Laundry Enzymes

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General information

Product Name
Laundry Enzymes
McCarty, Charles B. (Cincinnati, OH)
Berry, Jim S. (Springfield Township, Hamilton County, OH)
Patent holders
The Procter & Gamble Company (Cincinnati, OH)
Area of Application
Market Size
World wide

The enzymes used in laundry detergents act on materials that make up a variety of stains and soils so that these materials can be washed away more easily. These enzymes are named after the materials they can act upon, for example, proteases break down protein based stains, lipases break down lipid based stains and amylases break down starches and other carbohydrate based stains. Since one enzyme molecule can act on many substrate molecules, a small amount of enzyme added to a laundry detergent can provide a big cleaning benefit to the consumer. Enzymes are continuously growing in importance for detergent formulators, working in an efficient, environmentally sound, and energy-saving way their obvious advantages make them universally acceptable for meeting a wide range of important consumer demands.


Danish  chemist Christian Hansen
Danish chemist Christian Hansen

The history of modern enzyme technology really began in 1874 when the Danish chemist Christian Hansen produced the first specimen of rennet by extracting dried calves' stomachs with saline solution, this was the first enzyme preparation of relatively high purity used for industrial purposes.

This significant event had been preceded by a lengthy evolution. Enzymes have been used by man throughout the ages, either in the form of vegetables rich in enzymes, or in the form of microorganisms used for a variety of purposes, for instance in brewing processes, in baking, and in the production of alcohol. It is generally known that enzymes were already used in the production of cheese since old times.

Even though the action of enzymes has been recognized and enzymes have been used throughout history, it was not that long ago that their importance were realized. Enzymatic processes, particularly fermentation, were the focus of numerous studies in the 19th century and many valuable discoveries in this field were made. A particularly important experiment was the isolation of the enzyme complex from malt by Payen and Persoz in 1833. This extract, like malt itself, converts gelatinized starch into sugars, primarily into maltose, and was termed 'diastase'.

Anselme Payen
Anselme Payen

Development progressed during the following decades, particularly in the field of fermentation where the achievements by Schwann, Liebig, Pasteur and Kuhne were of the greatest importance.

In 1876, William Kuhne proposed that the name 'enzyme' be used as the new term to denote phenomena previously known as 'unorganised ferments', that is, ferments isolated from the viable organisms in which they were formed. The word itself means 'in yeast' and is derived from the Greek 'en' meaning 'in', and 'zyme' meaning 'yeast' or 'leaven'.

Investigations carried out by the German chemist and industrial magnate Otto Rohm before World War I were of great importance for the further development of the industrial use of enzymes. Among other things, he studied the so called 'bating' process, a step in the preparation of hides and skins prior to tanning.
Otto Rohm
Otto Rohm

According to tradition, bating required the excrement of dogs and pigeons, a fact that did not improve the image of tanning which was considered a stinking and unpleasant activity. Rohm's theory was that these excrements exerted their effect because they contained residual amounts of the animals’ digestive enzymes. If this was so, it might be possible to use extracts of the pancreas directly for bating. Such extracts were tried and produced the expected positive results. Rohm accepted this as confirmation of the correctness of his theory, but later experiments showed that it was not the animals’ enzymes that were active, but rather enzymes of bacteria growing in the intestinal tract. Parallel to his studies of the problems involved in tanning, Rohm investigated other processes where enzymes would prove even more valuable. Nevertheless, his efforts were not to score a success until 50 years later. Rohm actually developed the first method for washing protein stained cloth in detergents containing enzymes and manufactured the first detergent preparation containing enzymes. The enzyme preparation used was pancreatin (extracted from pancreatic glands), which contains the protein degrading enzyme trypsin.

Finally the breakthrough in detergents was made in 1959, when a Swiss chemist Dr. Jaag, developed a new product called Bio 40 containing a bacterial protease instead of trypsin.

Market and Applications

For most people, the most popular known application of enzymes is in the manufacture of enzymatic washing agents (detergents). Since last 50 years, the use of enzymes in detergents has been the largest of all enzyme applications. Consumers of detergents are actual users of an enzymatic product. In majority of other applications, enzymes are used as auxiliary agents at some point in the manufacturing process and are not, as a rule, present in the finished product - not at any rate in an active form.

