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Which gloves are best for art?

Donning a pair of gloves, it’s the iconic art handler move. But not all gloves are created equal. What is more, the options have expanded to improve performance and widen choices for special cases. Here are a few of the most common glove types we use in the field:

White cotton gloves

These are the classic that everyone expects when it comes to art handling.  For decades they were considered with little exception the safest way to handle artwork. Cotton is non-reactive and white gloves show dirt exposing when a pair needs replacing. These gloves also don’t leave fingerprints on an object. But, they can snag and shed lint on objects. In addition, since cotton wicks moisture away from the skin, hand oils and sweat can come in contact with the object.

Powder-free nitrile gloves

Made of a synthetic rubber copolymer, these have unseated white cotton gloves as the best general purpose glove choice and are usually purple or blue. Like cotton gloves they are non-reactive and do not leave fingerprints, but unlike white gloves they will not wick up moisture, snag or deposit lint. Plus, they provide a modest amount of grip, useful when handling smooth objects.

Work gloves

Heavy, difficult to manage works may require these gloves to improve handling. Generally, these are used for sculpture or heavy furniture when nitrile gloves are not rugged enough. In addition, work gloves with a rubberized grip can help manage slippery, heavy objects.

Bare hands

In rare cases, bare hands are actually the safest choice for handling. Generally this is when objects require a maximum amount of grip and tactility to be safely managed. When this is the case, handlers must thoroughly wash and dry hands to remove as much natural oil as possible. When prolonged bare-handed work is required washing should happen at regular intervals to keep hands clean, oil-free and dry.

Not for art: Latex gloves

These gloves should not be used to handle artwork. The materials involved are chemically unstable and may react with handled works. In addition, latex and rubber are both weakened when they come in contact with oils, which are present in a variety of artistic media.

Of course this list is not exhaustive; there are several highly specific types of gloves that your professional art handler may use.  However, no matter the glove chosen, they should always be clean, free of tears and fit the wearer properly.