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I always wear gloves when I'm doing cell culture. Moreover, I always spray my gloves with ethanol to disinfect, so that I don't contaminate everything.

However, I recently heard the argument that EtOH could impair the integrity of the glove, making it an unsuitible barrier between your hand and the culture. According to this argument, the best idea is to not wear gloves during cell culture, but instead thoroughly spray your hands with EtOH to ensure decontamination.

I don't believe it, but I'm wondering if anyone else has heard a similar argument and if there is any truth to the claim.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

In my opinion wearing gloves during cell culture is a good idea. It works both ways as a protection: For your cells since you are not loosing small danders from your hand and for you since you are not getting media or chemicals used in cell culture on your skin when you are uncautious.

I usually prefer nitrile gloves over latex, since nitrile gloves are ways more stable and pose no risk for allergies (I am not allergic, but minimizing risks is always a good idea). The downside of nitrile is, that they are a bit more expensive (thats the point where you need to argue with some coordinators about what to buy).

I never had problems with desinfectants and gloves, but this is my personal experience and probably not more than an anecdote. I desinfect my gloves, since I touch different things with them, but I usually don't spray everything which comes around with alcohol since this is usually pointless. To be useful, it needs to reach all points of a surface and also needs to stay there for a while. What I make sure is that all the stuff, which goes into the hood is either very clean or packaged sterile anyway.

After my experiences some data, this PDF has quite a lot of information. The list below is taken from the PDF:

Nitrile gloves:

  • Acetone - fair
  • Ethanol - excellent
  • Isobutyl - alcohol excellent
  • Isopropyl - alcohol excellent
  • Methanol - fair

Latex gloves:

  • Acetone - good
  • Ethanol - excellent
  • Isobutyl - alcohol poor
  • Isopropyl - alcohol excellent
  • Methanol - fair
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I second that.. Nitrile gloves are also good against many acids. Only chloroform destroys it. plus, even if alcohol did affect the gloves it wont do it immediately and in any case you wont use the same pair for more than a few days.. – WYSIWYG Mar 5 '14 at 9:21
Chloroform (and other halogenated solvents as well) also break Latex gloves very fast. So if these are used, different security measures are needed. Or you have to work very clean (which is always good :-) ). – Chris Mar 5 '14 at 9:40

Assuming you use latex or nitrile, you're probably good. Nitrile does hold up better than latex in many situations, so if you're worried about it, switch to nitrile. This is a good quick guide to glove materials and their resistance. For some of the applications we do in our clinic/lab, we use thick >6mm nitrile gloves.

Your needs all really depend on your application.

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