Financial constraints necessitate the reuse of gloves after autoclaving in Sri Lanka. The incidence of glove failure following elective surgery for gynaecological malignancies was studied. Punctures were located by filling gloves with water. The perforation rate was 194/654 (29.6%). Coincidentally, well-fitting gloves were unavailable during part of the study. The puncture rate was significantly higher (P < 0.01) during this period. Defects were found in 12.75% of gloves prepared for reuse. The rate of perforations per operation was 72/88 (81.8%). This increased to 32/32 (100%) when ill-fitting gloves were used, compared with 40/56 (71%) when the proper sizes was available. 6% of new gloves had punctures. In 29 (14.9%) instances the surgical team was aware of glove failure. Factors contributing to glove fragility were: purchase of inferior quality gloves; reuse; shortage of appropriate glove sizes; and imprecision of the test for perforations prior to autoclaving. Health administrators in developing countries should purchase good-quality disposable gloves, and replenish stocks in time.