Gardening: with or without gloves?

Gloves effectively protect against wounds, which are an entryway for numerous pathogens.
Credit: Shuterstock / STEKLO
Les gants protègent efficacement contre les blessures, qui représentent une porte d’entrée pour de nombreux pathogènes.
  • Les gants protègent efficacement contre les blessures, qui représentent une porte d’entrée pour de nombreux pathogènes.
  • Pour beaucoup de jardiniers, travailler à mains nues améliore la dextérité et permet de mieux connecter avec son jardin.
Gardening: with or without gloves?

An anecdote that inspires a blog post.

While I was out gardening early in May, my neighbor, Mario, shared the following thought with me: Before I hurt my back, I also used to garden often, and just like you, I didn’t wear gloves – it’s so much better!

And in fact, if you come across me in the garden, you’ll see I don’t wear gloves very often. Why get your hands tangled up and deaden what you feel when you’re practicing your favorite activity? Gardening is a pleasure that’s fully enjoyed through the senses and with a small dose of risk. Some enthusiasts will tell you that wearing gloves takes away all the pleasure, whereas others, on the contrary, never put their hands in the dirt without protection. So what’s the real deal?

Touching in order to learn – a question of feeling

If you garden barehanded, you get to know everything that can be collected in the way of information through your fingertips.

Plants and soil have their textures and their smells. And incidentally, the fingertips are the most sensitive spot on the body, according to German physician Ernst Weber, who demonstrated as much in 18341. The enjoyment of gardening comes about by way of sensory experience. And a lot of jobs are easier to accomplish, because bare hands can do that much more.

That said, gardening is enjoying a strong growth in popularity. The places where people practice it are rubbing shoulders more and more with other human activities, especially in urban settings. So it would be irresponsible of me to tell you that gardening with bare hands is perfectly safe.

Gloves: effective protection

Gloves create a barrier between the skin and matter. Without going into too much detail about all the health issues, some illnesses can be transmitted by different pathogens that live in the ground.

Gloves reduce the risk of injury and of opening the door to certain dangerous pathogens like the bacteria that cause tetanus, salmonella or E. coli. Contaminated soil, where animal excrement or sharp objects are present, is among the riskiest. Think, for example, of construction materials or industrial waste buried at some point in the past.

Other contaminants, like heavy metals, may also be present. In this case, gloves reduce the chances of involuntarily ingesting these elements, which could lodge under our fingernails, for instance.

In addition, numerous organic amendments (like manure or compost) contain bacteria. After all, it’s under the influence of bacteria and fungi that the organic matter decomposes.

Finally, certain plants release toxins contained in their sap. Poison ivy, wild parsnip and giant hogweed are examples of plants that can cause damage to the skin.

In the case of doubt, obviously gloves will protect your hands against a number of wounds. Thorough washing of the hands is also recommended.

Prevention is better than cure

Certain conclusions emerge from this article. First, whether it’s with gloves or through a good knowledge of the terrain, caution would seem to be called for. Our soils are sometimes contaminated and some plants may be dangerous, and the consequences aren’t without risks. Laying out raised-bed gardens and following the advice for keeping animals out of the vegetable garden are also excellent means for reducing threats.

Once these risks are controlled and we’re on familiar ground, are these considerations always necessary? After all, gardening is learned and experienced partly through touch.


  1. Tactile Sensitivity – Weber’s Compass, by Nélia Dias, in Hermès, La Revue, Vol. 74. No. 1 (2016)

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