WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH NITRILE BEEKEEPING GLOVES?

Posted April 4, 2018
by Hilary

Nitrile Beekeeping Gloves

In this article, I will break down the pros and cons of wearing nitrile beekeeping gloves. I am asked almost on a daily basis why I wear them and what level of protection they provide against bee stings. Read on to find out everything you need to know about it.

Do nitrile gloves protect from bee stings?

This is the question I am asked most often about nitrile gloves, and the answer is not as straightforward as you would think! Technically, the nitrile gloves do not protect from stings. They are thin, and the bees can definitely sting through them; however, because of the nature of the material, the bees usually rarely attempt to sting them.

When I wear leather gloves, defensive bees will readily sting. The stinger does not make it through to my actual skin, but the stinger remains lodged in the glove. A pheromone is released that puts even more bees on alert, potentially causing even more stings.

When I wear nitrile gloves, the bees do not normally attempt to sting the gloves, and I am usually only stung when I accidentally press my finger directly onto a bee. My theory is that the bees understand leather: they recognize it as something they can sting. It is skin, after-all! While nitrile is something foreign to them. They don’t seem to know that they can sting it.

nitrile gloves for beekeeping

The Pros of Nitrile Gloves

I made the switch to nitrile gloves when my cut finger became infected two summers ago. I had been wearing leather gloves nearly every day, and the infection kept returning because I could not keep my cut clean while wearing my leather gloves. After I made the switch to disposable nitrile gloves, my wound was able to heal, but I could not bring myself to go back to the leather gloves. There were too many benefits!

1. Cleanliness

Nitrile gloves not only keep my hands cleaner, they keep my bees cleaner! That is to say, they expose the bees to less. I work with about a hundred different hives all over San Diego and often I am opening the hives of students. I like that I can change my nitrile gloves often to keep from cross-contaminating hives.

2. Dexterity & Sensitivity 

Nitrile gloves allow for much freer movement. I don’t have issues with my gloves getting caught up under frames, and it is easier to work the hive in general. It’s also easier to handle the bees because you can feel everything through your gloves. I can usually feel when I put my finger on a bee, for example, and remove it before the bee is accidentally smooshed. I also like that I can feel temperature through the gloves.

3. Sticky Solution

Nitrile gloves are easier to clean than leather gloves. When I am doing a bee removal for example, I like to keep a bucket of water near me so I can dip my gloved hands into it when they get too sticky with honey. The honey easily washes off. In contrast, when leather gloves get wet, they become even bulkier, and they cling to your skin and make it easier for bees to sting through.

A honey bee's stinger separated from her body after stinging.

The Cons of Nitrile Gloves

I put off writing this article for quite awhile because I did not want to encourage other beekeepers to wear nitrile gloves. I feel guilty about wearing them myself because they create a lot of trash compared to the leather gloves I used to wear. Read on to find out what else I don’t like about nitrile gloves.

1. The Trash

Depending on how many hives you manage and how often you are inspecting hives, nitrile gloves will result in different levels of trash. For me it feels pretty significant. I am sometimes going through 3 pairs a day.

To offset this, I have made a dirty pile for my gloves. After wearing them, I put them in the dirty pile and bring them inside to wash them. That way I can wear them again. I try to wear the gloves until they rip. Although this is a nice solution, I feel I still make more trash than I did when I wore the leather gloves.

Some beekeepers have addressed this issue by switching to dish washing gloves. They are thicker, and so, they should last longer than disposable nitrile gloves. I have not done this because they don’t have the same dexterity and sensitivity as nitrile gloves do.

2. The Sweat

Nitrile gloves do not breathe like leather gloves do. All the sweat has no where to go, and it pools up inside your gloves. On a hot day, you may end up wearing a balloon of your own sweat around your hands. It’s very unpleasant, but you get used to it.

3. The Cuffs

Most nitrile gloves have short cuffs and you may have issues with your wrists becoming exposed. However, there are some with long cuffs. These are what I use.

