Vinyl, also know as PVC or polyvinyl chloride, is a synthetic polymer that is a thermoset resin. This means that when this polymer is made and allowed to cool, it is very hard and rigid. In order to make a glove using PVC, a plasticiser must be added to soften the polymer and film enough to be used as a glove. The PVC polymer used to make gloves is the same polymer used to make rigid pipe, automotive parts, etc. PVC gloves may contain 30% or more of plasticiser in order to soften the polymer enough to be made into a usable glove.
The process used to make PVC gloves is very different from the conventional dip-moulding process used for natural and synthetic elastomers. The combination of low material and conversion costs allow PVC gloves to capture a significant position in the exam glove market.
Gloves made from plasticised PVC do not exhibit rubber-like characteristics like natural latex or synthetic polymers used for gloves because PVC is not an elastomer. The properties of PVC gloves are dependent on the amount of plasticiser in the system, and how the glove is made. Because PVC is not an elastomer and is filled with plasticiser, it has very low elongation and low tensile strength. PVC gloves do not match the softness, flexibility and feel of natural or synthetic elastomer gloves therefore, do not offer the comfort, fit and feel of elastomeric gloves. Because PVC is a thermoset resin, it does not have the elastomeric recovery properties of natural rubber (full recovery) or the stress relaxation properties of nitrile. PVC gloves typically are a loose fit on the hand resulting in poor tactile sensitivity and poor user comfort.
PVC gloves are free of any natural latex proteins and chemicals used as accelerators. There is no concern of Type I allergy and Type IV allergic reactions are rare to PVC gloves.
The lack of elastomeric properties and the high level of plasticiser leads to poor in-use barrier properties.
PVC gloves, because of the high level of plasticiser, are typically not used in some applications such as clean room and fatty-food handling. The plasticiser is not cross linked or locked into the glove film. This can lead to plasticiser migration out of the glove and onto the product being handled. Product contaminated with plasticiser can be a concern in clean room or electronic environments, as well as in food handling. Contact with solvents, fats or oils will only increase the migration rate of the plasticiser from the glove into the use environment.
From an environmental perspective, PVC contains plasticiser, which can migrate from gloves into food or other items being handled when wearing PVC gloves. There is additional concern regarding the incineration and disposal of PVC gloves, as hazardous, chlorinated compounds are likely to be produced.