In Laundry

Enzymes deliver stain removal, whiteness, and color and fabric care benefits in an environmentally-friendly manner, efficiently cleaning at lower wash temperatures and shorter wash cycles. Enzymes are key ingredients for detergent formulators, offering stain fighting power that other detergent ingredients cannot match, improved cleaning and whiteness, excellent textile care benefits, and premium performance at an affordable price.
Stain removal
Detergents that position themselves as stain fighters are usually perceived as the ones that perform most aggressively. Thus, stain removal is usually perceived as the most important feature of detergents.
In some cultures whitening of the laundry is regarded as the most important deliverable of a detergent. In other areas whiteness is perceived as proof of real cleanness.
Color and fabric care
Laundry detergents with claims such as ‘color care’ or ‘fabric care’ usually contain enzymes that reduce the visible wear of fabrics, keeping garments looking new.

In Dishwashing

Modern dishwashing detergents face increasing consumer demands in order to efficiently clean all tableware. Cleanness is the main criterion for dishwash detergents, making enzymes a key ingredient to meet consumer demands, effectively removing difficult and dried-on soils from dishes while leaving the glassware shiny.
Automatic dishwashing (ADW)
Enzymes are key ingredients in modern detergents because they allow automatic dishwashing detergents (ADDs) to live up to consumers’ high expectations. Cleanness is the core of any ADD, and enzymes support this requirement by efficiently removing difficult and dried-on soils from dishes.
Manual dishwashing (MDW)
Consumers look for efficiency in their manual dishwash detergents (MDD) like superior soil removal, reduced mechanical action, and improved cleanness.

In Industrial & Institutional (I&I)

With enzyme technology for I&I, it is now possible to offer the customers a biodegradable replacement of harsh chemicals. Detergents with enzymes are typically mild, non-corrosive, and safe to handle – and offer a cost-saving alternative by working effectively at low wash temperature and mild pH, enabling reduced use of water, raw materials, and energy, while improving cleaning efficiency.
Surgical instrument reprocessing
Detergents containing enzyme solutions for surgical instruments effectively clean endoscopes and other critical and semi-critical surgical instruments.
Professional laundry
Professional laundries must deliver absolutely clean and hygienic laundry. A pre-wash with enzymes under mild conditions can help laundries to achieve this goal.
Cleaning in place
Industrial Food & Beverage processing generates specific cleaning challenges where enzymes prove their worth by speeding up and improving cleaning performance and maximizing equipment utilization.

The five enzyme classes

Each of the major types of detergent enzymes – amylases, proteases, lipases, mannanases, and cellulases – provides specific benefits:
  • Better cleaning performance
  • Shorter washing times
  • Reduced energy consumption by lowering wash temperatures
  • Reduced water consumption through higher cleaning efficiency
  • Minimal environmental impact because enzymes are biodegradable

Proteases are the most widely used enzymes in the detergent industry. They remove protein stains such as grass, blood, egg and human sweat. These organic stains have a tendency to adhere strongly to textile fibres. The proteins act as glues, preventing the water­borne detergent systems from removing some of the other components of the soiling, such as pigments and street dirt.

Blood, for example, will leave a rust­coloured spot unless it is removed before bleaching. Proteases hydrolyse proteins and break them down into more soluble polypeptides or free amino acids. As a result of the combined effect of surfactants and enzymes, stubborn stains can be removed from fibres.

Though enzymes can easily digest protein stains, oily and fatty stains have always been troublesome to remove. The trend towards lower washing temperatures has made the removal of grease spots an even bigger problem. This applies particularly to materials made up of a blend of cotton and polyester. The lipase is capable of removing fatty stains such as fats, butter, salad oil, sauces and the tough stains on collars and cuffs.


Amylases are used to remove residues of starch-based foods like potatoes, spaghetti, custards, gravies and chocolate. This type of enzyme can be used in laundry detergents as well as in dishwashing detergents.

The development of detergent enzymes has mainly focused on enzymes capable of removing stains. However, a cellulase enzyme has properties enabling it to modify the structure of cellulose fibre on cotton and cotton blends. When it is added to a detergent, it results into the following effects:

Colour brightening-When garments made of cotton or cotton blends have been washed several times, they tend to get a 'fluffy' look and the colours become duller. This effect is due to the formation of microfibrils that become partly detached from the main fibres. The light falling on the garment is reflected back to a greater extent giving the impression that the colour is duller. These fibrils, however, can be degraded by the cellulase enzyme, restoring a smooth surface to the fibre and restoring the garment to its original colour.

