7 Key Chemical Resistant Protective Clothing Options to Consider

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Different types of chemical hazards require different levels of protection.

When you’re working with chemicals, it’s imperative that you have the right personal protective equipment to keep you safe. It doesn’t take much – just a drop is enough – to cause serious chemical burns that result in medical treatment and time off work.

While PPE is actually the last line of defense against chemical hazards (elimination and engineering controls should come first), it’s an important component in ensuring workers’ skin is adequately protected (learn more about The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls).

Here’s what you need to know about the what, why, and how of chemical resistant protective clothing.

Chemical Resistant PPE, Explained

Chemical resistant clothing is used to protect workers from the chemical, physical, and biological hazards that might be encountered during work with chemical substances.

The protective clothing used may include any combination of the following:

In most cases, protective clothing such as a splash apron, gloves, and safety goggles is sufficient to protect workers from chemical hazards.

Common Applications for Chemical Resistant Clothing

Protective clothing must be worn whenever there is a risk of hazards from chemical exposure. Some examples include:

Levels of Protection

Of course, not every job calls for the same level of protection. OSHA outlines four levels that can be used as a starting point for putting together a chemical resistant ensemble.

Level A

  • Highest available respiratory, skin, and eye protection from solid, liquid, and gaseous chemical hazards
  • Use when chemicals have been identified and have high hazard levels
  • Clothing should include:
    • Totally encapsulating chemical protective suit
    • Full-face SCBA
    • Inner chemical resistant gloves
    • Chemical resistant safety boots

Level B

  • Same respiratory protection as Level A, but less skin protection
  • Protects only against liquid chemical hazards
  • Use when chemicals have been identified but don’t require high level of skin protection
  • Clothing should include:
    • Hooded chemical resistant clothing
    • Full-face SCBA
    • Inner and outer chemical resistant gloves
    • Chemical resistant safety boots

Level C

  • Same level of skin protection as level B, but less respiratory protection
  • Protects only against liquid chemical hazards
  • Not appropriate for chemical emergency response
  • Use when contact with chemicals will not affect the skin
  • Clothing should include:
    • Hooded chemical resistant clothing
    • Full-face respirator
    • Inner and outer chemical resistant gloves
    • Chemical resistant safety boots

Level D

  • Offers no respiratory protection and minimal skin protection
  • Use when there are no hazards in the atmosphere and there is no direct contact with hazardous chemicals
  • Clothing should include:
    • Coveralls
    • Chemical resistant safety boots
    • Chemical splash goggles

What You Should Look For

Choosing the right chemical resistant gear starts with understanding the potential hazards. Consider the following questions to guide your selection:

  • What chemicals are being handled?
  • What is the nature of the contact – occasional splashes or full immersion?
  • What is the duration of the contact?
  • Which parts of the body need protection?
  • What kind of mobility and dexterity is required for the task at hand?

After you’ve conducted your risk assessment, it’s time to figure out what chemical resistant protective gear best protects workers against the risks. There are four key things to consider when selecting chemical resistant clothing and accessories.

1. Permeation Rate

Permeation rate is the rate at which a chemical will move through the material. It’s generally measured in milligrams per square meter per second and the higher it is, the faster the chemical will move.

Note that permeation is not the same thing as penetration, which refers to how quickly a chemical can move through zippers, seams, and imperfections in the piece of clothing.

2. Breakthrough Time

Breakthrough time represents the time it takes for a chemical to completely permeate the material.

The test for breakthrough time includes applying a chemical to the exterior of garment and measuring how long it takes before the chemical can be detected inside the garment.

Essentially, breakthrough time helps workers understand how long they can use a garment before chemicals will permeate it.

3. Degradation

Just as it sounds, degradation measures the physical deterioration of the material once it comes into contact with a chemical.

Note that "deterioration" need not mean the dissolution of the garment in the chemical (though it can). Degradation may come in the form of the material getting harder, stiffer, more brittle, softer, weaker, or even swelling.

4. Material

The material very much matters when you’re dealing with chemical resistant PPE. While many different materials are used to manufacture chemical resistant goods, not all of them are appropriate for all kinds of chemicals.

