Walking around town I see quite a few people wearing gloves in addition to a mask. But is this actually useful? COVID-19 does not transmit via the skin, so you don't need to protect your hands per se. And you can still touch your face even if you're wearing gloves. Is there any research showing that gloves help against respiratory diseases?

  • 2
    The answers below a pretty off-topic. Glove use in HCW contexts is quite different than "going shopping" by untrained users. I don't know of any formal studies for the latter but see the dangers of cross-contamination edition.cnn.com/2020/04/04/us/spreading-germs-nurse-trnd/… (Gloves are surely effective if you're also wearing a mask, glasses and a full-body "tyvek" and dispose of all of them thereafter, as done in an HCW Covid-19 context.) Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


If you are dealing with an infectious agent transmitted by bodily fluids, HIV or Ebola say, then gloves are an important element of personal protective equipment. Gloves help prevent infectious fluid from getting into cuts and scrapes on your hands.

For air-borne and droplet transmitted pathogens the situation is more complicated. Improperly used, gloves can actually contribute to the spread of infection.

When properly used, gloves can reduce cross contamination between activities and help prevent infection of the wearer. The trick is that between activities you have to change gloves and wash or sanitize your hands. If you've ever watched a health care worker using gloves is goes roughly like this:

  1. wash/sanitize hands
  2. Carefully don gloves
  3. Perform procedure.
  4. Carefully remove gloves, avoiding touching the outer surface of the glove.
  5. wash/sanitize hands Repeat

This minimizes the chance of transmitting infection from one patient to the next, and provides protection for the glove wearer by minimizing the time they have potentially infectious materials on their bare hand or glove surface.

Simply wearing a single pair of gloves around all day isn't going to accomplish anything. One of my pet peeves is the occasional inattentive cafe worker who wears gloves to handle the food, then goes to the cash register and handles money from a customer still wearing their gloves, then goes back to handling the food still wearing the same gloves, but the gloves are now potentially contaminated from handling the money!

  • I don't know your background, so I don't know how you came to #1 and #5. As a physician in the ER, I routinely came into contact with a wide variety of bodily fluids, and I can tell you without reservation that one doesn't thoroughly wash hands before gloving (unless it's to scrub for the OR) or after degloving. A quick rinse afterwards, sure, but a thorough handwashing is just going to remove precious protective oils from your skin, chapping them till you bleed, making you more susceptible to picking up infections from patients or your surroundings... Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:03
  • ...I read the link, and it's about non-latex gloves, which are not as reliable a barrier to contaminants as good-quality latex gloves. I don't like vinyl at all, and don't trust other types of gloves the way I do latex (I practiced before hospitals banned latex gloves.) Good hygiene is always preferable. I would wash my hands in front of te patient before gloving, and do a quick (not thorough) wash after. Unless you've scrubbed in on surgical procedures, we may have a very different interpretation of "thorough". My pre-glove wash was soap and water, wash all surfaces, but not 20 seconds. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:15
  • @anongoodnurse I'm not a health care worker. It's what I've observed the relatively few times I've been treated and at my dentist. It's also the recommendation in the paper I linked to. If you think it important I'd be happy to remove the word "thoroughly". Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:16
  • Yes, I mentioned that I read that link. In the real world, e.g. in the ER, you're touching maybe 7-10 patients (or the same patient more tan once) every hour for 12 hours at a time. Thoroughly washing hands (20 secs of good hand scrubbing) each and every time, before and after, would leave your hands a bloody mess in no time. There's a reason hospitals have hand sanitizers at every door: doctors cannot maintain that degree of handwashing except on occasion. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:20
  • @anongoodnurse would "wash/sanitize hands" be a preferable way of putting it? Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:23

My research search-fu is rather weak, and it's also quite likely that such research doesn't exist as it's not really how latex (or equivalent) gloves work. The gloves will support infectious agents just as readily as your hands, but the benefit comes from the ability to take them off (I mean, you COULD take your hands off, but it's a bit excessive).

Hand washing is effective against pathogen spread, but 20 seconds of handwashing only kills MOST of the virus or other pathogen on your hands (that research is for Ebola, but similar results are likely for other pathogens). Removing the gloves (properly) effectively removes 100%, and with very little practice, takes much less than 20 seconds (especially if you eliminate the travel time to a hand-wash station and back).

Frequent and purposeful glove change would then allow significant reduction of pathogen transmission via the hands (or hand-like surface).

  • "especially if you eliminate the travel time to a hand-wash station and back" - if you do that, you're doing it wrong. I spent time in EMS where there usually weren't any hand washing stations available, so our solution if multiple patients were expected was to put on multiple gloves. Treat patient #1, remove gloves, dispose, treat patient #2, and so forth. If you can wash your hands, then doing so after removal of gloves is required because it's likely that no matter how careful you were, you contaminated your hands during removal. Unseen holes in the gloves are also always possible.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 0:21
  • @CareyGregory - I agree with the OP, so +1. In the ER (or the OR), I often double-gloved. If you know how to remove gloves properly, you don't need to wash your hands except to remove cornstarch or that chemical smell of non-latex gloves. It's actually a lifesaver if you see a lot of patients in the wintertime; it saves your skin from terrible chapping. If I was single-gloved and the procedure was really bloody or gross, I would definitely wash my hands, though. On the other hand, if the procedure was really bloody or gross, I'd have double gloved. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 1:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.