Keep Your Gloved Hand Away From Me

I’ve got another pet-peeve-itch to scratch, so I’m picking up a tall glass of haterade.


I’m walking down the stairwell in my building, and I encounter someone heading upstairs carrying a styrofoam container (I can’t tell what’s in it, but it’s probably filled with ice and something worth keeping cold). We approach the door to the floor we both work on. She gets there first and extends her hand to open the door — a hand ensconced in a rubber glove.

When doing lab work, we wear gloves for two reasons:

  1. To protect our samples from contamination from ourselves.

  2. To protect ourselves from contamination from our samples.

Applying that logic to our gloved stairwell walker, she either does not care about her samples or she does not care about the people with whom she shares a building. If she is worried about contaminating her sample, she should not go around touching things — door handles, for example — with her gloves that are constantly groped by bare-hands. Alternatively, if she is worried that the samples she is handling may do damage to her skin if she were to touch them with bare-hands, she should not be touching things — like door handles — with her gloves that many other people touch sans gloves.

This stuff falls under Labwork 101 — like learning how to pipette. You shouldn’t be allowed to touch a piece of equipment without understanding these basics. But so many inconsiderate douchebags fail to learn glove etiquette. Here are the rules:

  • See the two reasons for wearing gloves from above. If neither of those things applies, you probably don’t need to be wearing gloves.

  • When wearing gloves, don’t touch anything with your gloved hand that anyone touches with their bare-hand. Conversely, don’t touch anything with your bare-hand that anyone touches with their gloved hand.

  • If you must take something that is glove-worthy from one room to another, you must remove at least one glove. Ideally, you would put the glove-worthy item in container that can be carried without gloves. If this is not an option, you may wear a single glove for carrying the item. But the other hand must be ungloved for doing things like opening doors and pushing elevator buttons.

First and foremost, gloves are used for safety and protecting your samples from contamination. But they are also a good non-verbal communication tool for lab mates. When you wear gloves, you tell everyone else two things: stay away unless you wanna get fucked up by my nasty chemicals, and don’t come near my stuff because you’re gonna fuck up my project. In order for this non-verbal language to persist, you must follow the rules described above. Deviating from those rules is not only a breach of safety protocol, but also an affront to common courtesy.


  1. #1 Abel Pharmboy
    November 22, 2006

    Very well stated – should go up among the list of things all new lab workers should learn in their first week.

  2. #2 Lab Cat
    November 22, 2006

    This is also a pet-peeve of mine. I will use this for my lab workers.

    This story may amuse you:

    I typically don’t wear gloves, but I always wear safety glasses. My argument being I can easily wash my hands, but have you every tried washing your eyes with cold water for 15 mins? I am particular squeamish about eyes. As I was once lab first aider, I’ve been there when people have had to do wash out their eyes. Shudder.

    One day, I was reading my samples on the spectrophotometer when a lab worker comes in:
    “How can you not wear gloves?” she exclaimed.
    “How can you NOT wear safety glasses?” was my retort.

    I insist that students in my lab wear safety glasses/goggles at all times. This rule, along with wearing closed-toe shoes, are my main lab rules. I do provide gloves as necessary. Most of my lab work does not need gloves as covered by your two rules.

    Another point would be to check you are wearing the right type of gloves for the work you are doing. Wearing the wrong gloves can be more dangerous than wearing no gloves as you may not feel the contamination until it is too late.

  3. #3 Janne
    November 22, 2006

    Just to be annoyingly contrarian: you have the third case of having something on your hands you don’t want to spread around (or show, in the case of an unsightly eczema or something).

    Was that the case that you described? Not likely. I just wanted to remind just a little that such cases do exist so don’t fly off in a rage when some unknown to you person seems to break the (eminently sensible) rule.

  4. #4 quitter
    November 22, 2006

    I’m going to have to disagree.

    The argument made that you shouldn’t touch things with your gloves to avoid contaminating your sample is flawed as I highly doubt the latex or vinyl gloves you’re using for day-to-day use are sterile. This is magical glove thinking. The gloves in those boxes are no more sterile than your bare hands. In some ways gloves can increase the possibility of contaminating your samples from the false sense of security they give, combined with a diminished touch-sensation. If I’m going to do clean work like tissue culture, for instance, I always spray them down additionally with ethanol, and even then realize they don’t provide anything but a decrease in dry skin shedding protection for my samples.

    I wear gloves in the lab only as a minimal barrier against toxic chemicals, and I’m going to disagree with your second argument here too. If, for instance, I’m doing phenol/chloroform extraction or working with another nasty organic I wear gloves, but the second they’re contaminated they are changed for a fresh pair, just to avoid what you’re talking about. Besides, they’re only minimally protective against toxic substances.

    So yes, if you have some moron that gets toxic chemicals all over his/her gloves and then wanders around the building touching things, you’ve got a problem. But it isn’t the glove wearing, and it isn’t going to hurt his samples to have non-sterile gloves contaminated in the first place. It’s the moron that isn’t paying attention to what they’ve been doing with their hands that’s the problem.

    My only exception is radioactive work. For many good reasons, gloves always come off once you leave the rad room, and only after a good survey for isotope.

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    November 22, 2006

    I remember when I was a post doc and we discovered that there was 14C on our lab phone. I think labs became much safer when answering machines became more prevalent.

  6. #6 ERV
    November 22, 2006


    This post doc came to my lab the other day to use a piece of equipment and decided to use one of our computers with his gloves on.

    I cant believe I had to point out to him “We use that computer for other things. Take off your gloves and clean our computer.”

    I was in someone elses lab, and took off my gloves to grab the doorknob to leave the room. One of the grad students stopped me and said “I wouldnt do that. No one takes off their gloves.”


  7. #7 guthrie
    November 22, 2006

    I agree entirely.
    I’ve also always been amazed at the number of people who don’t keep an eye on what is on their hands, so they end up smearing stuff all over themselves. Now, at my current place of work, that just means they get lots of black carbon dust over their face, but it makes them that much dirtier.
    When I was doing my 4th year project at uni, I was in the lab one day, and my supervisor walked in and went over to one of his post-docs, and the conversation went something like:
    “Is that the new barium compound?” (Post-Doc is grinding dust in mortar and pestle on open work top)
    Long pause
    “SHouldnt you be wearing gloves then?”

    One thing that teaches some respecte for PPE is working with new chemicals that are undergoing animal testing. THey are undergoing the testing because we dont know what health effects they might have upon people. So you learn to take good care, wear gloves, appropriate masks etc.

  8. #8 Matt Dunn
    November 22, 2006

    I used to scare people by walking around (and eating) with gloves on. But when free friday-talk pizza is going fast and you’re in the middle of something, there’s no time to change gloves and my hands are sweaty so it’s hard to get new gloves on.

    BUT, it doesn’t really matter because I was working with a perfectly non-pathogenic strain of yeast. The kind you eat in bread and drink in beer. I wore the gloves in a nod to good asceptic technique. As guitter points out they are not sterile, but very little is except maybe the inside of the autoclave at the end of a run and even that’s debatable. But gloves sure do reduce the risk of contamination when doing pure culture work, especially if you give them a quick 95% ethanol washing before doing work. Even completely submerging your bare hands in 95% etoh would leave a lot of little nasties all over your hands. Of course it would be very bad for your skin too.

    Of course if you’re running gels and you’ve got ethidium bromide all over your gloves you should not be running around touching stuff. But for pure culture work with non-pathogens I think it’s probably fine.

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