How to Use Rubber Gloves Properly Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Use Rubber Gloves Properly

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One of the less appealing aspects of running a house and home is the realisation that at some point, you are going to have to handle a nasty material. You might be sprinkling paraquat or glyphosate over tufts of weeds or cleaning the oven with a gel of caustic soda. You may have to de-flea your moggie with a horrible insecticide. Some cat or dog muck might have made its way onto your living-room carpet, and demands prompt treatment with soap and water. Or, God forbid, you end up massaging nit lotion into the scalps of your children1. In all these cases, you certainly don't want prolonged (or preferably, any) contact between the substance and your skin. So, sensibly, you wear a pair of rubber gloves2.

Rather less sensibly, and like 100% of those who don't use nasty chemicals for a living (and probably 99% of those who do), you don't use them properly. There is a little-known technique to using a pair of rubber gloves that totally avoids the possibility of any chemical coming into contact with your skin and, chances are, you aren't using it. This well-guarded secret is seemingly known to a select minority of research chemists3 as, after having been demonstrated it as an undergraduate, this Researcher has only ever seen it being used on one other occasion. It does however take a little practice to master.

Let's assume for argument's sake that you are going to clean the oven, and you don't want to contaminate either yourself or the rest of the kitchen. Let's also assume that, pace the southpaws among us, you're right-handed.

Step 1: Prepare the Ground

If you are using gloves with all sorts of nasty muck adhering to them, then when you take them off you need to put them somewhere they won't do any harm. The best place to put them is on something you can dispose of later, and this is several sheets of paper kitchen towel or old newspaper. Put these down on a work surface.

You might also at this stage consider putting out a washing-up bowl containing some water and detergent lest the gloves become too dirty to continue working, hence your needing to clean them off intermittently. This will avoid you having to clean horribly caustic oven cleaner from the kitchen taps that you've inevitably manked up.

Step 2: Prepare the Gloves

The next step is not strictly necessary if you have a fresh pair of gloves, but it's worth doing for the sake of practice and to ensure a consistent and safe approach. Take the gloves from the packet and turn over the cuffs so you have about a few centimetres of turn-up with the inside showing. This might seem an odd thing to do, but it makes the subsequent process of using them properly much easier. Now, put them both down overhanging the edge of the paper with the outside surface in contact with the paper and the turn-up in contact with the work surface. You'll see why we do this later.

A very useful tip is that if you're going to be wearing the gloves for an extended period, then put talc inside the gloves or put talc on the hands first. This makes it easier to put them on and take them off. It also helps to reduce the unpleasant feel that gloves can leave after use. To put talc in the glove, expel the excess air. Spray a reasonable amount of talc into the glove, partially inflate then, squeezing the cuff tightly, hit the body of the glove against the palm of the other hand a number of times and shake. Afterwards, gently allow the air to escape to prevent plumes of talc erupting in the work area (and sabotaging the whole point of the exercise), then turn the cuffs up as above.

Step 3: Putting Them On

You put the first glove on by grasping the turn-up between the right thumb and forefinger and pulling onto the left hand. Notice how you have not touched the outside of the glove. Now, to put on the second, you hook your left fingers inside the turn-up of the right glove and pull the glove onto your right hand. Then you roll the turn-ups over the cuffs of your shirt/blouse/overall sleeves. At no point has your skin come into contact with the outer surface of the gloves.

Step 4: Use Them

Rather self-explanatory, this one. Hopefully, you've also had the good sense to wear suitable eye protection with caustic chemicals such as oven cleaner, and to work in a well-ventilated space. Haven't you?


It's all very well avoiding contamination of yourself, but you also need to be wary of contaminating other work situations. So, if you find yourself doing food preparation and kitchen cleaning in quick succession, don't use the same set of gloves for both. Either take them off during the less-risky work, or use two separate sets.

Step 5: Taking Them Off

Rinse the gloves off under the tap if they are visibly dirty and shake them dry4. Now, take off the left glove by grasping the cuff with your gloved right thumb and forefinger and stripping it off your left hand, turning it inside out as you do so. Now, hook your bare left fingers under the cuff of the right glove and strip this off. You now have a pair of inside-out rubber gloves, again without touching the outer surface with your bare skin.

Step 6: Throwing Down the Gauntlets

Partially turn each glove outside-out, by pushing the fingers through from the inverted inner surface and blowing into it5. Do not turn it all the way around. You should now be left with a pair of gloves each with a turned-up cuff. You can now put them down on the paper, as in step 2 with them half-on and half-off the paper. When you have finished completely, then leave them inside out after step 5 and put them back in their packaging.

If you've worn the gloves for a long time, then it's a good idea to apply some moisturiser to the skin, as even with talc it can get quite sweaty and dehydrated as a result.

When properly followed, this technique completely avoids your having to touch the outside contaminated surface of the gloves with your bare skin, but it's probably best to perform a few dry-runs before using it for real. You could even use it for handling the potentially lethal chemicals found in some laboratories. Seems a terrible faff for everyday use? Well, it probably is, but dwell upon the observation that nit lotion is an organic chemical, fat-soluble, and therefore potentially toxic through chronic skin exposure6, and it is also a cousin of the nerve gases.

Also be aware that substances that get onto your fingers unawares very often end up on other body parts such as the mouth and eyes: caustic soda blinds irreparably as well as burning nasty great holes in the skin, and there is no antidote whatsoever for paraquat poisoning, the symptom of this being that your lungs rot away within days of ingestion. Cat or dog turds can contain horrible parasites that cause blindness or even foetal deformities in pregnant women. Even mundane ingredients such as chilli peppers can cause severe and painful eye irritation if handled carelessly7.

Does it still seem like a faff now?

This Entry is the subject of a video clip created by the h2g2 Aviators.

1As this Researcher has found himself doing several times.2This Entry isn't concerned with disposable latex gloves that are designed to be used once and then thrown away.3Apparently serving to distinguish the journeyman chemist from the master in much the same way as the Masonic Handshake.4Not forgetting to clean the muck off the kitchen taps while you're at it!5At this point you will discover if you have holed the gloves. If you have, chuck them away: do not attempt to re-use them. Holey gloves are worse than no gloves at all, as they lull you into a false sense of invulnerability.6If you have a large family, then you as a parent are going to suffer a lot more exposure than your children.7Speaking from bitter personal experience...

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