Share on Pinterest
Experts say you don’t need to wear gloves at the grocery store, especially if you are diligent about washing your hands and not touching your face. Getty Images
  • Experts say wearing gloves while grocery shopping probably won’t lower your risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • They say the gloves can make you more conscious of touching items as well as send a message to people nearby that you are taking precautions.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides tips on how to safely remove gloves.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

With most Americans under “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders, essential errands such as going to the grocery store take on new significance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes several recommendations on how to minimize the risks of COVID-19 when you’re out in public.

Among them are avoiding close contact or touching your face, covering your nose and mouth with a mask, and washing your hands frequently.

To date, the CDC has not recommended the use of gloves for general daily activities. There are a few exceptions, such as:

  • Touching the buttons or handles on a gas pump when disinfecting wipes are not available.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
  • Handling dirty laundry, kitchen items, or trash from someone who has the virus.

Even in these cases, gloves are only effective when proper procedures are followed.

That means removing and discarding them appropriately. This should always be followed with thorough handwashing.

Gloves and other personal protective equipment are vital in healthcare settings where people are likely to have more exposure and more direct contact.

Gloves help protect patients and providers from a variety of infections, including COVID-19.

In those settings, protocols state how these items are chosen, how they’re used, and how to dispose of them.

The grocery store is a different situation.

Dr. David Cutler is a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Cutler told Healthline that when it comes to COVID-19, for most people, there’s no medical benefit to wearing gloves at the grocery store.

“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. Gloves might even divert attention from the importance of washing your hands,” Cutler said.

“Any protective measures have a medical advantage or a social advantage. A lot of the advantage [of wearing gloves] is social. It says, ‘I care about you. I don’t want to give you the virus,’” he added.

Cutler noted gloves are a way to send a message.

“The beaches in Miami, the bars in New Orleans, the streets of New York up until a few weeks ago. People were totally ignoring the reality that there’s a pandemic going on,” he said.

“This [COVID-19] is a risk for everyone and if wearing gloves helps transmit that message, OK. But it doesn’t translate into a medical advantage,” said Cutler.

Elizabeth Rossiaky, MS, BCBA, is a board certified behavior analyst practicing in Frankfort, Illinois.

She agrees that gloves in no way take the place of handwashing or other CDC guidelines.

But she does see a potential benefit for some people.

“Wearing gloves can be used as antecedent modification. You might think about and be more deliberate in your actions while you are wearing those gloves. For example, it may act as a reminder to touch fewer surfaces and refrain from touching your face,” Rossiaky told Healthline.

She also believes the act of wearing gloves may provide some individuals with a feeling of empowerment.

“As there is so much out of our control, wearing gloves may give you a sense of taking action. If you’re feeling heightened anxiety over the virus, this may be a way to take control, to take action to increase your safety behavior,” she explained.

If you do use disposable gloves, the CDC recommends these steps for removing them:

  • Grasp the outside of one glove at the wrist without touching your bare skin.
  • Peel the glove away from your body and pull it inside out.
  • Hold the glove you just removed in your gloved hand.
  • Peel off the second glove by putting your fingers inside the glove at the top of your wrist.
  • Turn the second glove inside out while pulling it away from your body, leaving the first glove inside the second.
  • Dispose of the gloves safely. Disposable gloves should never be reused.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Without these precautions, any protection gloves might provide is lost. Removing cloth gloves safely may prove difficult.

The recommendation for frequent and thorough handwashing is not because COVID-19 is absorbed through the skin.

The virus spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes. You might not see them, but these droplets can land on nearby surfaces.

You can get the virus by touching these surfaces with your hands — or gloves — and then touching your face. The virus can enter through the nose, mouth, or eyes.

If you’re in close range of a person who has the virus, you can inhale infected droplets directly into your lungs.

“The important thing is meticulous washing of your hands, the same as it is for other purposes that have nothing to do with coronavirus,” advised Cutler.

“Take vitamins and be well nourished. Exercise. Wipe things down. Stay 6 feet away from others and wash your hands before you touch your face. These are things you can do,” he continued.

More people have taken to using masks, gloves, and disposable sanitizing wipes to lower the risk of transmitting the virus. But there’s been an unfortunate side effect.

Some of these items are being carelessly discarded outside, leaving them for someone else to pick up. It’s a process that ends up putting more people at risk.

It’s not just COVID-19 either.

All the same risks for health problems that existed before COVID-19 are still there, cautioned Cutler.

“So, whatever you were doing to protect the environment and your neighborhood before — keep doing that,” he urged.