For centuries, enzymes in laundry detergent have been an effective and sustainable way of cleaning clothes. Despite this, they’ve flown under the radar until relatively recently. As more consumers look toward eco-friendly living, laundry detergents with enzymes have gained more traction.
You might have already seen ads promoting detergents with enzymes and boasting their environmental benefits, stain removal, and other advantages. But what you might not know is that detergent enzymes could already be part of your daily life without you even knowing it.
Let’s dive into whether these naturally occurring substances are healthy to use and if they offer any benefits beyond their non-biological counterparts.
What Exactly Are Enzymes?
Enzymes are essential proteins commonly found in living organisms. They perform various functions. In the human body, for example, they help build muscle. But they’re also found in plant life and in all animal species.
Enzymes can be harvested or grown for various uses around the house and have been used in multiple industries for decades, including dairy and brewing. In fact, nearly 400 household products contain enzymes in some capacity.
Think of the last time you were at the store. How many “green” products did you see? An enzyme-containing detergent falls into this category. Enzymes, an active ingredient in biological detergents, present an organic alternative to the various chemical ingredients in non-biological detergents.
It’s possible to find laundry detergents that contain enzymes and non-biological ingredients. But if you want to be as environmentally friendly as possible, choose an option that only contains enzymes and other organic materials. Always check the ingredients before buying.
Why Put Enzymes in Detergent?
Now that you know what enzymes are, let’s take a look at how enzymes work in your laundry detergent. What makes them such an effective ingredient for fabric care? Mainly that they do the same job in your laundry that they do in the body. They break down proteins, fats, and other substances, letting them remove protein stains and food stains with ease. A biological detergent—one that contains enzymes—will remove stains more effectively than their chemical-based counterpart without the negative environmental effects.
Enzymes also target fibers in clothes deeper than ingredients in non-biological detergents and prevent any dirt particles from sticking to the threads. All this is done in a natural and harmless way, protecting your clothes for longer. This process breaks dirt down into smaller particles to create clean clothing.
Stubborn stains like grass stains, baby food, and more aren’t a worry with biological detergents. If you’re not satisfied with how your laundry detergent performs, then you might find the stain removal power of a biological detergent is better able to meet your needs.
Let’s explore the specific benefits of the enzymes in your laundry detergent.
Practical benefits of enzymes
Many “eco-friendly” products benefit the environment but pose less convenience to you—sometimes they’re more expensive or harder to use. But detergents that use enzymes as an active ingredient rather than toxic chemicals are easy to use and effective and will pay off in myriad ways.
Enzyme activity in your laundry machine is as effective—if not more effective—on tough stains as their chemical-based alternatives. They’ll break down and wash away any organic stain faster than you’d expect from an eco-friendly detergent, including food stains and grass stains. If your current detergent lacks stain removal power, you could find yourself spending a lot of time washing and rewashing the same clothes. Save yourself the effort with an enzyme-based laundry detergent.
Getting rid of tough stains doesn’t need to be a fight. Rub a small amount of the detergent onto the stain and leave for a while, then rinse it with water after a few minutes. Check the garment’s washing instructions first, though, and if they differ from the above, go with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Improving color and brightness
A chemical detergent will harm clothes each time you wash them. This not only affects the strength of the fabric itself, but also its brightness and color. Your garments will appear duller and fuzzier after just a few washes. Biological detergents work to protect the color and brightness of your clothes. They’re strong enough to remove any stains without harming the fabric itself. You’ll prolong your garment’s lifespan and keep it looking in tip-top shape. Garments that are already dull should be brighter after a few washes.
Anyone with sensitive skin knows how important it is to get the right detergent. The wrong product can cause rash and itching. A laundry enzyme works to make fabrics feel soft and smooth, as soft as they were when you first bought them. Chemical-based detergents, on the other hand, harm fabrics and loosen fibers, often causing skin irritation and even, in some cases, allergic reactions.
Fabric softeners are typically necessary to negate the effects of chemical detergents. But enzyme laundry detergents function essentially as a two-in-one and save you the money you would otherwise spend on fabric softener.
One of the surprising—and welcome—things about laundry enzymes is how long they last. The effects of enzymes won’t wash away after one laundry cycle, and a little goes a long way. A few spoonfuls of the enzyme detergent will wash an entire load. You’ll need to purchase your enzyme detergent much less often than you would a chemical alternative.
These detergents also take up less space in your cupboards. The small amount of protein formula needed for a wash means the enzyme detergent doesn’t need a lot of packaging so it’ll take up less space in storage, and doesn’t present as large an energy burden in shipping as traditional detergents.
What Enzymes Are in Your Detergent?
While enzymes are all part of the protein family, not all enzymes in laundry detergents are the same. The different enzymes that detergent manufacturers use in laundry detergent can be split into five distinct categories, all with different stain removal capacities. Here are a few of the most widely used enzymes:
1. Protease enzymes
A laundry detergent with protease is perfect for pet messes and sport uniforms, as it excels with sweat, blood, egg, gravy, and other protein-based stains on clothes. Protease is the most widely used enzyme on the market because of how effective it is with most stains.
2. Lipase enzymes
Lipases break down greasy and oily stains better than others by breaking down lipid molecules into smaller parts, making it a better option for many food-based messes, such as desserts, chocolates, and similar foods. Even if you’ve had a stubborn stain that’s been there for a while, it’ll be gone quickly, but older stains may need several washes.
