Pesticide handlers get by far the most exposure from pesticides on their hands and forearms. Research has shown that workers mixing pesticides received 85% of the total exposure on their hands and 13% on their forearms. The same study showed that wearing protective gloves reduced exposure by 99%. Wearing the proper glove is essential to protecting your skin. Pesticide labels often require waterproof gloves or one of the following glove types: nitrile rubber, butyl rubber, neoprene rubber, barrier laminate, and Viton®.
Selecting the Right Protective Glove
Each glove type varies significantly in how well it protects from the different solvents in formulated products. The solvent in a formulation determines the type of protective glove to wear. Read each label to determine which glove type is appropriate. This can vary from product to product, even with those containing similar active ingredients. Pesticide labels require either waterproof gloves (for solid or water-based formulations) or chemical resistant gloves for the various solvents (e.g., alcohols, ketones, and petroleum distillates) used in different formulations.
For liquid products that use a solvent other than water, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires each label to specify particular glove materials that provide protection. Read the label carefully to make sure you have the correct protective glove material. Some pesticide labels specify both the glove material and its thickness. As a general rule, the thicker the glove (of the same material under identical conditions), the longer the breakthrough time. A pesticide label’s glove type specification is generally based upon a thickness of 14 mils, except for polyethylene and barrier laminate gloves. Use the 14 mils thickness as a rule of thumb when selecting glove materials that appear on the pesticide label.
Glove durability is another important consideration.
- Select a glove that is protective, does not tear or puncture easily, and protects you for the duration of the task.
- Discard gloves if there is any sign of wear or if they leak.
- Do not use gloves made of any kind of absorbent material, lining, or flocking, including leather or cloth. These types of gloves absorb pesticides and trap them closely against your bare skin, greatly increasing skin absorption. An exception: cloth gloves are used with fumigants.
Choose a glove size that fits comfortably. Gloves that fit well provide increased dexterity for equipment maintenance or calibration. Note these problems that can occur with ill-fitting gloves:
- Gloves that are too tight stretch the material, allowing pesticides to break through.
- Gloves that are too large can get caught in equipment.
- Gloves that are too loose may allow pesticides to run down the inside and be directly absorbed by your skin.
Select gloves designed to give extra protection when needed for the job. Use elbow-length gloves when mixing and loading. Wear gloves according to how you are applying the pesticide. Do not use a glove beyond the breakthrough time.
Care of Reusable Gloves
- When using reusable gloves, rinse them at each break and wash them thoroughly at the end of the workday. Absorbed pesticides will continue to enter the material if not removed.
- Make sure gloves are in top condition. Throw out any gloves showing wear. Check glove integrity before each use.
- Rinse disposable gloves before discarding them.
Safety Practices for Glove Use
- Wear waterproof or chemical resistant gloves when applying pesticides. Although pesticide labels do not always specifically require gloves, wearing them reduces pesticide exposure (except when handling fumigants).
- Check gloves closely for holes by filling them with clean water and gently squeezing. Discard them if you find any leakage.
- Wear gloves whenever you might get pesticides or residue on your hands, such as when cleaning sprayer nozzles or working around contaminated equipment or surfaces.
- If pesticide is spilled, splashed, or gets inside your gloves, take them off immediately. Wash your hands and put on a clean pair of gloves.
- Replace gloves immediately if they get cut, torn, or damaged.
- If making several applications during the day, change gloves between jobs to avoid contaminating yourself and your vehicle.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist