An inevitable nitrile glove shortage could be far worse than the mask shortage

Nitrile Gloves are more widely used, and much more difficult to manufacture.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, a nitrile glove shortage will not seem as dire as a mask shortage to most of us.

However, these gloves are still a necessity for mechanics, tattoo artists, food servers, and medical professionals.  They also have various home uses such as cleaning, gardening, and safety precautions for those with compromised immune system.  Today, the United States has no domestic manufacturers, and our supply is dwindling.

Nitrile gloves are sought at the professional and consumer levels for their protection against drug and chemicals (including fentanyl, transdermal exposure to which can be deadly), strong resistance to puncture, and hypoallergenic properties.  They are also widely used in the home and commercially for gardening, including cannabis cultivation, harvest, and processing; as well as bbq, catering, painting, working with fiberglass, and cleaning of harsh chemicals - and the list goes on.

In other words, not everyone needs nitrile gloves; but those who do need them, need them, and they're only going to get harder to find.

“The big problem with the nitrile glove space is that the barrier to entry is so great,” says Sean Kelly, Chief Procurement Officer for PPE of America. “For surgical masks, also known as 3-ply masks, for $150,000 you can get a machine to make them and you’re in business. … nitrile glove manufacturing is very complex. The raw materials are very difficult to access in some parts of the world.”

Today there is only one domestic manufacturer of nitrile gloves The Showa Group with a factory in Fayette, Ala. - and there is not such thing as DIY nitrile glove making.

Exacerbating the problem is the lack of domestic manufacturers, as well as increasing pressure on our foreign providers: In July, the US banned two subsidiaries of the world’s largest glove manufacturer, citing “reasonable evidence of forced labor in the manufacturing process.”

While the those most impacted by sourcing difficulties with nitrile gloves will be at the corporate and wholesale level, the issues will certainly work their way down to consumers.

“I spoke to a senior buyer in a hospital, and they said that they had literally run out of large nitrile gloves. The glove situation is different with the masks, because with or without Covid, a lot of people need these gloves"