Chemistry of Softball Gloves


Softball gloves are worn when playing the game of softball or baseball. The style of glove has evolved throughout the years. I chose to research the chemistry of softball gloves because softball is my favorite sport. If I didn’t have a glove to use when fielding, I would be in trouble. Since the glove is made out of mostly leather, I am going to focus on the liming and tanning process of preparing a hide to become a glove.

History of the Glove

The glove was first manufactured in the 1800’s. Before that, baseball and softball was played with bare hands for fielding. When the first glove, which was only a mitten, was debuted on the field, many made fun of it. But as time went on the glove started to catch on and it began to be developed into what it is today. Each glove used to be just flat with a web, now they are built so each finger has a slot. There are different types of gloves for different fielding positions. The webbing, fingers, and padding all differ in the different styles.


Chemicals used in leather tanning and liming

  • Calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2

  • tannins ‎C76H52O46

  • chromium Cr6

Main Chemicals, Compounds, or Components:

Liming- The leather goes through a liming process when before being made into a glove. During this process, the hair is removed from the skin of the leather. This makes it smooth and usable for the softball glove. Also, all of the fats and grease are taken off. This is done with alkaline solutions. Alkaline solutions are basic on the pH scale. Since those solutions are corrosive, they help in the breakdown of the fats, grease and hair. Liming takes place before the tanning process is started as a way to prep the hides.

Tannins- Tannins are a main component in the tanning process. It can be used for dyeing leather, treating tonsillitis, and checking for diarrhea as well. Tannins are a pale yellow or brown color. They are naturally occurring in plants and bark. Tannins are added to the tanning solution to make the leather durable and insoluble. They cling to the proteins to make a stronger bond.

Chemistry’s Role

Liming- Calcium hydroxide ( Ca(OH)2) is used during the liming process. It is formed by melting limestone, which is mainly composed of calcium carbonate. It is an aggressive solution in the liming process. It takes off the hair on the hide. By soaking the hide in this solution, the calcium hydroxide de-hairs the it. It is an alkaline, basic solution. It reacts and takes the hairs off, making it a smoother hide. Because the calcium hydroxide is present in the liming process, it causes the hide to swell. The solution makes the hide absorb water and the collagen fibers began to puff out. Overall this helps the tanning process and makes it easier to reach the collagen fibers in the actual tanning process.

Tanning the Leather- The start of the tanning process is soaking the hides in salt (NaCl) to purify the piece so no bacteria grows on it. After that the hide is soaked in water to remove the salts. The leather is ready for the tanning process. Chromium (Cr) is used in the of tanning leather. The use of it plays a big role in this process. The chromium links the collagen fibers together in the leather, making it more stable. It also tightly bonds to the proteins in the leather to give it the structure of the leather. The hide will become more durable and strong. Tannins ( ‎C76H52O46 ) ,which occur naturally in bark, are used to make the leather more flexible.

Background Research

After the tanning process is complete, and the leather is more durable and flexible. Once it is ready, it is sent to factories to be made into a glove. There are many companies, such as Rawlings, Easton, Wilson, and Mizuno, that manufacture gloves. At the factories, the leather can be made into certain styles of gloves, like catchers or first baseman’s glove, and also can be customized. Once the glove is finished, it is shipped to stores to be sold. When purchased, the glove will still be stiff from not being used. The chemical reactions that take place in the process of getting the leather ready to be made into the glove help soften the hide, but don’t do the job completely. Breaking in the glove can be done in many ways. There are oils that glove manufacturers sell to that can be purchased to help speed up the process.


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About the Author  

K7KenzieErikson.jpgenzie Erikson is a senior at McCook Central High School. She enjoys watching One Tree Hill, playing fastpitch softball, singing, eating watermelon, and working out. She will study accounting at the University of Sioux Falls this fall.