Glove Affair

Bare hands in warm, moist soil may be one of gardening's primal pleasures, but the result is often scraped, chapped, and blistered skin. The more you garden, the more you need gloves. And by making various tasks even slightly easier or more comfortable, you'll be able to spend more time gardening.

Gloves are a perennially undervalued gardening tool. What other one offers such big returns of improved safety and comfort for such a small investment? Even if you think of gloves as an optional luxury for everyday tasks, consider using specialized ones for chores such as heavy weeding, pruning roses and brambles, trimming hedges, or operating power equipment.

After scouring home stores and gardening shops and catalogs, we've collected some representative types. Examples of each of these seven types are described below, along with a few kinds whose main reasons for being are that they simply look and feel great.

Which Glove Is Right for You?

The type of gloves you buy depends on how you garden. For example, gloves used for general gardening chores -- raking, weeding, digging -- differ from specialized gloves tailored for pruning thorny brambles, refilling a lawnmower with gasoline, or using a chain saw. Some gloves, such as those made of pigskin, are perfectly suitable for most gardening tasks, but even durable leather gloves are inadequate when you work with water or chemicals. For details about how much protection a particular glove offers against specific substances, check with your supplier.

The Perfect Fit 

Glove sizes aren't consistent among manufacturers, styles, and models. Many so-called unisex gloves are cut for men's hands, which are usually broader and thicker than women's. Oversized gloves may bunch or slip off, tight gloves can cause muscle aches and cramps, and ill-fitting gloves often cause blistering and chafing.

To get the best fit, try the gloves on both hands and make a tight fist. You shouldn't feel any pinching or tightness. Try picking up small objects such as seeds or thin roots to determine the gloves' flexibility and comfort. If possible, try simulating the motions used with garden tools (rakes, hoes, or spades) to feel the glove at work. Testing the gloves with a tool may help you identify bothersome seams before you buy.

Placement and thickness of seams are key to the fit and comfort of cloth and leather gloves. Gloves with a seam across only the top of the palm, called gunn-cut, are usually more comfortable. Those with seams across the back, called clute-cut, often fit better. Most of the gloves you'll see are variations of both styles. For many gardeners, it's a matter of personal preference, not qualitative difference.

Whether on a gunn- or clute-cut glove, seams may be on the inside or on the outside. Inside seams are protected from wear and generally last longer but are more likely to chafe your skin. Outside seams, though less bothersome, wear out faster because they're exposed. It's a trade-off.

If you choose gloves with outside seams, look for ones sewn of new, high-tech durable fabrics such as Spectra, a high-tensile-strength synthetic. And if you have very delicate skin, consider knits or one-piece molded rubber or vinyl models.

Glove Selection Guide

Below we list a wide selection of the most commonly available gardening gloves. We've organized them according to intended use, though these categories are only guides. Gloves similar to many of the ones shown here are available from different manufacturers; prices and quality can vary. Most of the gloves featured, including leather and suede ones, are washable in cool water and can be air dried except as indicated.

General-Purpose: Cotton and Cotton-Polyester

All provide minimal to average protection at low cost.

Cotton jersey gloves with short knit cuffs and felt linings are perfectly suited to chores in cool, dry weather. One size (men's large). By Carolina. Widely available; $3.

More durable than cotton, washable cotton-polyester gloves handle many light chores but have bulky interior seams. Often include dotted palms that enhance grip or reinforced fingers for weeding. Women's sizes only. By Carolina. Widely available; $4.

Generously cut heavyweight cotton gloves provide more wear and protection but have bulky seams. Unisex sizes S-XXL. Manufacturers include Carolina, Fairfield Line, and Wells Lamont. Available from A. M. Leonard, Gempler's, and retail outlets; $3 to $5.

Gloves for the Garden Artist. . . Supple, elegant, and good-looking. Except for the 2-inch gray suede cuff, these lanolin-rich goatskin gloves have more in common with a dress glove than with a gardening glove. They feel so good you won't want to take them off. Women's sizes S-XL. By Womanswork. Available from Womanswork; $22 ($14 for single glove).

Water- and mud-resistant. Both kinds are supple and sensitive, yet protect against cuts, abrasions, and tears. They also enhance grip in soggy conditions.

The Mud Glove is cotton dipped in durable latex. Absorbent, flexible, and crinkled coating is ideal for muddy chores, and it provides a good grip. Latex degrades on contact with petroleum-based materials. Unisex sizes S-L. By Little's Good Gloves. Available from Earthmade, Gardener's Supply, and Little's Good Gloves; $10.

Distinctive orange PVC glove is marketed under various names (The Ultimate Gardening Glove, and Wonder Gloves). This is a water-resistant option for gardeners allergic to natural rubber. Seamless cotton-knit lining and long cuff provide comfort and extra protection (cool-season version has a fleece lining). Molded hand gives good grip and sensitivity, enough to pick up a dime. Avoid contact of PVC with hyydrocarbons (gasoline, kerosene) and organic solvents (acetone). Unisex sizes S-L. By Atlas Gloves. Available from Earthmade, Langenbach, and Ultimate Goods; $10.

