The Truth About Hand Hygiene and Gloves

In healthcare, handwashing and glove use serve distinct yet complementary roles. While many people mistakenly consider them interchangeable, each has specific functions in infection prevention. Handwashing is crucial for eliminating germs on skin surfaces, whereas gloves provide a protective barrier during patient care, preventing direct contact and cross-contamination. 

Despite their different applications, handwashing and glove use are not mutually exclusive—they are partners that should be utilized together at specific times. However, the correct timing of handwashing when wearing gloves is often misunderstood among healthcare providers. This confusion leads to significant and surprising gaps in infection control practices that contribute to the rise in healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

Three Essential Truths About Gloves and Hand Hygiene


Truth 1: Clean Gloves Require Clean Hands

Many believe that handwashing before wearing gloves is unnecessary, assuming the gloves alone will suffice for patient protection. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unwashed hands can contaminate the gloves during donning, leading to the transfer of pathogens on the glove surface. 

Additionally, touching the glove box with unclean hands can contaminate the entire supply, posing a risk to anyone who uses gloves from that box. Proper hand hygiene before gloving is crucial to prevent contamination and protect both the patient and the healthcare environment.

Truth 2: Handwashing Is Essential After Glove Removal to Ensure Clean Hands

Although it seems logical that hands stay clean and protected within the glove, the truth is that gloves can easily develop micro-perforations or tears that are invisible to the eye and allow bacteria to seep through.

Contamination is a risk even during the process of removing gloves and has been shown to contaminate skin or clothing in over 50% of instances. For this reason, handwashing after removing gloves is a critical step to ensure the complete removal of potential pathogens acquired during patient care or from the glove surface itself.

Truth 3: Wearing Gloves Can Worsen Infection Control

While gloves provide a barrier for healthcare providers against pathogens, they don't inherently protect patients and can even cause harm if not used properly. In fact, multiple studies show that wearing gloves leads to worse hand hygiene than no gloves at all. A study in Norway showed that up to 64% of healthcare workers did not adhere to proper handwashing guidelines when wearing gloves. 

Numerous studies echo these findings. A 2021 study in a Pediatric ICU saw hand hygiene compliance was higher without gloves (68%) compared to with gloves (41%). The link between poor hand hygiene and gloves is so prominent that some have even referred to gloves as “the worst enemy of hand hygiene.

Best Practices for Safe Glove Use

To ensure effective infection prevention when using gloves, it's crucial to know when to perform hand hygiene. Here are some essential guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Use gloves only when necessary for patient care activities that involve potential exposure to bodily fluids, mucous membranes, or non-intact skin.
  • Perform hand hygiene before donning gloves.
  • Perform hand hygiene after removing gloves.
  • If gloves become visibly soiled or damaged, remove them, perform hand hygiene, and reapply a new pair.
  • Change gloves between different patient contacts or tasks to prevent cross-contamination.

SwipeSense: Bridging the Knowledge Gap in Hand Hygiene and Glove Use

It's evident that there's a significant gap in knowledge among healthcare providers regarding best practices for handwashing and glove use. But partners like SwipeSense can help. With real-time voice reminders, providers receive alerts when they forget or are unaware of the need to perform handwashing. These reminders have been shown to decrease HAIs by up to 65%.

SwipeSense serves as an invaluable tool by filling the gaps in provider knowledge and acting as a helpful reminder system. When combined with comprehensive education and adherence to infection control protocols, healthcare facilities can effectively minimize the risk of HAIs. Together, these efforts contribute to fostering a healthier environment for both patients and healthcare providers alike.