Protect Yourself from Pesticides

April 19, 2024 8:41 AM
Blog Post

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is your first line of defense against pesticide exposure. PPE includes  items such as gloves, coveralls, aprons, and respirators. Generally, as the toxicity of a pesticide increases, the more PPE items there are required.

Read the Label

Anyone working with pesticides is legally required to follow all PPE instructions that appear on the pesticide label.

  • The precautionary statements section of the pesticide label lists the minimum PPE that you must wear while handling or applying pesticides.
  • If you are working with agricultural pesticides, you may see PPE requirements listed under the Agricultural Use Requirements box. The PPE listed here is for anyone who needs to enter a treated area after the pesticide has been applied but before the restricted-entry interval has expired.
  • If the label does not refer to PPE, wear work clothing that will protect you from contact with pesticides. Appropriate work clothing includes a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes, and socks.

Selecting PPE

When selecting PPE, it is essential to follow label requirements. Ideally, PPE should be cost-effective, easy to use, comfortable, and effective against pesticide exposure.

PPE offers various levels of protection, depending on the type of resistant material used. Some PPE simply act as filters by keeping dry or spray materials off the skin (water resistant). Others offer better protection against water-based products (waterproof). Some offer protection from chemicals that make up a concentrated pesticide product (chemical-resistant).


When gloves are required, the pesticide label will list whether to wear waterproof or chemical-resistant gloves. Gloves worn while handling or applying must be the type specified on the pesticide label.

  • Some labels list specific glove materials to be worn, especially when chemical-resistant gloves are required. Chemical-resistant glove types include barrier laminate, butyl rubber, nitrile rubber, neoprene rubber, natural rubber, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, and Viton. A standard glove thickness of at least 14 mils (1 mil=0.001 inch) is required for most chemical-resistant glove types.
  • Never wear cotton, leather, or canvas gloves unless the label specifically requires that type. For example, cotton gloves are required when applying aluminum phosphide fumigant tablets. Chemical-resistant gloves with non-separable absorbent lining materials are also prohibited because the lining can absorb pesticides. For some glove types, it may be difficult to find unlined options.


When a pesticide label requires coveralls to be worn, they must be loose-fitting and cover your entire body except your head, hands, and feet. If the coverall fits too tightly, any pesticide that gets through will come in direct contact with your skin. Coveralls may be one- or two-piece garments made of cloth or a synthetic material like polyester or Tyvek.

Chemical-resistant Suits

If the product label requires a chemical-resistant suit, it must be loose-fitting, and cover your entire body except your head, hands, and feet. As their name implies, suits must be resistant to chemicals. Chemical-resistant suits can be one- or two-pieces.


Aprons are often required when mixing, loading, cleaning up spills, or cleaning equipment. If the pesticide product labeling requires that a ‘‘chemical-resistant apron’’ be worn, the apron must be made of chemical-resistant materials and cover your body from mid-chest to the knees.


If the pesticide product labeling requires that ‘‘chemical-resistant footwear’’ be worn, one of the following types of footwear must be worn: Chemical-resistant shoes, Chemical-resistant boots, or Chemical-resistant shoe coverings worn over shoes or boots.

Protective Eyewear

When “protective eyewear” is specified on the label, use safety glasses with brow, front, and temple protection; a face shield; fully-enclosed goggles; or a full-face respirator. Some products and their label require a specific type of eyewear for protection.

Respiratory Protection

Respirators are devices that help to protect you from breathing in air that is contaminated with hazardous substances, including pesticides.

Follow these steps when a pesticide label requires a respirator. The Worker Protection Standard Respiratory Protection Guide can help you navigate this process. 

  • Complete a medical evaluation to determine if you can safely use the respirator specified on the label.
  • Use only respirators approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  • Identify the right size and type of tight-fitting respirator by having a qualified person fit test the respirator you plan to use. Fit testing is required annually and whenever a different model or size of tight-fitting respirator will be used. Get fit tested whenever something physically changes that could affect the fit of your respirator.
  • When wearing a tight-fitting respirator that seals directly to your face, check that the mask has been put on correctly and has been adjusted to fit properly by performing a ‘user seal check’ each time you put the mask on.
  • Receive training on how to properly use and maintain your respirator. Training must be completed before the respirator is used. Respirator training must be repeated annually; when workplace conditions change; a new type of respirator is used; or retraining is necessary.

Maintaining PPE and Work Clothing

  • Inspect all PPE before each use for leaks, holes, tears, or worn places.
  • Discard any PPE or work clothing that has been drenched or heavily contaminated with an undiluted pesticide.
  • Clean reusable PPE before reuse according to manufacturer instructions unless the pesticide label specifies other requirements. If there are no instructions or requirements, wash PPE thoroughly in detergent and hot water. Thoroughly dry the clean PPE before it is stored or put it in a well-ventilated place to dry.
  • Wash your work clothes before wearing them again. Always wash them separately from the family laundry. Tell the person washing your clothes that they may have pesticide residues on them. Work through this checklist to be sure your pesticide contaminated clothes are safely and properly cleaned.

Elizabeth Danielson Extension Specialist

Betsy Danielson is an extension specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP).