By Glenn House – GBI Director of Product Safety and Regulatory Compliance
Most epoxy systems can cause skin irritation or allergic skin reactions. Hardeners can be particularly severe skin irritants and sometimes can even be moderately corrosive to skin tissue. Consequently, you should always protect your skin from epoxy with protective clothing and gloves.
Disposable gloves are the most convenient and economical hand protection for use with epoxy, but they do have limitations. One challenge is finding the right disposable glove that will stand up to the chemicals in both the resin (Part-A) and the hardener (Part-B). Both resins and hardeners have components that attack glove materials differently and at different rates.
Your typical 4-6 mil thick disposable nitrile, neoprene, butyl rubber, natural rubber, or latex glove can withstand up to 30 minutes of working with epoxy before it degrades. When the gloves begin to degrade, epoxy chemicals can permeate the membrane and reach your skin. For longer jobs, replace used gloves with a new set before the 30-minute mark. These types of gloves offer the suggested protection for general epoxy use, based on tests and data provided by chemical and glove manufacturers. WEST SYSTEM® offers a neoprene 4-mil disposable glove, part numbers 832-4 and 832-50, that works well for these quick jobs. Other disposable glove materials, such as vinyl and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), degrade faster when exposed to epoxy and allow chemical breakthrough to occur quickly.
In addition to material, breakthrough rates are determined by the thickness of the glove. The thicker the glove, the longer it will take for breakthrough to occur. Keep in mind that breakthrough and degradation can occur with the recommended glove materials, but it will take longer to occur. To date, there is no “all-purpose” disposable glove that will withstand exposure to a wide range of chemicals, be durable enough to last a long time, and still be thin enough to provide the desired dexterity.
By knowing what to look for in proper hand protection, and using these guidelines to wearing gloves effectively, you will be able to work safely with epoxy.
Disposable Gloves Guidelines
The following guidelines can be used to provide the best hand protection while using disposable gloves:
- Use a protective barrier cream underneath the disposable glove to provide secondary protection in case a glove should tear or puncture. You should not depend on the barrier cream to provide primary hand protection by itself.
- Double layer your disposable gloves. This will ensure you always have an uncontaminated pair underneath. Periodically (every 20-30 mins.) replace the top glove before it degrades or gets damaged. You can use cotton liners under liquid-proof gloves to absorb sweat and add comfort.
- Replace gloves carefully. Carelessly removing and re-donning gloves can cause additional, unnecessary epoxy exposure. The most common technique is to peel the gloves off inside out, one at a time, being careful not to contact the wrist area with a contaminated glove.
- Dexterity & Sensitivity. Disposable gloves are favorable for projects where dexterity and fingertip sensitivity are necessary. Conversely, for longer projects, where gloves may be immersed for an extended period of time, and where dexterity is not as crucial, a thicker glove may be the right choice. This is especially true if you can’t change your gloves frequently.
- Try Different Materials. It is well known that materials used in manufacturing latex gloves can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals. If this affects you, try using a nitrile, neoprene, butyl rubber, or natural rubber disposable glove instead.