University of Maryland Extension

Choosing PPE for Pesticide Applications

Sara BhaduriHauck

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is required by law and by common sense when making any pesticide application. How do you choose the proper PPE for a job? The pesticide label will tell you the minimum PPE required, but it’s a good idea to have your own understanding of what kinds of PPE are best in different scenarios.

What should you wear?

Because a pesticide label is a legal document, you are required to use all PPE stated on the label when making an application. However, you can always wear more protective gear than is required. Think about the specific risks you will be facing when applying the product. If you will be spraying overhead, you may want to wear a hat. If pesticides could drip onto your feet, you may want to wear a chemically-resistant boot. If you’ll be walking through sticker bushes, you may want to wear sturdy garments that can’t be ripped.

What materials are best for PPE?

The basic PPE required for a pesticide application, regardless of the product being used, are long pants, long sleeves shirt, and shoes plus socks. Heavyweight, tightly-woven natural fabrics like cotton generally provide better protection than synthetic fabrics.       

Because a pesticide will absorb into any absorbent material it contacts, only wear absorbent materials that can be laundered. Leather boots and other types of footwear like tennis shoes are absorbent but can’t be laundered; once a pesticide seeps into these materials it will stay there. Absorbent PPE that can’t be laundered should be covered with something that can be cleaned (for example, for footwear, a chemical-resistant shoe cover).

Be wary that the PPE you choose doesn’t trap pesticides against your skin. For example, most baseball caps contain an absorbent band inside that sits against the forehead. If pesticides absorb into the hat, that band will hold the pesticide directly against the wearer’s skin.  

What if I need chemical-resistant PPE?

Depending on the type of pesticide being used, an applicator may be required to use chemical-resistant PPE. There are many different types of chemical-resistant materials such as barrier laminate, nitrile, viton, and neoprene rubber, among others. No one material will protect against all types of pesticides. The label will specify what materials will provide protection. The EPA chemical-resistance category selection chart is a helpful resource for determining what types of chemical-resistant material can be safely used with different pesticide formulations.    

What should I know about choosing gloves?

It’s advisable to wear gloves during every pesticide application, even if the label doesn’t require it. The majority of exposure to pesticides is to the skin, especially on the hands. Gloves should be unlined and extend to the forearm. Disposable gloves are usually less expensive and pose less risk of exposure during cleaning. Reusable gloves, on the other hand, are usually thicker and provide better protection during an application. If you use reusable gloves, be aware that each pair of gloves can only be used for a certain number of hours before they need to be replaced. It’s also important to select the correct size glove for your hand. Measure your hand around the palm to determine your glove size.

What if the label requires a respirator?

Respirators are usually required for pesticides with a danger or warning signal word. The label will tell you what specific type of respirator is required, but the acronyms can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with them.

When applying pesticides, use respirators that are rated “TC,” meaning they have been tested and certified by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (MSHA/NIOSH). The NIOSH prefix number (the number after the “TC-”) will tell you which type of respirator is required.

There are two general types of respirators. An air-purifying respirator (APR) filters the air you breathe, and the wearer’s lungs power the air supply. For this reason, a good seal around the nose and mouth is crucial. Some APRs – called powered air-purifying respirators – have a motorized blower. This is the only type of APR that provides adequate protection to people with facial hair. Air-suppling respirators supply air to the wearer through a pressurized tank or air hose. This type of respirator is used in situations where toxic gases or low oxygen levels are present.


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