August 9, 2019 | Joe Geng |

How Waterproof Gloves Work: The Science Behind Modern Waterproofing Technology



an image of a large water drop with a glove in the middle against a background of water drops

Did you know that your body has as many as two to four million sweat glands and produces almost a liter of sweat daily? It’s true! And your palms have one of the highest concentrations of sweat glands of anywhere on your body.

If you’re wondering what human sweat glands have to do with waterproof gloves, keep reading to discover how internal moisture can be just as dangerous as external moisture and how modern science keeps your hands dry from both.

Waterproofing technology comes in several forms, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. The four most common types of waterproofing are as follows: treatment, single-layer solution, double-layer solution, and triple-layer solution.

TREATMENT

The most basic form of waterproofing, it involves spraying fabric with a silicone- or PVC-based treatment and results in a barrier that is more water-repellant than waterproof.

While treatment is the quickest and cheapest waterproofing method, it also wears out the fastest and is the least effective. It’s most desirable in work gloves that have ulterior functions such as cut resistance or impact resistance but are being used in an environment where the user may come into some contact with water or other liquids. Full waterproof gloves can be very expensive and there is little economical sense for that type of protection if water soak-through isn’t a likely hazard.

A pair of Superior Glove's 378GKGVB Endura Oilbloc Goatskin Kevlar-Lined Impact-Resistant Driver Gloves
Superior Glove’s 378GKGVB Kevlar-lined, Oilbloc-treated driver’s glove is an excellent choice for those looking for top-notch protection coupled with water repellency
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SINGLE-LAYER SOLUTION

 A single-layer waterproofing solution provides a barrier that keeps your hands dry because it doesn’t let anything through. Think of wearing a plastic bag over your hand. Sure, you’re not getting wet, but the protective barrier is bulky and makes it hard to perform tasks requiring dexterity – imagine trying to replace a watch battery wearing dishwashing gloves.

The good news is, a single-layer barrier doesn’t let anything in; the bad news is, it doesn’t let anything out, either. Remember all that sweat that your palms are releasing – almost a liter per day? That’s all getting trapped in your single-layer waterproof glove, moistening your hands from the inside. Aside from being uncomfortable, this can be incredibly dangerous in cold weather as wetness increases the rate at which heat leaves your body. Consider someone lost in the cold: against the elements, a typical person may be able to survive a day or more; however, if that person happens to fall in water, hypothermia can occur and that person might survive for only a few hours without help.

A pair of Superior Glove's Chemstop Extreme Comfort PVC Gloves with Kevlar Liner and Full Nitrile Coating
For a comfortable, dexterous glove that provides protection from many chemicals and solvents as well as cuts and punctures, try Superior Glove’s S15KGV30N
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DOUBLE-LAYER SOLUTION

The double-layer solution combines a treated outer layer with a PVC or polyurethane inner layer and laminates them together. The inner layer provides a bit of breathability by offering a basic level of moisture-wicking to keep palm sweat away from your hands. It’s also a much less bulky solution than the single-layer solution.

The two-layer solution is often used in commercial applications such as hiking and running gear as it is effective yet also lightweight. Imagine how it feels to wear a heavy rubber jacket (single layer) versus a windbreaker (double layer). Both offer protection from the elements, but the windbreaker is definitely lighter and easier to move in.

TRIPLE-LAYER SOLUTION

For a true, waterproof solution that offers breathability and dexterity, a triple-layer solution is the best option. It is by far the most effective waterproofing method and as such, tends to be the most expensive.

In a triple-layer solution, the middle layer performs the waterproofing function while the inner layer offers comfort and the outer layer provides any other protections required such as cut or abrasion resistance.

A pair of Superior Glove's Endura Deluxe Winter Goat-Gran Driver with WaterStop/Oilbloc and Double Weight Thinsulate Liner
For stellar protection against the elements this winter, pick up a pair of Superior Glove’s 378GOBDTK

Looking Closer at a Triple-Layer Solution

A triple-layer solution is the most effective form of waterproofing due to the middle layer, which is referred to as a membrane. The membrane is the key to the waterproofing puzzle and you may be familiar with the brand names of some of the more high-end membranes such as Gore-Tex and Porelle.

The following video is from Gore-Tex and shows the science behind its high-performing membrane.

To be considered a membrane, a material must be breathable. Specifically, the pores of the material must be small enough to block water droplets yet big enough to allow water vapor to pass through.

Combined with a sweat-wicking inner layer, this technology ensures that water from outside doesn’t get in and the sweat created by your body is able to get out, leaving your hands dry and comfortable.

However, not all membranes are created equal. The quality of a membrane is measured by how many grams of water vapors can pass through per hour and the price difference can be substantial. A poor-quality membrane can sell for as low as $0.25 – compare that to a high-quality membrane which can run as high as $10. This is why prices can vary substantially for waterproof gloves – find out how to spot the good from the bad in the next section.

The final layer, the outer layer, also typically has some kind of water treatment to strengthen the glove’s water resistance and is also where additional protections such as cut resistance can be incorporated.

The triple-layer solution is the method Superior Glove employs for most of our waterproof gloves, using our proprietary membrane and exclusive sewing technique, which seamlessly fuses together the three layers to feel like one. The way in which the layers are joined together directly impacts the quality of the glove, as layers that move independently of each other compromise quality and dexterity.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE CRINKLY

Even amongst those using the triple-layer solution, not all waterproof gloves are created equal. The type of membrane used will impact the glove’s quality as will the method in which the three layers are fused together. Joining the three layers together so that they act as one is a true art form and the process by which this is done is typically a trade secret amongst manufacturers.

The Crinkle Factor

If you can hear your waterproof glove, chances are the membrane used is poor quality. As you place your hand in the glove, you’ll hear the distinct crinkle sound of the membrane. The sound isn’t the only problem; if your waterproof glove makes a crinkling noise that’s indicative of bigger problems.

The biggest problem with a crinkly waterproof glove is that the membrane isn’t properly adhered to the other layers. This means that the membrane likely won’t move with hand, making it difficult to perform work requiring dexterity. It’s also likely that the glove won’t be very comfortable to wear as the membrane will be wrinkled inside the glove instead of smooth.

CHOOSING THE BEST WATERPROOF GLOVE

A high-performing waterproof glove will feature a quality membrane (so if you’re looking for quality performance and comfort, this is not the time for bargain hunting), be comfortable to wear, feel as if it is one glove (this means the layers are properly adhered together and won’t move independently of the other), and make no sounds.

Look for these qualities when selecting your waterproof gloves to ensure the performance and comfort you need to do your job.

Want to start now? Use our Glove Selector to find the waterproof glove best suited to your needs!

Joe Geng
About Joe Geng
Vice President of Superior Glove

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