What is the link between enzymes and laundry?

When you’re at the laundry detergent aisle in the supermarket, packagings will likely scream slogans like CLEANEST WASH or FRESH SMELLING or WHITENS WHITES but some may also have lines such as WITH THE BOOSTING POWER OF ENZYMES emblazoned on their bright exteriors.

Wait… enzymes? What do they have to do with laundry? Quite a fair bit, actually. In most developed countries, over half of detergents on the market include enzymes in their components.

What are enzymes?

Enzymes are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions. In TV advertisements of laundry detergents, they’re pictured as organisms that gobble away on and remove stains and odours from cloth fibres, leaving the clothes cleaner and whiter than before.

These proteins break down other proteins, dirt and stains in the wash – something usually done by synthetic cleansers. To get rid of the same stains with regular detergents, you would need to use water at high temperatures, which is expensive, and beat the clothes vigorously, which would damage the clothes quicker.

With enzymes in the detergent, the process is a cleaner, more eco-friendly way of washing as you would not require such high temperatures, and less mixing of clothes are needed.

Enzymes are classified differently, with each type best suited to act on different stains. When you look at a detergent’s active ingredient list, make a note of what they contain.

  • Amylase is best for starch stains
  • Lipase is a miracle worker for fatty and greasy stains
  • Cellulase gets rid of particulate soil, fights against the greying of contains and cuts down on pilling
  • Protease helps remove protein stains

Stains which enzymes are great for

Enzymes are usually great for tackling organic stains, or those made by living organisms. These stains include bodily fluids such as sweat, urine and blood, grease and oil from food, dairy-based spots, and mud and grass. Enzyme-detergents are also more effective than regular ones in removing these stains.

Will enzymes damage your clothes and irritate your skin?

Before using it in a whole load of laundry, you can test it on a small patch first and check if the detergent caused damage. But enzymes are naturally occurring and used in a large number of detergent brands, ensuring they’re generally safe for use on a regular basis.

Detergents containing enzymes also do not generate complaints about causing skin irritation. Some experts also say most allergic reactions to detergents stem from scent and dyes, not enzymes. So even if enzymes do cause allergic reactions, they occur at a lower rate of incidence than those resulting from scent and dyes.