Lipases are also great for people with sensitive skin, since they aren’t as harsh as other enzymes and detergents.
3. Amylase enzymes
Starch-based stains can be difficult to get rid of. Amylase is quite effective against starch and removes many starch-based stains, including some of these common sources:
- Soft drinks
- Fruits and vegetables
This starch-beating enzyme is harvested from barley, rice, and similar foods, making it 100% natural. It’s also so gentle on skin that it’s used in conditioners and sunscreens.
4. Cellulase enzymes
Not only does this protein help with cleaning your clothes but can help restore and enhance their color. Cellulase can revive bright colors and remove dullness from repeated washing. Cellulase enzymes work on fibers to wash away dirt and dust particles while making the fabric smooth, bright, and soft. Cotton fabrics, especially, can feel much closer to their original condition.
Cellulase enzymes also work to strengthen fabrics so they can last longer. They’re most effective with legume, vegetable, and fruit juice stains.
5. Mannanase enzymes
Mannanase enzymes work best with food stains caused by tomato ketchup, chocolate, and ice cream, making it an effective option if you have children. It’s also quite effective on toothpaste stains, as well as those caused by lipstick and skin-care creams. You shouldn’t have to worry about your skin-care and makeup routine ruining your clothes anymore.
How Do Laundry Enzymes Affect the Environment?
When you see laundry products with enzymes in them, they’ll often be labeled as “green” and environmentally friendly. Are they really eco-friendly or is it another case of greenwashing? Washing clothes with biological detergents is much more environmentally friendly than their traditional counterparts.
Since enzymes are naturally occurring proteins found in living things, such as plants and animals, they’re biodegradable and don’t harm the environment as they break down. Biological detergents are much more eco-friendly and sustainable than powder detergents and chemical-based counterparts. You won’t need to worry that the waste coming out of your laundry is contaminating water sources and harming aquatic wildlife because there won’t be anything left of them to cause harm, even if they were harmful—which they’re not!
Fewer harmful chemicals
Since detergents with enzymes work just as well as their chemical counterparts, they’re an effective way of cutting down the chemicals you’re responsible for dumping into the environment. The difference in cleaning power is negligible and the enzymes in detergent can even do a better job in some ways. The reduction in chemical output results in real-world changes.
Non-biological detergents have a large impact on aquatic life and reduce fish species’ ability to reproduce. The chemicals found in standard detergents—formaldehyde, bleach, and phosphates—are toxic to marine life. Not switching to a biological detergent means you further contribute to this ongoing destruction.
Lower carbon emissions
Your laundry machine’s environmental footprint naturally contributes to your carbon footprint. Chemical detergents come in plastic packaging, a material that harms the environment as it’s manufactured and as it breaks down. This packaging continues to make its way to landfills and leach chemicals and other harmful materials into the soil.
Biological laundry detergents, on the other hand, usually come in recyclable or biodegradable pods or sheets. Some even come in the form of tablets that are easily added to the laundry. These are also more easily shipped and stored, reducing the fossil fuels needed to transport each individual unit.
The carbon emissions you don’t help emit by switching to these detergents adds up over your lifetime. By swapping just one traditional detergent for a biological alternative, 149,000 barrels of oil would not burn every year. It’s the small changes that have large implications.
Fast fashion, as it currently operates, harms the environment. The production processes of petroleum-based fabrics like polyester and nylon contaminate water and release toxic fumes. The clothes are made from low-quality materials that break down easily in the laundry machine, further contaminating water, and leading them to be thrown out, where they break down further in landfills and continue to contaminate soil, water, and air. While one or two cheap t-shirts might not seem like a big deal to you, it adds up to millions of tons of clothes being tossed out every year.
Washing with an enzyme-based detergent won’t fix all these problems, but it will protect your clothes so you can wear them longer. You won’t need to throw them out quickly and replace them with similar alternatives, which you’ll then need to throw out as well. You break the cycle and reduce the number of clothes you have to buy, promoting sustainable fashion.
Lower washing temperature
Washing with high temperatures is harmful to the environment because of the resources it uses up, but some standard detergent products need a higher temperature to be effective. An enzyme-based detergent can operate well at any temperature, with the cleaning power you expect.
By washing with low temperatures, you save between 70% and 90% of the energy needed to heat the water. Even lukewarm water can be more environmentally friendly and keep your energy bills low.
Are There Any Negative Effects of Enzymes?
When many people hear about any enzyme laundry detergents, they assume there could be negative implications associated with them. They assume the enzyme will harm your skin and even cause skin conditions. This isn’t the case. Enzymes are a protein found in the body—they won’t cause any harm to your skin.
You might wonder why enzyme-based detergent has gotten this reputation. It’s primarily driven by brands that mix biological and non-biological ingredients into their detergents. Besides enzymes, these products contain fragrances and chemicals that can cause irritation. Because they are often labeled “green,” many people associate the reaction with the enzyme. But it’s actually more likely for this reaction to occur with non-biological detergents.
Enzymes in laundry detergent break down stains similar to how they metabolize in the body, and they are as effective—if not more effective—at stain removal than their non-biological counterparts. Enzyme-based laundry detergents can be used at lower temperatures and eliminate the use of chemicals in laundry. As a result, detergents with enzymes are more environmentally friendly and safer for people than traditional counterparts.
You can play your part in saving the environment by switching to an enzyme-based, biological detergent without compromising quality.
What’s stopping you from adding enzymes to your laundry routine? The environment—and your clothes—will thank you for it.