Before the 1880s, health care providers lacked protection for their hands. The history of this critical tool is traced back to 1889 when Dr. William Steward Halstead requested Goodyear Rubber Co. to develop a product that would protect his nurse- Caroline Hampton, as exposure to chemicals that they used during surgery caused her to develop rashes. With these rubber gloves, the results were so monumental that soon the whole surgical staff wore them during procedures. Gradually they are adopted for medical tasks by facilities across the board as the importance of their protection became recognized. These gloves were sourced from natural rubber.
Opportunities From Synthetic Rubber
In the meantime, companies had already begun experimenting with synthetic rubber. For instance, there was a shortage of natural rubber raw material during the first World War, during which time Russian scientists began looking into synthetic rubber. After the war, the demand for the synthetic rubber reduced, as natural robber became readily available again. However, research into it doesn’t stop. Over the decades that followed, scientists across Germany, Russia and America continued exploring the different applications that synthetic rubber would have.
Sourced from petroleum products, synthetic rubber could readily be produced. Unlike natural rubber that fluctuated with seasons and societal conditions at the plantations. Price fluctuations were a norm with natural rubber. For instance, they ranged between 11.5 cents per pound to $1.02 per pound between 1914 and 1922. As the 20th century progress, attention shifted to synthetic rubber, with most of it being used in automotive industry.
Making The Switch
By 1990, latex gloves were a staple within the medical industry. Demand increased exponentially when cases of HIV took centre stage, with increased concern about protection from blood borne pathogens. There was such a high demand for latex gloves that their prices rose greatly. This fronted the need for a lower cost alternative. First, vinyl was considered. However, despite being a cheaper alternative, the gloves compromised on the fit and grip of the wearer.
Manufacturers looked into synthetic rubber. A problem then arose: the gloves on the market weren’t compatible with petroleum-based products. A different material was needed. One that had a high chemical resistance, and which could withstand petroleum-based products. This led to the development of nitrile, which is derived from butadiene and acrylonitrile monomers.
In addition to the enhanced chemical resistance, the nitrile gloves came with more benefits to the wearer. They were ideal for persons with latex allergies, had a high puncture resistance, and still provided the snug fit needed for one to work effectively. The material softens on the skin, enabling one to work with the gloves even for long durations. Features such as micro-roughened textures were added to increase grip, for cases where one is handling tools and delicate instruments. While the nitrile gloves began as direct competition for latex examination gloves in the medical niche, they have now become a core product across healthcare and other industries, from automotive, to chemical processing, safety, food service, janitorial applications and even in manufacturing facilities.