Softening-The enzyme also has a significant softening effect on the fabric, probably due to the removal of the microfibrils.
Soil removal-Some dirt particles are trapped in the network of microfibrils and are released when the microfibrils are removed by the cellulase enzyme.

Biochemical Reactions

Glucose oxidase
Base reaction: Beta-D-glucose + O2 <=> D-glucono-1,5-lactone + H2 O2
Base reaction: Catalyses the synthesis of fructo-oligosaccharides from sucrose.
Base reaction: Hydrolysis of (1->4)-alpha-D-glucosidic linkages in polysaccharides
Base reaction: Endohydrolysis of (1->4)-beta-D-glucosidic linkages in cellulose, lichenin and cereal beta-D-glucans
Base reaction: Catalyzes the hydrolysis of ester bonds in water–insoluble, lipid substrates
Base reaction: A protease is any enzyme that conducts proteolysis, that is, begins protein catabolism by hydrolysis of the peptide bonds that link amino acids together in the polypeptide chain, which form a molecule of protein.
Glucose Isomerase
Base reaction: D-glucose 6-phosphate <=> D-fructose 6-phosphate


The starting point for enzyme production is a vial of a selected strain of microorganisms. The strain will be “fed” until multiplied many thousand times. Then the desired end-product is recovered from the fermentation broth and sold as a standardised product.

The production strain is first cultivated in a small flask containing nutrients. The flask is placed in an incubator, which provides the optimal temperature for the microorganism cells to germinate. Once the flask is ready, the cells are transferred to a seed fermenter that allows the cells to reproduce and adapt to the environment and nutrients that will be encountered later on.

After the seed fermentation, the cells are transferred to a larger tank, the main fermenter, where fermentation time, temperature, pH and air are controlled to optimise growth. When this fermentation is complete, the mixture of cells, nutrients and enzymes, called the broth, is ready for filtration and purification.

Filtration and purification termed as downstream processing is done after enzyme fermentation. The enzymes are extracted from the fermentation broth by various chemical treatments to ensure efficient extraction, followed by removal of the broth using either centrifugation or filtration. Followed by a series of other filtration processes, the enzymes are finally separated from the water using an evaporation process.

After this the enzymes are formulated and standardized in form of powder, liquid or granules.

Example of Laundry Enzymes in Portugal

Safety Data ingredient

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

C12-14-7 PARETH
C14-15-4 PARETH

Hydrogenated Castor Oil
C12-15 Alcohols
FLUORESCENT Brightener 28
Benzyl Salicylate
Butylphenyl Methylpropional
Hexyl Cinnamal

Each ingredient is described by its INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) if there is no INCI, the ingredient is described by its common name.

Financial Information

The cost of laundry enzymes depends mainly on the type of product or solution we are searching, the common supermarket detergents, vary between 5 to 15 Euros per kg, but if we are looking for specific laundry enzymes solutions, prices can go from 5 to 90 Euros.

Biotech Enzymes in Laundry Detergents Equal Cleaner Environment

The introduction of enzymes into laundry detergents has dramatically changed how we do laundry. These biotech enzymes allow us to use lower water temperatures and less detergent to accomplish what we all need and desire - clean clothes. For many, many years the only way to achieve clean laundry was to use boiling water and harsh lye-based soaps.

Enzymes are naturally occurring - they help bread rise faster and increase wine yields. But with the use of industrial biotechnology or "white biotech", which uses enzyme cells or components of cells to generate industrially useful products, scientists can apply their findings to improve manufacturing and move closer to a better climate. This step toward a biotech-driven economy is a necessary step in climate change. Industrial biotechnology has the potential to save the planet up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year and support building a sustainable future, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.


Handbook of detergents, Part A: Properties, surfactant science series volume 82, Broze G., Technology & Engineering, 1999 (page 640)
Enzymes in detergency‎, surfactant science series volume 69, Jan H. van Ee, Onno Misset, Erik J. Baas, Technology & Engineering, 1997 (pages 34-39)
Enzymes in industry: production and applications‎, Wolfgang A., Science, 2004 (page 37)

Carla Ferreira, nº68369, MBiotec

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