift. That’s the safest practice, and one that can guard your hands against cuts, punctures, chemical burns and other hazards. If you toss them on without a second thought, you’re putting yourself at an unnecessary risk. It only takes a minute to sustain a serious injury. But it also takes a minute to determine whether your gloves are safe to begin with.
2. Helping Extend the Lifespan of Work Gloves
Some people take exceptional care of their gloves, and some don’t. The ones who do can expect a longer lifespan, but that’s not a failsafe against damage. A cleaner glove is typically one that will last longer, but that depends on the materials that you handle and the fabrication of the glove.
For example, a glove that’s soiled with an abrasive material, but is never laundered, is subject to a gradual wearing down of the fibres just from the repetitive friction of the grime. Problem is, not all gloves can be laundered the same way.
Many materials, including Kevlar®, Dyneema®, nylon, poly/cotton, many coated gloves and wool ones, can take a swish in the washing machine using ordinary laundry detergent. But wool needs cold water. When laundered in warm or hot temperatures, wool mats and shrinks. This process is called “felting”, and it’s caused more than one sweater to emerge from the laundry that’ll be a perfect fit for your three-year-old nephew. Wool needs cold water only.
Leather is different. It requires dry cleaning with a leather process, as laundering makes them dry and brittle. Proban® is different, too. It not only withstands laundering, it needs it. But there’s a catch. Flame-retardant gloves can become more flammable in time because of a buildup of contaminants. Laundering extends their safe life. The catch is that these flame-retardant gloves can survive only a limited number of washings before they are rendered ineffective and require replacement.
3. Some Gloves Always Require Replacement
Some gloves will last and last. But some are doomed to the waste bin after every use, for your own protection and the protection of others. If you handle biomedical materials, you already know that disposing your gloves after one wear is the protocol.
It doesn’t matter if the gloves show signs of wear or not. Disposable gloves are, and should always be, just that — disposable. No amount of sanitizing should ever be attempted in order to get another wear out of them. Chemicals that might render disposable gloves technically clean would likely break down the material anyway.
This doesn’t just apply to gloves worn in medical or dental fields, in which biohazards are a risk. It’s also important in food service, as well as janitorial work. The problem isn’t always that the materials being handled are impossible to eradicate, although that’s often the case. It’s more that disposable gloves are not durable enough to withstand what it would take to sanitize them.
If you use disposable gloves, do yourself a favour. Don’t try to prolong their lifespan. Dispose of them after one use and grab another pair for the next job. It’s much safer for both yourself and anyone that you come into contact with.
Work gloves can do their job only for as long as they remain in top condition. If you need protection from extreme temperatures, it only stands to reason that a break in a glove will leave your skin as vulnerable as if it weren’t covered at all. The same applies to damage incurred to cut-resistant, puncture-resistant or chemical-resistant gloves, or any other types of gloves that you need to perform your job safely.
All gloves will break down and go out of service eventually — it’s just a matter of time. The main factors are the amount of abuse or hazards that they encounter on a regular basis and how well you take care of them. Check them for damage regularly and launder them as often as recommended. Each glove is a bit different in that respect.
Julie McFater is the marketing and communications manager of Superior Glove in Acton, Ontario.