Flavours of Gloves in my Chemistry LabPosted: March 21, 2014
Earlier this week, a flippant twitpic of my gloves sparked a bit of a conversation on twitter about glove use in the chemistry laboratory. I was directed to these two posts from Professor Andrea Sella’s blog, and reminded of this one from ChemBark.
In my summer breaks as an undergrad I worked in the ‘inorganics’ section of an environmental lab (this meant working mainly with water), and I remember looking across the corridor to the ‘organics’ section and noting that their gloves were different to the ones I was using. I didn’t really understand at this point the difference between different glove materials until one of the chemists I worked with explained this to me. I think this was my first proper introduction to glove use in the lab.
I’ve worked in over half a dozen different labs over my career now, but I’ve found the glove culture to be reasonably consistent between them. People tend to wear gloves in the lab the majority of the time, with not much consideration for whether the task actually requires them. It’s common to see people using lab computers, door handles, pens and other items while wearing gloves. This means that EVERY SURFACE in the lab is potentially contaminated. Think about that.
My colleague recently reviewed the gloves we use in our laboratory, and their compatibility with the solvents and samples we typically work with. The bulk of our chemistry is done with hydrocarbon fuels and organic solvents. If this type of work was done as an undergrad lab class, I’d probably agree with Prof Sella and say gloves are not necessary for a one-off potential exposure and any spills could be easily dealt with using soap and water. However, I work with this stuff every day and I am concerned about the effects of repeated, long term exposure to organics which is why I use gloves most of the time. The result of the review was the acquisition of some new glove types which I’ve started using for different situations;
- Our staple nitrile glove has been replaced with a black version (because black is the most badass), which has the benefit of being slightly thicker than the blue ones we had been using before. I use this glove 95% of the time, either for working on GC-MS instruments (where I am gloved to protect the instrument from dust and fingerprint oils) or when I am transferring or pipetting small amounts of sample or solvent. Although nitrile is permeable to most of the liquids I’m working with, the glove provides a temporary barrier and a few seconds grace where I can remove the glove before my skin comes into contact with the liquid.
- Also made of nitrile, these gloves are considerably thicker than above with a textured outside surface for better grip. These gloves are marketed as disposable, so I’m a little uncomfortable using these very frequently because their stiffness means they would take up a lot of space in landfill – probably the space of at least half a box of regular nitriles. Also, they’re permeable to most of our common lab solvents, although the grace time is longer given the thickness. On the plus side, the extra grip is fantastic and dexterity in this glove is very good.
- These gloves are new to me and the best glove we could find for working with hydrocarbon fuels. They’re impermeable to kerosene and gasoline type fuels, so they are my new go-to glove for working with larger volumes. They have a weird, flat shape and are very smooth which is not great so if I need extra dexterity I use a nitrile glove one size up from my usual over the top.
- I’ve started doing washing up of glassware using these elbow-length beauties. Before I was using either nitriles or supermarket washing up gloves, both of which are practically useless because I would always dunk my arms too far into the washing up and just get all the water and fuel and detergent and any other junk filling up all the space between the glove and my hand anyway. These are much better because it’s almost physically impossible for me now to dunk my arms in above the glove line – I’d have to fall into the sink (which may be possible, our sink is enormous).
- These PVA gloves are used only for handling dichloromethane. DCM will instantly plough through all gloves except these. They’re a total pain to use, very stiff and dexterity is extremely poor but the only choice when handling DCM. I also had an accident with dichloromethane early on in my career so I am quite wary of any extra exposure to this solvent.
So while I do think about glove use more than some, there are a few of my own glove-related behaviours that I may need to think about more;
- I tend to wear my hair down and loose most days so occasionally in the lab I find myself needing to get hair out of my face while my hands are gloved. If blowing it away with a large exhale doesn’t work (ie if my hair is stuck in my lipstick), I generally use the back of my hand to push it away.
- Similarly, if I happen to have an itch on my face or other part of my body, I will use a gloved hand to scratch it, but use some part of my hand other than my fingers, which are most likely to be ‘contaminated’.
- I often re-use disposable nitriles if I think they’re not contaminated.
- I often use gloves simply to work in a dirty/dusty environment ie around our GC gas lines.
Holy moly, who’d have thought I would write >1000 words about gloves? GLOVES.