Safety Gloves: Cut & Puncture Resistant Fibers Explained

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A very common mistake in selecting safety gloves is picking the wrong fiber type.  As you see in each fiber type’s description below, the fibers used in safety gloves are not all created equal. When you are looking for protection and make purchasing decisions for safety gloves, consider the fiber and the coating.  The fiber is one just element of a safety glove’s construction.  After reading this post on fiber, I also suggest taking a look at a separate post on safety glove construction.  It details the glove’s textile construction and how the whole design of a safety glove works.  It is titled: “The  Puncture and Cut Resistant Textiles and Composites”

Polyester Safety Gloves

Polyester material is perhaps the most widely used synthetic fiber.  It is low in cost and available in many sizes and types.  It has moderate tensile strength and low cut performance, which limits the protection when is used alone.  Polyester yarn is available as a textured yarn.  In this form, it has quite good abrasion for its price point.  Polyester has broad chemical resistance.  However polyester is a moderate temperature fiber, with a burn and drip risk. This material is useful as a blending fiber for controlling the cost of a composite yarn.  Polyester, called PET for short, is used in most of the light weight, palm dipped safety gloves.

Nylon Safety Gloves

Nylon is the second most widely use synthetic fiber. Nylon has  moderate tensile strength and low cut.  Nylon has really standout abrasion resistance and this makes it very useful in safety gloves. The military has used nylon in combination with cotton for BDUs and other garments for many years.   Like polyester, nylon is an excellent choice for safety glove components. It is  slightly more expensive than polyester but higher in durability. Nylon has moderate temperature resistance and a burn and drip risk if used by itself. Nylon’s chemical resistance is lower than polyester. Like PET, nylon is used extensively in light weight palm dipped safety gloves.

Para-Aramid Safety Gloves

Ball-and-stick model of a single layer of the crystal structure

Para Aramid structure showing the carbon rings connected by nylon linkages

This is the old stand by Kevlar.  The same material, para-aramid also is available under  brand names  Twaron and Technora. Chemically all these fibers are aromatic nylon.  From the image above, notice the hexagonal carbon rings connected into long chains by nylon.  The aromatic carbon rings make these fiber strong. However para aramid yarn must have small filament size. Small filaments have poor abrasion and this  limits it performance for light knit safety gloves.  The high tensile strength with small filaments make this fiber a better puncture material than a cut product.  For cut level 4 and 5 gloves, we need high density knit fiber cover. These high cover knits are bulky and not very comfortable.  For the Para-Aramid TurtleSkin product, there is enough fiber density to provide both cut and puncture.  Cost is a consideration for Para-Aramid fiber as well these yarns are 5-8 times the cost of nylon or polyester. Many safety glove producers blend Para-Aramid with outer lower cost fibers to control cost.  The gloves become some what bulky above level 3 and these is more of an issue as the lower cut fibers are blended in for for cost control. One side benefit of the Para-aramids is they are high temp materials and have excellent flame performance. On the down side Para-Aramids have iffy chemical performance, acids and chlorine bleach are big trouble for these materials.  One last caution, because Para-Aramid fibers have low abrasion, safety gloves made from these fibers should have a coating or a cover glove. Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene UHMWPE Safety Gloves

UHMWPE is a common fiber used in safety gloves

UHMPE is very strong and chemically resistant but does not tolerate high temperatures

UHMWPE (PE) is Spectra and Dyneema fiber significantly stronger than the Para-aramids. They are also small filament yarns with the exception of the new Dyneema Diamond fiber.  Good cut performance and excellent chemical resistance to most common compounds. On the down side these materials can only handle about 220F and start to fail at just slightly higher temperatures. Because PE is polyethylene it is very low friction. This makes PE a poor choice for puncture resistance.  In addition PE will burn and has a bad melt drip issue so all around not a good high temp material. Many users prefer PE knits to Para-Aramids knit gloves. The PE fiber is slippery and this appears to help a knit safety glove stretch and move to accommodate the users hand.  Many cut level 3-5 safety gloves are build of PE fiber. Like the Para-Aramids, UHMWPE bulk is an issue for designs of knit safety gloves, particularly above level 3. Liquid Crystal Polyester  Safety Gloves

 High end safety gloves are produced from LCP yarns

LCP yarn has high strength and large filaments resulting in excellent cut and abrasion.

The LCP or Vectran material has tensile strength between UHMWPE and Para-Aramid.  LCP is a large denier per filament fiber and has very good cut. Because LCP is Aromatic Polyester it is also a high temp fiber.  LCP fiber is resistant to most industrial chemistry and has some flame resistance. LCP is better all around in abrasion than either Para-Aramid or UHMWPE.  Bear in mid that abrasion and durability in safety gloves is a complex topic and this review is a summary.   The combination of large filament, tensile, chem resistance, high temp, and abrasion make Vectran a strong competitor. Great combination performance in cut and puncture applications. Given the higher cost of LCP, almost all safety gloves use this material blended with lower cost fiber.

Fiberglass in Safety Gloves 

Fiberglass is just glass, and as you would expect it is fragile.  Fiberglass does not do well in abrasion or in flex, the damaged surface of fiber glass yarn has sharp ends of broken filament exposed and this shape filament can cause skin irritation.  However fiberglass is very hard when compared to all the organic fibers we have talked about, fiber glass is harder than most cutting tools. The glass fiber breaks down the cutting edge of the threat and and gives good cut resistance.  Fiberglass yarn can help make a high performance safety glove. The fiberglass needs  a protective cover of one of the other fibers on the list to protect the more brittle glass fiber.   Not a surprise that fiberglass has great thermal resistance and will not burn safety gloves with ratings up to 2000f can be build with fiberglass yarn. Chemical resistance of fiberglass is uneven.

Stainless Steel in Safety Gloves 

Like fiberglass stainless steel fiber is a specialty item that is used in combination with one of the other fibers. This fiber has all the properties of steel, hardness, toughness and stiffness. Good thermal and chemical resistance, however as this material is used in a blend these properties are only as useful and the total performance of the blended yarn. To address the stiffness of steel these fibers a low denier per filament and this limits the performance to some degree. The exception is ring mail gloves that overcome the stiffness issue with a special welded fabrication process. Stainless is difficult to work with in textile constructions and this results in high costs for filament stainless yarn  or welded ring male materials.   © 2014 Warwick Mills Inc. All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “Safety Gloves: Cut & Puncture Resistant Fibers Explained

    • The requirements for cut and puncture resistant gloves are complex and include many factors beyond just the cut and puncture values. Para-Aramid clearly fills a niche for some glove designs. However there are a number of other materials and composite systems that do a better job than Para-Aramid in some applications. You have to add chem resistance, thermal and abrasion criteria to be able to select a glove material.

      • Do you think Monstersilk would be suitable?
        I can imagine it being stronger, lighter, more confortable than anything els to wear?

        In contrary to ant ballistic use, do you think this may be a product we may see marketed in the very short term?

        Thank you

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