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Detergent enzymes are by far the widest application of enzymes today. The first clothes-washing product to contain an enzyme was the pre-soak, Biotex, marketed by a Dutch entrepreneur before the First World War. He had noticed the ability of fluids extracted from the pancreas to digest proteins.

Wider use of enzymes had to wait on the development of enzyme granules stable enough to be added to washing powders and liquids, and on the development of automatic washing machines that allowed wash cycles below 40oC. Enzyme performance is at a maximum and they degrade more slowly at that temperature.

The labels just say 'contains enzymes'. What enzymes?
amylases hydrolyse starches
cellulases attack cellulose fibres
work on cotton cloth to remove tiny little fibres which make the cloth feel hard and the colours look dull.
also prevent 'pilling', the small balls of fuzz which collect on the fabric surface
lipases break down oily and fatty stains
proteases degrade proteins
Recent advances rely on the chemist's knowledge of the detailed structure of enzymes.

Lipase models
Showing the atoms

Ribbon diagram showing the way the chains coil

DNA recombinant techniques let the structures be modified to give improved properties, and allow chemists to tailor these biological catalysts to particular applications.
Pitch control treatment devised by Enzymatic Deinking Technologies, Georgia USA and the Nanping Paper Mill, China www.novozymes.com
Automatic dishwashers Use more alkaline powders Enzymes adapted to work at pH 8 - 12
Industrial or Institutional laundries Use higher temperatures Enzyme altered to be stable at 55oC
Some hot countries Laundry is traditionally washed in cold water Enzyme designed to keep high efficiency even at temperatures below 20oC
Some products contain bleach Enzymes stable to bleach  
Pine, showing the resins which can clog the paper making machines
Pitch control treatment devised by Enzymatic Deinking Technologies, Georgia USA and the Nanping Paper Mill, China www.novozymes.com
The paper mill
The use of enzymes in cleaning products is not limited to clothes washing. The fastest paper machine in the world is kept running by using a product containing enzymes which break down triglycerides in the pine resins to free fatty acids and glycerol.
Instead of daily shut downs, the correct application of the enzyme mixture once a week keeps the machines running as designed.


The mill can produce 108km paper per hour.

So how much paper in a week if it runs without pause?

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What are the benefits of adding enzymes?

Greater cleaning efficiency, leading to:

Shorter washing times
Reduced energy consumption
Reduced water consumption

Marketed in Germany in 1914, Burnus was a product ahead of its time. It contained the enzyme trypsin. One tablet could be added to 10 litres of water to remove stains from clothes.

Unfortunately people were used to bulky washing powders which lathered a lot, and would not believe that such a small tablet could work.

We are now more familiar with the cleaning power of enzymes.

Modern Washing Machine

Washing products keep changing. Many now say "contain enzymes" on the label even if they are not advertised as biological