Chemical-Resistant

If you work with oils, acids, herbicides, pesticides, or other caustic or petroleum-based chemicals, use either neoprene- or nitrile-coated gloves. Neoprene is oil-resistant. Nitrile resists a broader range of oils and solvents including kerosene, naphtha, and turpentine; it also resists cuts and abrasions and offers some puncture protection.

Heavyweight 13-inch gauntlet has a textured neoprene coating over a layer of latex. Lining is two-way stretch cotton, absorbent enough for most short-term chores. Washable, but avoid contaminating lining with toxins. Unisex sizes S-XL. By Wells Lamont. Available from Gempler's; $5.

Unlined nitrile gloves offer maximum protection from chemicals as well as dexterity and sensitivity. They resist petrochemicals as well as solvents, butyls, acids, and caustics. Sizes XS-L. By Gempler's and various other manufacturers. Available from Gempler's and through mail-order catalogs; $2.50.

General-Purpose: Leather

Leather provides much more protection than cotton at a slightly higher cost. Cowhide (both smooth and suede) is most common. Grain leather is more comfortable but doesn't match suede's durability. The compact fibers of pigskin tolerate abrasion and rewetting, but goatskin treated with lanolin is luxurious and suited to light- and medium-duty jobs.

These combine the breathability of cloth and durability of brushed pigskin but may have bulky interior seams that reduce dexterity. Often in men's sizes only. By Carolina. Widely available retail and from A.M. Leonard; $8 to $10.

Grain leather exterior is lined with cotton flannel. Gunn-cut offers seamless back but a short, thick seam at base of middle fingers. Often available in men's sizes only. Various manufacturers. Available from American Arborist and other outlets; $9 to $13.

Suede pigskin is available in various models from different manufacturers: standard, long cuff center, unlined, or Thinsulate-lined. This one is proportioned for women and features interior seams and reinforced palms. Sizes for women, men, and children; single gloves also available.

By Womanswork. Available from Womanswork and Kinsman Co.; $17 to $26 (single gloves $10 to $14).

Cut-Resistant

Spectra and Kevlar synthetic fabrics offer more protection against sharp edges. Seamless, ambidextrous design. Neither material is cutproof, and knits never prevent punctures.

Kevlar gloves resist cuts and flames. Nitrile "Ns" enhance grip. Men's sizes L-XL. By North. Widely available; $8.

Spectra and silicon blend provides maximum cut resistance, but satiny surface may slip. For best protection, wear under leather gloves. Sizes XS-L. By Wells Lamont. Available from American Arborist; $29.

Puncture-Resistant

Heavy leather is the traditional choice here, but nitrile is surprisingly effective, and usually at lower cost.

Textured nitrile-dipped cotton glove stops rose and bramble thorns, but the short cuff leaves forearm unprotected. Washable. Men's sizes S-L. By Best. Available retail and from Gempler's; $4.

Suede pigskin work glove by Womanswork is similar to general-purpose leather glove but features a 4-inch cuff.

Thick, unlined goatskin glove covers the hand, and a 9-inch suede goatskin cuff protects forearms almost to the elbow. An adjustable nylon wrist strap holds the glove snug. Given the forearm protection, this glove is ideal for pruning prickly shrubs or for carrying armloads of firewood. Clean with a damp cloth or leather soap. Sizes S/M or L/XL (specify men's or women's). By Little's Good Gloves. Widely available, including Little's Good Gloves, Earthmade, and Langenbach; $40.

Grip-Enhancing

Each of these gloves makes it easier for you to hold onto a tool, reducing your fatigue and improving safety. Zigzags of gummy PVC cover both sides of this knit polyester-acrylic glove called Golden Gripper. Seamless and ambidextrous; once the sticky stuff wears thin, switch the glove to the other hand. Unisex sizes S-XL. By Wells Lamont. Widely available, including American Arborist Supplies; $3.50.

Similar to Golden Gripper, but rubber dots give extra gripping power. Knit glove is cotton string, which absorbs water like a towel and wears faster than cotton blends. Machine wash and dry at low temperatures. Sizes S, L. By Carolina. Available retail and from A. M. Leonard; $2.

Rubber dots cover cut-resistant Kevlar knit that's less absorbent than cotton. Machine wash, low-heat dry. Sizes S-L. By Wells Lamont. Available from American Arborist; $12.

This seamless open-knit cotton glove dipped in crinkled rubber is like the Mud Glove but the back is undipped for breathability. Because it's molded to fit a hand at rest, dexterity is excellent. Wash in warm water with mild detergent; air dry. Unisex sizes S-L. By Atlas Glove. Available from Ultimate Goods; $10.

. . . or the Garden Terminator

If you use any kind of power tool-lawn mower, chain saw, or rotary tiller-these half-finger gloves absorb vibration and reduce fatigue and the possibility of "hand-arm vibration syndrome." Besides, strapping on these gloves can make anyone feel like the real Terminator. The gloves' viscous gel inserts provide padding in the palms, thumbs, and index fingers; wrist support comes from a stiff elastic wrist wrap with Velcro. Spot clean. Unisex sizes XS-2XL. By Valeo. Available from American Arborist Supplies; $38 each glove.

Formerly managing editor at National Gardening, Shila Patel is currently the editor of the garden channel at marthastewart.com.

Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association

Article published on June 23, 2008.

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