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Close-up of lab staff pulling on purple Kimtech Polaris nitrile gloves over a purple abstract background
Close-up of lab staff pulling on purple Kimtech Polaris nitrile gloves

The Innovative Science Behind a Superior Nitrile Glove

A redesigned nitrile glove combines strength with sustainability, helping labs minimize waste

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Nitrile exam gloves provide essential defense against known and unknown hazards facing professionals in modern laboratories. However, not all gloves are made equally. It is critical to find a protective solution that meets the needs of your processes, the safety of your scientists, and your organization’s sustainability goals.

At Kimtech™, nitrile glove expertise is derived first-hand. Kimtech is a leading manufacturer of personal protective equipment (PPE) and utilizes their own products across their global research and engineering teams, quality testing labs, as well as product testing facilities. This makes the staff acutely aware of the challenges posed by wearing gloves over long periods of time, including: 

  • Higher instance of muscle fatigue using thicker gloves that offer greater protection
  • Heat and sweat build-up inside nitrile gloves due to their waterproof nature
  • The waste and environmental impact of discarding synthetic rubber

Now, after two years of development, Kimtech has launched the Polaris™ Nitrile Exam Glove, the most protective option in its lab glove portfolio. Engineered for ergonomic efficiency, these thin-mil gloves offer enduring comfort, exceptional tensile strength, and resistance to a wide range of chemicals, including chemotherapy agents. Moreover, through integration with The RightCycle™ Program, these recyclable glovesi support customers in meeting their sustainability goals.

Reinventing the nitrile glove

Reimaging the nitrile glove required careful planning and foresight. James Schumacher, director of PPE Research and Development, and his team navigated complex supply chains emphasizing ethical sources, while also challenging ‘a more is better’ approach to PPE engineering. 

The development of thin-mil gloves historically involves trade-offs between three factors: strength, broad protection, and comfort. “Picking two, and designing around them, has guided glove formulation development for years,” Schumacher notes. “For Polaris, we picked all three but with a small nuance—the voice of our customers.”

Lab technician pipettes liquid into a 96-well plate while wearing purple Kimtech Polaris nitrile gloves
An ergonomic design minimizes hand strain during repetitive tasks.
Credit: Kimtech

Schumacher and his team began by consulting with global clients and their own staff, identifying the essential chemicals the gloves needed to resist to best serve end-users. Made from an acrylonitrile–butadiene copolymer, nitrile rubber is often enhanced with additives to obtain desired physical and chemical attributes.  For the development process of Polaris, the team streamlined the formulation to establish a baseline of necessary chemical protection, then optimized the formulation for strength and comfort using statistical techniques and robust experimental design.

“Engineers excel at solving complex challenges with intricate solutions,” says Schumacher. “However, with nitrile chemistry, we went back to the fundamentals, back to polymer chemistry 101, and I believe that allowed us to move the needle more."

Along with determining this new formulation, Schumacher’s team tackled sourcing challenges by integrating supply chain expertise, including process and manufacturing engineers, directly into their development team. This approach effectively tackled the common issue of scaling production from perfect lab prototypes to a million gloves per week.

Designing an ergonomic edge

When designing and developing a glove, considering the hand’s complex anatomy and extensive range of motion is crucial. Even minor fit issues can impair grip, blood flow, or dexterity. By understanding these complexities, the Kimtech team developed a product with an ergonomic fit that helps to minimize potential repetitive strain injuries and hand fatigue.

Polaris Nitrile Exam Gloves incorporate several ergonomic design principles to address the key concerns of laboratory professionals. The gloves feature a subtle finger curl that boosts flexibility and promotes a natural finger posture, important for reducing hand fatigue during repetitive tasks such as pipetting. The soft nitrile material fits like a second skin, improving grip precision. Polaris also features improved breathability, helping to better regulate body heat and disperse heat build-up that is typically present in nitrile gloves.

To validate the gloves ergonomic performance, the Kimtech team approached US Ergonomics, a third-party specialist in measuring human responses to product and workplace design. The rigorous testing of Polaris Nitrile Gloves involved 150 medical and laboratory personnel across two phases: quantitative and qualitative testing. 

The quantitative phase measured muscle exertion and comfort during tasks such as hand movements, pipetting, precision pinching, and weighted gripping. In the qualitative phase, participants replaced their usual exam gloves with Polaris for typical eight-hour shifts and provided feedback through weekly surveys.