There you have it! Everything you need to know to know about beekeeping in nitrile gloves.

24 Comments

  1. Li

    Most dish washing gloves are bulky but Mr. Clean “Bliss” gloves are good compromise between nitrile and regular dish washing gloves. A bit pricey but much better fit and dexterity, although there is still the sweat issue. I am fortunate not to live in an Africanized region so go without gloves ninety percent of the time. It sounds like nitrile gloves would be a good option for those super messy times like straightening cross comb in a grumpy hive.

    Reply
    • Cobus

      I am from South Africa. The bees we have here (scutelate)are more prone to stinging than yours. Anybody any idea how they will prevent stinging here. I work with leather gloves,there is no way you work with bees here than with gloves

      Reply
  2. Bob

    Harbor Freight has gloves much cheaper than Amazon. I’ve used them for years and recommend 9 mil gloves.

    Reply
  3. Eimear Savage

    Hi, just wondering what your stance is on rubber gloves? Similar to leather gloves?? As I find they get in the way a lot and cause you to kill more bees as you can’t see what exactly your doing with them on!

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Exactly.

      Reply
  4. Johannah Lawrence

    I have found the same to be true for me. i have only been stung twice in the hands this year while wearing nitrile gloves and it was my own fault. the bees dont seem to understand the gloves and will not sting. unless you have honey on your hands they usually wont even crawl on the nitrile gloves. Glad you linked those long cuffed ones. I bought a box to try out. the short cuffs can be an issue.

    Reply
  5. Tom

    Hey, thanks for the great info. I’ve always used a leather glove but everything you’ve stated about nitrile makes complete sense so I’ll definitely have to add these to my bee keeping list!
    I hope you don’t mind me adding this bit I have a website dedicated to bee lovers and bee keepers at https://thehumblebumble.co.uk/collections/favourite-bee-gifts
    I’m also trying to do my bit by making donations from the proceeds.

    Regards

    Reply
  6. James Tatlow

    What about latex gloves? They would be biodegradable.

    Reply
  7. Cee

    I would caution you to do some deep research on these gloves, the chemicals used, the manufacturing process and waste, materials degradation when you rewash them and the presence of invisible and potentially harmful bacteria, and the enormous waste cycle you’re participating in by using them.

    These gloves are connected to the very real global threat that is affecting all life on our planet, including bees. There is no talking around this.

    Reply
  8. Reba

    I am enlightened I knew but chose to ignore. Cee, thank you.
    I do buy and use Harbor Freight Nitrile gloves in all 3 thicknesses. ( I don’t have bees yet) I will try even harder to think twice when choosing them (the cuts getting infected issue I deal with a lot, I wear nitrile under gardening gloves)., and reuse them even longer than I already do. They are tough little buggers. I can appreciate the pheromone thing about repetitively stung leather. Be nice if they made a (meant for long life) reusable Kevlar (bulletproof) glove with nitrile inner and outer coatings.

    BUT in the mix of things to consider: Cee you are right- just one box of gloves contributes to a ship crossing the ocean, slave labor, toxic chemicals being created and released. On the other hand; leather comes from animals ( I choose not to eat.) Purchase and use of leather gloves creates a demand for slaughter.

    I still think the Bees (and other pollinators)are more important. I think encouraging beeks all over the world like Hillary has, is critical. (Anyone take a head count of hives thanks to Hillary?) Without bees we have no food.
    SO THE QUESTION IS: which impacts our food production the most? Difficult to answer. We don’t see daily, where they manufacture these gloves. We have lovely American homes, jobs and ecology to enjoy.

    Lets face it none of us can survive without making a daily negative impact on our mother earth.

    What we can do is:STEP UP AND DO OUR BEST- SHARE with others alternatives to everyday choices. LEAD by example, SPREAD our wisdom……OFFER to mentor youth, VOLUNTEER at schools (all grade levels) START programs in your community.

