The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people use gloves while disinfecting the high-touch surfaces of their homes and discard them after each cleaning. If you’re using reusable gloves for the sole purpose of ridding your house of coronavirus, the CDC says to use them only for that purpose.
But what if you’re outside your home and want to use and reuse gloves to do grocery runs or other errands?
Health experts weighed in, and don’t recommend either practice.
You probably shouldn’t be wearing gloves at all.
One reason health experts don’t endorse wearing gloves outside is that they can give wearers a false sense of security that they don’t need to wash their hands.
The World Health Organization does not believe that wearing gloves outside is effective in preventing coronavirus infections: “Regularly washing your bare hands offers more protection against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves,” the health organization said in a Facebook post.
It’s difficult to use gloves without causing some contamination.
Both latex and nitrile medical-style gloves are designed to be single-use, noted Lucy Wilson, the chair of the department of emergency health services at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
One reason for this is because “removing them is difficult, and you can contaminate yourself and them by removing them,” she said. Properly taking off gloves involves inverting them, and this can be difficult to do without contaminating the gloves.
After the gloves are inverted, if you are going to reuse them, “You then have to figure out a way to get them in their regular shape without contaminating them,” she said. With their flimsy shape, that’s going to be difficult.
Washing disposable gloves can compromise their integrity.
Once you have used your gloves to touch potentially contaminated surfaces, cleaning them for reuse comes with risks. Medical gloves are not indestructible barriers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted that even wearing hand lotion under latex gloves can break down the material.
“Disposable gloves were not designed for long-term wear,” said Kelly Reynolds, director of the environment, exposure science and risk assessment center at the University of Arizona. “Reusing disposable gloves may increase the risk of exposure to viruses as microscopic tears can develop over time. Washing gloves can disrupt the integrity of the glove and is not recommended.”
It’s easier to keep hands clean than gloves.
If you’re thinking of trying to sanitize your gloves for reuse, recognize that most peoples’ hands are easier to clean and maintain than gloves.
“Let’s say you touch a surface that happens to be contaminated, even though statistically that’s going to be less likely outside of the health care setting,” said Thomas Russo, the chief of the infectious disease division at the University of Buffalo. “The secret then is to go ahead and decontaminate your hand and/or glove. The problem is that the gloves are much more difficult to decontaminate.”
Russo noted that rubber latex gloves can easily tear and break with cleaning and multiple uses, but your hands can withstand this kind of regular cleaning. “Your hands are really easy to maintain [with] good hand hygiene,” he said.
Keep in mind how this coronavirus primarily spreads: Wilson noted that it is not absorbed through unbroken skin, it enters through your mucus membranes or openings. “Your skin is a protective layer in and of itself, but you have to be sensible and careful with hand-washing,” Wilson said.