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Exam Gloves vs. General Purpose Gloves: Understanding the Differences

Exam Gloves vs. General Purpose Gloves: Understanding the Differences

Explore the differences between exam gloves and general purpose gloves in our detailed blog. Learn about their materials, certifications, and applications to choose the right gloves for medical tasks or everyday protection. Perfect for healthcare professionals and workers in various industries.

When it comes to protective gloves, not all types are created equal. The gloves you choose depend largely on the task at hand, and using the wrong type can lead to ineffective protection or even safety risks. Two common categories of gloves are exam gloves and general purpose gloves. Each serves distinct roles across various industries, from healthcare to janitorial services. This blog post explores the key differences between these two types of gloves, helping you make an informed decision for your specific needs.

What Are Exam Gloves?

Exam gloves are designed for medical applications and are used primarily by healthcare professionals to protect against contamination during procedures or exams. They are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are made with higher standards of durability and barrier protection against pathogens and other contaminants. Exam gloves are commonly used in medical examinations, surgeries, and any procedures where sterility and cleanliness are a priority.

Materials: Exam gloves are usually made from latex, nitrile, or vinyl. Each material offers different levels of comfort, sensitivity, and allergic reactions:

  • Latex: High tactile sensitivity, comfort, and fit but can cause allergic reactions.
  • Nitrile: Latex-free with superior resistance to chemicals and punctures.
  • Vinyl: Latex-free and cost-effective but less durable and offers less protection.

What Are General Purpose Gloves?

General purpose gloves are versatile and can be used in a variety of non-medical tasks such as cleaning, food service, and mechanical repairs. They are not approved by the FDA for medical use and are designed to offer basic protection against dirt, grime, and minor chemicals. General purpose gloves are great for tasks that require hand protection but do not involve exposure to serious hazards or require sterile conditions.

Materials: Like exam gloves, general purpose gloves can be made of latex, nitrile, or vinyl, with the choice depending on the specific job requirements:

  • Latex: Good for tasks requiring flexibility and dexterity.
  • Nitrile: Excellent for use with oils and chemicals.
  • Vinyl: Suitable for short-term, low-risk tasks in food service or janitorial applications.

Key Differences Between Exam Gloves and General Purpose Gloves

  1. Certification: Exam gloves meet specific FDA requirements for protection against pathogens, making them suitable for medical use. General purpose gloves do not meet these standards and should not be used for invasive medical procedures.
  2. Durability and Protection: Exam gloves are generally thicker and offer better protection against chemicals and biohazards compared to general purpose gloves, which are thinner and designed for lower-risk tasks.
  3. Tactile Sensitivity: Exam gloves are designed to provide better tactile sensitivity, a crucial factor in many medical procedures. General purpose gloves may not offer the same level of sensitivity due to their thickness and material quality.
  4. Cost: Due to their stringent manufacturing standards, exam gloves can be more expensive than general purpose gloves, which are designed for less critical tasks.

The Question of Powder

In 2016, the FDA published a rule banning the use of powder on surgical and examination gloves. While powder acts as a lubricant and helps you don and doff gloves more easily, they are linked to avoidable health risks including severe airway inflammation and allergic reactions such as asthma. Latex and nitrile medical gloves are therefore now typically chlorinated or coated with polymers to aid with donning and doffing in these environments.

On the other hand, powdered general purpose gloves remain a practical choice outside of medical examination and surgical settings.


Finding the right sized glove maximizes comfort and dexterity, and also ensures your safety — if your gloves are too loose, they might slip off and increase the likelihood of microbial contamination. Gloves that are too small or tight contribute to hand fatigue and decreased dexterity. 


A textured surface can improve grip in wet and dry conditions. Before you purchase, however, you’d need to confirm whether you’d do best with fully textured gloves, or ones that are only textured on the fingertips.


While color seems like a matter of preference, distinct colors can help you distinguish between different kinds of gloves. In a busy healthcare setting, this can save you precious seconds. In the food industry, brightly colored gloves help identify any fragments that might contaminate food after a rip or tear.


Chlorination and polymer coating are alternative finishes to powder, and help with donning and doffing medical grade gloves. Chlorination, for example, will make the glove have a satin-like finish while also reducing the latex allergen content. Industrial, or general purpose gloves may be powdered. This finish absorbs moisture and makes them easier to wear for long periods.

Choosing the Right Gloves

Selecting the right type of gloves involves considering several factors, including the nature of the task, the required level of protection, and any potential allergies. Here are a few tips to help you choose:

  • Identify the level of risk involved in the task. High-risk tasks, especially those involving exposure to bodily fluids or hazardous chemicals, require exam gloves.
  • Consider potential allergic reactions and choose a material that minimizes the risk of allergies.
  • Evaluate the need for tactile sensitivity to ensure that the gloves do not hinder the performance of precise tasks.


Understanding the differences between exam gloves and general purpose gloves is key to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the tasks at hand. By selecting the appropriate glove type, you can protect yourself and others from potential hazards while maintaining productivity and efficiency in your work. Whether you are a healthcare provider in need of high-grade exam gloves or a food service worker requiring general purpose gloves, choosing the right protection is crucial.