    Reply
    • K

      Gloves are recycled. Check for lab gloves collection in your country. Where I am, you have a collection cardboard box delivered and picked up when full of spent gloves.
      I use them in the lab, but also at home. I’m autistic and they reduce unpleasant sensations when handling things.
      I maybe tempted to use them with bees. Not sure, maybe for minor checks.

      Reply
  9. Gled Wood

    When I watched news items, documentaries etc about beekeeping back in the 1980s, the beekeepers always worked barehanded, despite wearing an otherwise full bee suit. I don’t remember seeing a beekeeper ever wearing gloves.
    i don’t keep bees but has always been interested in them since back then and that’s why this detail stuck in my mind.
    It seems absurd to protect yourself from head to toe everywhere except your hands, although this did have the benefit of giving the beekeepers a really good resistance against bee venom.
    Nowadays beekeeper seem to use gloves on all occasions especially during the summer… am I right about this? And if so, why why does everyone wear gloves nowadays when they didn’t in the past?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi, a lot of experienced beekeepers don’t wear gloves. Mostly because the interfere with dexterity and the beekeepers don’t mind the risk of stings to the hand. I don’t know if more beekeepers wear gloves now, but if they do my guess is it’s because they are a lot of new beekeepers right now and/or they live in an Africanized bee zone, like me.

      Reply
  10. Michael

    Hi Hilary, I am new to beekeeping, and love your insights. Quick question: why don’t you use the thicker mil nitrile gloves (8 or 9 mil)? The thicker gloves would obviously protect better from the occasional sting. Is it becauise they don’t have the same level of dexterity as the thinner 4 mil?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I have not noticed a huge different in the amount of stings I get by mil variation. I think its more about texture than thickness.

      Reply
  11. Patrick Owen

    I read that it’s the odor and dark color of the leather glove that provoke the stinging. Same place stated that goat skin glove aren’t stung like the leather.

    Reply
  12. David Larkin

    Have you tried liquid gloves, it’s a cream which you apply, but needs warm soapy water to wash off. Never considered not wearing gloves for Beekeeping but your theory about synthetics might be the answer.

    Reply
  13. Amy James

    Thank you for writing this! It’s a great breakdown of the cost/benefits. As for the waste produced, since you rinse them anyway, when they do finally bite the dust, you could consider recycling nitrile gloves. Most communities don’t accept that in their recycling streams but here at work, we order a box from Terra Cycle and just send it back when it’s full. Something to consider if you don’t already have a recycling option near you!

    Reply
  14. brenda

    Stung 3 times immediately when I took the top box off since I forgot to put the leather gloves over the nitrile gloves. My texas bees are too aggressive for a thin glove.

    Reply
    • Jeffrey Sirninger

      I may be misunderstanding, but wouldn’t putting a leather glove over a nitrile one defeat the anti-bee recognition properties and ease of handling benefits of the latter?

      The main benefit of your approach would seem to form an extra hygienic layer between your skin and the leather, but otherwise I don’t appreciate why one would want to do that, especially as your hands will likely be dripping with sweat.

      Reply
  15. Jeffrey Sirninger

    Have you tried PVC coated or Nitrile reusable textured heavy duty gloves?

    Lanon makes such gloves, which also incorporate breathable cotton liners and are rated at level 1 (20 newton) of puncture resistance.

    As a point of reference, puncture resistance levels range from a low of 0 to a high of 5, so while on the low end, the thickness and rubberized composition of the glove might in theory make an effective combination against bee stinging behaviors and their relatively small stingers.

    Reply
  16. Cynthia

    I have a saying that the world is not changed by 10% of the people doing things 100% perfectly but by 100% of the people doing things 10% better. You’re positively impacting the world with your bees, and I bet you are also taking lots of other steps to do so. If using these gloves helps you, then so be it, and I think I might give it a try as I just can’t perform with the finesse required to inspect my hive wearing bulky gloves, but I’m not quite confident to go gloveless yet.

    Reply
  17. Jim Jordan

    Thanks a lot really appreciate the info

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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