Gloves For First Aid


Our latest advice article shares some ideas on choosing gloves for first aid use. What gloves to choose, what to do if you don’t have any available and some other useful ideas. We really hope you find the information useful.

A first principle we teach in first aid training is to look after yourself.  In a casualty situation you are the most important person.  If you dive in to help and you become a casualty the situation will be worse both for you and the original casualty.  So, we emphasise assessing the environment as a first priority.

We also discuss about protecting yourself against contamination.  With this in mind, the first thing in your first aid kit should be gloves.  Infact, maybe you even want to make them more accessible by keeping them in the top pocket of your rucksack or somewhere very accessible.  Gloves are a key barrier to protect yourself from all body fluids and all infection.  But, what type of gloves are best and are there any other tips we can share about managing infection risk?

What type of gloves?

Gloves containing latex are comfortable to wear and offer great sensitivity.  However, they carry a small risk of allergic reaction to you and, even if you know they don’t cause you a problem, potentially still to the casualty.  For that reason they are best avoided.  The same is true for powdered gloves.

Vinyl gloves are a cheap, durable and safe alternative but they don’t offer great sensitivity as they aren’t very stretchy.  Nitrile offer a good in between.  They are elastic enough to offer good sensitivity and also offer reasonable durability.  Nitrile are now specced in most first aid kits and are my glove material of choice.

How many pairs?

At the very least you need one pair of gloves to protect yourself.  However, it is worth considering that gloves do tear with use and so having extra pairs is well worth considering.  After all, they weigh virtually nothing and take up minimal space.  You may also have to protect a bystander or group member who you call on to assist.  Spares are useful.

What colour?

There has been a trend in some quarters to favour stealthy black gloves.  They do look very cool.  Unfortunately, they have drawbacks.  Most importantly, black doesn’t show blood anywhere near as well as lighter colours.  When you are feeling around a casualty for blood it really helps if you can see it on your hands.  

In some situations the back of your hand can also be a good place to record initial vital signs assessments.  That doesn’t work well on a black glove.

What if you don’t have gloves?

Hopefully you’ll always have gloves with you, but what if an incident occurs on your local high street and there are no gloves available?  Of course, it is still just as essential that you consider whether touching the casualty is safe.  The decision is yours.  If you decide it isn’t safe then at least you can call in the professional help, but maybe there are a few alternatives worth considering. 

Maybe you have some other gloves but they aren’t designed for medical use?  Depending on the type, they may still offer protection if they are waterproof.  Or maybe there is a passerby carrying shopping bags which can be emptied and worn over your hands?  Always explore alternatives, but always look after yourself.

Do gloves need to be sterile?

Like all first aid equipment, it is always better if the barrier you use is sterile.  Minimising the risk of infection is very important.  However,  don’t be overly concerned if you don’t have sterile gloves available.  

The 2004 Vsevolod Perelman et al study investigated the use of sterile versus non sterile gloves for repair of uncomplicated lacerations in the emergency department.  The study can be found here. It demonstrated that there is no clinically important difference in infection rates between using clean non sterile gloves and sterile gloves during the repair of uncomplicated traumatic lacerations.  

What size gloves do I need?

If your gloves are too small you’ll be able to pull them on but over stretching the nitrile material increases the risk of them tearing.  It is perhaps better if they are bigger rather than smaller, but if they are too loose you’ll loose sensitivity and risk them catching on things.  At the end of the day the ideal, obviously, is they are the right size!

Anything else to consider?

One final consideration is durability.  As good as they are nitrile gloves may get punctured or torn.  One way to improve durability is to add another layer of gloves. Two layers will offer more protection than one.  The downside to this is that you loose some sensitivity, but that might be a price worth paying.  

This also offers an advantage that (providing they remain undamaged), once the top pair are contaminated, you can peel them off and still have the protection of the pair underneath.  

Another way to improve durability is to use a more durable glove on top.  The lightweight industrial gloves are very durable and yet still offer a good level of sensitivity.  You can wear a pair of these over the top of a nitrile pair.

But if you need the additional sensitivity for taking a pulse or other fine motor tasks, the solution is simply to chop the thumb and index finger from the industrial gloves.  These are the fingers most used for sensitive tasks and yet the rest of the hands stay protected.  It really works a treat.


One last gloves for first aid related tip.  Once you’ve dealt with an incident and ended up with blood covered dressings then a simple solution to avoid contamination is to peel the glove off inside out and all the other dressings can be contained inside.  Then, when you take off the other glove do the same.  Everything will be both contained inside the gloves and also sealed well.

We hope the information on gloves for first aid useful.  If you would like to learn more about the importance of protecting yourself then do consider attending one of our ITC Outdoor First Aid courses.