Female scientist washes lab glassware while wearing purple Kimtech Polaris nitrile gloves
Credit: Kimtech

The testing revealed that the Polaris gloves maintained mean muscle exertion levels well below the fatigue threshold, minimizing strain. Participants gave high ratings, averaging scores above 8.3 out of 10, praising the gloves for their performance, secure grip in wet and dry conditions, and comfort. Notably, no participants reported hand fatigue, even after wearing the gloves for an average of 7.1 hours a day. 

Following positive outcomes in both testing phases, Kimtech Polaris Nitrile Exam Gloves earned the Ergonomic Product Certification from US Ergonomics, affirming their effectiveness in providing comfort to the wearer and minimizing the risk factors that may cause injuries.

Transforming PPE waste into durable goods

The same conscientious approach that addresses the complex demands of hand protection also extends to the lifecycle of the product. To tackle the persistent issue of disposable product waste, the Kimtech team included non-hazardous Polaris Nitrile Gloves into The RightCycle Program—the first large-scale recycling initiative for PPE products and polypropylene-based wipes used in non-hazardous applications. 

Originally serving scientific manufacturing customers in the United States, the program has expanded to nine countries across North America and Europe, supporting diverse business sectors including prominent beverage producers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and major engineering firms. The program collects and processes items previously difficult to recycle, such as gloves, protective clothing, masks, respirators, safety glasses, and wipes.

“Nitrile gloves themselves take special attention in their disposability,” notes Lena Heidel, North America Sustainability Manager. “Once they enter the post-consumer waste stream, it requires a unique mechanical recycling process when compared to other plastics.” 

Through The RightCycle Program, these materials are recycled into plastic pellets, which are then transformed into durable consumer goods including shelving, storage totes, and lawn furniture. Since inception, RightCycle has enabled its customers to divert over 5.5 million pounds of waste from landfills.ii Customers can even track their company’s own waste diversion statistics through WasteBits, a third-party that provides software and services to the waste industry, including sustainability tracking.

This commitment to sustainability, rooted in circular economy principles, yields significant benefits. For instance, Heidel notes that many prominent companies have diverted tons of gloves from landfills, embraced zero waste principles, and avoided costly fees from other landfill diversion processes such as waste-to-energy. “There's transparency in our operations. We encourage our customers to visit our business partners, to see firsthand how their waste is managed,” says Heidel.

Kimtech’s Polaris Nitrile Exam Gloves have also been awarded the ACT Environmental Impact Factor Label from My Green Lab, marking them as the first exam glove and PPE product to receive this distinction. The ACT Label promotes sustainable procurement by ensuring Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency (ACT) in environmental impact reporting, guiding consumers in manufacturing, sourcing, durability, and end-of-life options.

Sustainable protection 

The research and development team at Kimtech embarked on a mission: to develop a glove that aligns with their stringent standards and the demands of scientists and engineers. Their dedicated effort led to a glove that provides exceptional protection and comfort and is recyclable through The RightCycle Program. With these attributes, customers can simplify inventory and reduce cost by eliminating the need for multiple specialized gloves.

“Not only are we proud to sell the Polaris Nitrile Glove to our customers, but it is the glove we use every day within the company,” says Schumacher. “About 95 percent of labs will appreciate our approach to Polaris, because they will get a glove that lasts longer, offers better protection, and requires fewer changes.”

Innovative features

Kimtech Polaris Nitrile Exam Gloves have achieved remarkable chemical hold-out, strength, and durability results. 

  • Polaris has been rigorously tested against more than 50 harsh chemicals commonly used in scientific and industrial settings.iii
  • The gloves have also been tested against 24 chemotherapy drugs, triple the number required by the ASTM D6978 standard.
  • The ASTM D6319 standard sets the minimum tensile strength for nitrile gloves at 14 megapascals (MPa), and Polaris easily achieves double this at 31 MPa post-aging.
  • Polaris also has an elongation at break at 480 percent, which surpasses the minimum standards set forth in ASTM D6319.

To learn more about Kimtech Polaris Nitrile Exam Gloves, visit www.kimtech.com.

iWhen used in non-hazardous applications as classified by local regulations.

iiSource: 2023 Wastebits and 2022 Kimberly-Clark Corporation proprietary insights.

iiiTested against more than 50 common chemicals, Chemotherapy Drugs, Opioid Fentanyl Citrate, Simulated Gastric Acid, and Fentanyl in Simulated Gastric Acid: Per ASTM D6978-05.

Top Image:
Credit: Kimtech
Top Image:
Credit: Kimtech