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Eric Litke
By Eric Litke May 13, 2020

No, you are not better off wearing gloves in public

If Your Time is short

  • Health experts say the general public should not wear gloves.

  • Frequent hand-washing is all that’s needed to protect against the flu and COVID-19.

  • Wearing gloves doesn’t really protect the wearer since the coronavirus doesn’t seep in through skin, and they don’t inhibit disease spread since they pass the virus between surfaces as easiliy as bare hands.

  • People who wear gloves too long or dispose of them improperly end up increasing the virus spread and their own exposure.

Face masks have become a go-to accessory in America’s grocery stores and remaining public areas, with some prominent retailers even requiring them for entry.

But many shoppers have taken it on themselves to go a step further — donning gloves as well.

This pseudo-surgical garb may feel safer, but is it?

One business that doesn’t think so posted a sign outside banning gloves, and a picture posted May 5, 2020, that went viral on Facebook. Here’s what it said in part:

"If you are wearing the same set of gloves all over town you are only spreading germs everywhere you go. Every door you touch, the cart, the supplies, your phone, your car door, your face, money and change. … DON’T WEAR THE SAME GLOVES EVERYWHERE!"

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

It seemed a good time to settle this question. Does wearing gloves really hurt more than it helps?

Most likely, yes. Here’s what the experts have to say.

CDC says no

The glove guidance for the general public is simple from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Don’t.

"CDC doesn’t recommend the general public use gloves. Gloves can be a source of contamination, even for the wearer, if not properly removed," spokeswoman Kate Grusich said in an email. "COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets that can land on surfaces. If the wearer touches a variety of surfaces during the day while wearing the same pair of gloves, contamination can definitely be transmitted from one surface to another."

The CDC’s online guide for glove use recommends wearing them when cleaning or caring for someone who is sick. It expressly notes gloves are a bad choice for running errands.

"The best way to protect yourself from germs when running errands and after going out is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol," the website says.

Why gloves are a bad idea

But we don’t even have to take the CDC’s word for it. Infectious disease experts across the country agree gloves are a bad idea for general use.

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People may assume gloves are a solution on their own without recognizing that in the medical field they’re only part of the process. Gloves are disposed of as soon as the medical personnel leave a contaminated area, and hands are washed before and after removing.

"We’re seeing a lot of people out in public wearing gloves, which isn’t wrong so to say," said Dr. Patricia Dandache, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic said this in a online post by the organization. "But unfortunately, most people aren’t wearing or disposing of their gloves correctly, which defeats the whole purpose."

And removing gloves is a tricky process. The CDC gives detailed guidance on it because even health care professionals struggle to do it in a way that avoids contamination.

A 2019 study in the American Journal of Infection Control found 37% of health care workers using their normal glove removal technique contaminated themselves in the process.

Even if gloves were removed correctly, they’re problematic because people often wear them to multiple places.

"With or without gloves, if you touch one thing then touch something else, you’re potentially transmitting it (the virus) from one place to another," Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Healthline.

And the gloves aren’t providing any additional protection from COVID-19, said Mary Beth Graham, medical director of infection prevention and control at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee.

"For things like influenza, COVID, etc., these are things where hand hygiene is sufficient," she said. "The virus isn’t going to go in through the pores of your skin on your hand. It’s going to get into you if you’re touching commonly touched surfaces and then going in to touch your nose, your mouth, your eyes … before you do hand hygiene (washing)."

All of which brings us to perhaps the largest danger of glove-wearing — the false sense of security.

 "Wearing gloves may make someone feel safe, but it will also make people very lax in regards to recognizing that the key part of even wearing gloves is hand hygiene," Graham said. "Gloves are nothing without hand hygiene."

Our ruling

A viral Facebook post warned against wearing gloves in public because keeping the same set on means "you are only spreading germs everywhere you go."

Infectious disease experts around the country agree gloves largely do more harm than good.

They don’t really protect the wearer since the coronavirus doesn’t seep in through the skin. And they don’t limit the disease spread since they are often worn too long or removed incorrectly.

And perhaps most notably, wearing gloves can stop users from washing hands as often, which is the step that actually kills the coronavirus.

We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 5, 2020

CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Wearing Gloves, accessed May 12, 2020

CDC, How to Remove Gloves, accessed May 12, 2020

Email exchange with Kate Grusich, CDC spokeswoman, May 11, 2020

Healthline, Gloves Won’t Reduce Your Risk of COVID-19 at the Grocery Store: Here’s What Will, accessed May 11, 2020

Cleveland Clinic, Why You Shouldn’t Wear Gloves to the Grocery Store, April 15, 2020

NPR, Coronavirus FAQs: Do Gloves HeIp? Is It Allergies Or COVID-19?, April 10, 2020

Interview with Mary Beth Graham, medical director of infection prevention and control, Froedtert Hospital, May 12, 2020

American Journal of Infection Control, Contamination of health care personnel during removal of contaminated gloves, July 1, 2019

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No, you are not better off wearing gloves in public

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