This becomes especially apparent when looking at chemical resistant gloves:

  • Butyl gloves protect against chemicals including peroxide, rocket fuels, highly corrosive acids, and strong bases. They also resist oxidation and abrasion, and remain flexible even at low temperatures.
  • Natural rubber (latex) gloves are comfortable, strong, and even temperature resistant. They resist abrasions and protect against most water solutions of acids, alkalis, salts, and ketones.
  • Neoprene gloves offer good pliability, finger dexterity, and tear-resistance. They stand up well to hydraulic fluids, gasoline, alcohols, organic acids, and alkalis. These gloves generally last longer than those made of natural rubber.
  • Nitrile gloves protect the wearer from chlorinated solvents like trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene. They are good choices when working with oils, greases, acids, caustics, and alcohols, but are not recommended for protection against strong oxidizing agents, aromatic solvents, ketones, and acetates.

It’s important to remember that wool, leather, and cotton should never be used when handling chemicals. These materials are permeable and will soak up chemicals quickly, transferring them to the skin (see 12 Types of Hand Protection Gloves and How to Choose the Right One for related reading).

OSHA Standards to Remember

Employers play a key role in ensuring their workers are well protected against chemical hazards in the workplace. OSHA standards require employers to:

  • Perform a thorough hazard inspection
  • Select PPE that is appropriate to the identified hazards
  • Fit employees for PPE and train them in its proper use
  • Provide retraining as necessary

Training is critical, and workers should understand:

  • The hazards of skin contact with the chemicals at hand
  • Limitations of the chemical resistant protective clothing
  • What to do if chemical resistant clothing fails
  • When and how to decontaminate (or dispose of) chemical resistant PPE

Conclusion

While data suggests that chemical exposure incidents are on the decline in U.S. workplaces, there isn’t any room for complacency. Chemical hazards are present in workplaces around the country and both employers and their workers must be vigilant in using the right PPE to remain safe.

AlphaTec 58-535B Glove

The AlphaTec glove features game-changing Ansell Grip Technology so you can get a tight grip on slippery objects and control every situation, especially when working with hazardous chemicals. 

AlphaTec 58-735

The AlphaTec 58-735 is the go-to protective glove when handling hazardous materials. Plus, with dependable ISO C/ ANSI level 3 cut protection, and Ansell Grip technology, the AlphaTec 58-735 is built to last and deliver dependable gripping power. 

MICROCHEM by AlphaTec 4000

Get the AlphaTec 4000 Microchem coverall for dependable chemical resistance in a lightweight design that will give you the ultimate defense against organic/inorganic chemicals in any given work environment.

MICROCHEM by AlphaTec 3000

Want extreme comfort and lightweight material while protecting yourself from inorganic chemicals and biological hazards? Choose MICROCHEM by AlphaTec 3000 for the dependable comfort and protection you need in the workplace environments that constantly demand safety first. 

MICROCHEM by AlphaTec 2300 PLUS

Perfect for the light-duty worker needing basic yet safe coveralls, the MICROCHEM by AlphaTec 2300 PLUS delivers Type 3 chemical protection when working in environmental clean-up, general industrial and chemical handling applications. 

DuPont Tychem 2000

This DuPont Tychem 2000 coverall delivers on strength, durability, and protection in a lightweight design featuring DuPont Tyvek fabric and a polyethylene coating. Perfect for dangerous workplace environments like petroleum refining, pulp and paper manufacturing, food processing, chemical processing and pharmaceutical manufacturing, the Tychem 2000 can safeguard your health for at least 30 minutes against 42 chemical hazards. 

ChemMax 3

Get the lightweight superior protection you need in the workplace with ChemMax 3 coveralls that feature a multi-layer film applied to heavy polypropylene non-woven material to give you premium strength and durable protection when faced with various toxic industrial, dual-use, and warfare agent chemicals.

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Written by Jessica Barrett
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Jessica is a freelance writer, editor, and communications consultant. After starting her career in the travel industry, she branched out on her own in 2016 and hasn't looked back since. Jessica is a regular contributor to several websites and works with numerous small businesses and NGOs around the world to craft content for both online and offline platforms. When she isn't writing, you might find her practicing yoga or adventuring (aka eating) her way through a new country.

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