person wearing blue nitrile gloves and touching dental toolsperson wearing blue nitrile gloves and doing lab work

Sterile vs. Non-Sterile Gloves

What makes a glove sterile?

Let's start with the obvious question - what does sterile mean? According to Miriam-Webster sterile means "free from living organisms and especially pathogenic microorganisms". It's up to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to regulate the standards for sterilization. This is not just for gloves but for all medical equipment. There are four FDA approved methods of sterilization, but only two of those are used to sterilize gloves: radiation and ethylene oxide.

Radiation is when the product is put in a separate room and exposed to the gamma rays. Ethylene oxide is a type of gas that can be used for sterilization, after which the gloves are aerated to remove all traces of the chemical. Both of these methods get rid of any microbial DNA molecules and microorganisms on the gloves for added safety.

One of the main differences between non-sterile and sterile gloves is the AQL or the acceptable quality level of pinholes. Surgical gloves have a lower AQL than non-sterile gloves, with sterile gloves AQL at 1.0 to 1.5 and non-sterile gloves AQL at 1.5 to 2.5. The number refers to the gloves in the sample that will have pinholes. So, for example, about 1.5 to 2.5% of the non-sterile sample gloves would have a pinhole. An AQL of 1 means that 1% of the gloves will have pinholes, and so on.


When to use sterile gloves

Sterile gloves are most commonly used during surgical procedures. This is because during surgery there's an increased risk of infection, and the tiny microorganisms that can be present on non-sterile gloves would add to that risk. Before any surgery healthcare professionals go to great lengths to sterilize the room and all tools being used for the surgery.

Another place you will often find sterile gloves being used is during scientific research. Many laboratories are working with invisible to the eye molecules and require sterile gloves to ensure tests and studies are not exposed to any contamination that could distort their research.

Sometimes products will be labeled as partially sterile. This means that the product has been disinfected. Disinfection will reduce harmful microorganisms but sterilization completely eliminates the microorganisms. It's important to note that gloves listed as partially sterile should never be used in the in situations where sterile gloves are required.

What are non sterile gloves?

Let's start with the basics - what does non sterile mean? Non-sterile is used to describe products that have not gone through one of the 4 FDA approved sterilization methods. When it comes to Non-sterile gloves this means the disposable gloves have not gone through the additional radiation or exposure to ethylene oxide.

Some people will misunderstand non-sterile to mean not clean, but that's not the case. It just means that the product hasn't gone through even stricter measures of removing molecules and micro-organisms. All disposable gloves go through rigorous cleaning to ensure they are safe for use. The FDA also approves the safety of non-sterile gloves. Non-sterile gloves are still clean and safe to use for the majority of disposable glove tasks.

When should non-sterile gloves be worn?

Non-sterile gloves are the most common and most popular option for disposable gloves. They can also still be medical grade, and are often used in hospitals, clinics and dental offices for patient care. Non-sterile medical exam gloves are typically used for non-invasive procedures, checkups, blood tests, and other bed-side care.

All of our medical grade vinyl, latex and nitrile gloves including Ultra-Flex, Response ER, Black Widow, Grape Grip, Verge-Med, Protector XR, Chameleon, Sensi-Flex, and Verge-Med vinyl gloves are non-sterile.

Non-sterile gloves are also the go-to for foodservice and janitorial tasks. In fact, you can find non-sterile gloves at farms, manufacturing facilities, bakeries, pharmacies, mechanic shops, restaurant kitchens, fast food places and any other business you can imagine.