The main standard of difference between these two types of gloves has to do with quality. The quality of a glove is rated based on the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL). This standard rates the percentage of pinhole defects within a batch of gloves.
Gloves are tested by being filled with 1,000 ml of water and suspended with fingers pointing down, and watched for leaks. Looking at batches of 100, if more than 3 gloves fail the test, then the entire batch of gloves are rejected. An AQL rating of 3 means that only three gloves in a batch of 100 failed, and that batch is safe to move forward.
When it comes to industrial gloves, they are held to a standard of AQL 3 or 4. Exam and medical grade glove are required to meet a rating of AQL 2.5 or lower. This type of low AQL rating ensures that the gloves will be as close to perfect as they can be.
Since disposable exam grade gloves are considered a Class I medical device, all exam grade gloves are required to have a medical registration from the FDA. This shows that the gloves have met certain specifications.
Recently, however, in light of extreme demand for exam grade gloves due to COVID-19, the FDA has made allowances for certain gloves, including vinyl and latex exam and surgical gloves to be exempt from the FDA medical registration. This allows for gloves to reach consumers more rapidly.
Another important thing to note is that surgical and exam gloves are not the same. It is a small but important distinction. Exam gloves are suitable for any non-sterile medical procedures, however surgical gloves have been sterilized and are safe for procedures that require extra safety and protection.