1. Natural Rubber (Polyisoprene): Natural rubber is the main polymer found in latex, and it is responsible for the elasticity and flexibility of latex gloves. The polymer chains of polyisoprene have a high degree of flexibility, allowing the gloves to stretch and conform to the shape of the wearer’s hands. This unique property makes latex gloves comfortable to wear and offers excellent dexterity, making them suitable for precise tasks.
2. Vulcanization: To strengthen the natural rubber and improve its properties, a process called vulcanization is performed. Vulcanization involves adding sulfur or other curing agents to the latex and then heating it. This process cross-links the polymer chains, resulting in a more robust and durable material. Vulcanization is crucial for ensuring the gloves have the necessary strength and resistance to tearing.
3. Additives and Compounds: In the manufacturing process, various additives and compounding agents may be incorporated into the latex to improve specific glove characteristics. For example, accelerators and antioxidants are used to enhance the vulcanization process and extend the shelf life of the gloves. Additionally, slip agents or powders may be added to facilitate easier donning of the gloves, although the use of powder in latex gloves has been largely phased out due to safety concerns.
4. Manufacturing Process: The process of making latex gloves involves dipping ceramic or formers (molds) into the latex compound, which coats the formers with a thin layer of latex. The gloves are then dried, leached, and cured to remove any residual latex proteins and chemicals, ensuring the gloves meet safety and quality standards.
5. Allergens: One significant consideration with latex gloves is the presence of latex proteins that can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The amount of latex proteins is reduced through the leaching process during manufacturing, but individuals with latex sensitivity or allergies may still react to trace amounts.
Due to concerns about latex allergies, the use of latex gloves has decreased in some settings, especially in healthcare. Instead, non-latex alternatives like nitrile and vinyl gloves have gained popularity. These alternatives offer similar protective properties to latex gloves without the risk of latex allergies, making them suitable for a wider range of users.