Disclaimer: This post is contributed by Planning With Kids partner ecostore.
Industrial enzymes have been used in cleaning products since the 1930’s and today are used in many everyday products like dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents and bathroom and carpet cleaners, but what do they do and just how necessary are they? That depends a lot on the product they’re being used in, but first of all, lets look at where they come from and how they work.
Where do enzymes come from?
Natural enzymes are part of living organisms and are also present in our bodies. The industrial enzymes used for cleaning products on the other hand, are produced through genetically engineered processes involving the bacterial production of enzymes. This requires growing carefully selected microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) in closed vessels containing a rich broth of nutrients (the fermentation medium) and a high concentration of oxygen (aerobic conditions).
As the microorganisms break down the nutrients, they produce the desired enzymes. These enzymes are extra-cellular and are secreted into the broth, which is then concentrated and filtrated so only the enzymes remain in the final product, and consumers are protected from any GMO residues.
Many mainstream and eco-products use enzymes made this way because they work better than naturally occurring enzymes.
How do enzymes work?
There are three common types of enzymes used in laundry detergents—protease, amylase and lipase. Protease enzymes break down protein, they remove protein-based stains, such as blood. Amylases attack starch, breaking them into simple sugars and Lipases help to break fat particles into water-soluble soap and alcohol.
In household detergents, enzymes help dissolve stains attached to things like fabrics or dishes by converting them into substances that are more easily removed in the cleaning process.
What’s the verdict – are enzymes friends or foes?
That depends on the product they’re used in. Enzymes that break down molecules such as amylase and protease are very efficient at doing so, and don’t differentiate between stain molecules on dishes or items of clothing and similar molecules that are part of the superficial layers of our skin. This can potentially cause irritation to those who are more sensitive.
Although enzymes are thought to be problematic to health through inhalation only, and there is limited scientific evidence to suggest that enzymes are skin irritants in laundry products, it has become more and more obvious that leaving enzymes out of laundry products often relieves irritation to those who are more sensitive.
How can I reduce my exposure to laundry enzymes?
- Check the labels of your Laundry powder.
- Look for ‘Protease’ ‘Amylase’ or ‘Lipase’ in the ingredients list. These are names of different types of enzymes.
- If your laundry powder does not contain an ingredients list, call the manufacturer and ask if they include enzymes.
- Some laundry powders are marketed as ‘non-bio’ meaning they are free of enzymes.
- If you have sensitive skin, or have young babies or children, or just want to reduce unnecessary chemicals in your home, we would recommend using enzyme-free laundry products.
- A good rule of thumb is to only use enzymes in products that are not in contact with your skin such as dishwasher detergents.
Protease SDS, Amylase SDS, Lipase SDS