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What is Enzyme Washing?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Enzyme washing is a laundering process that uses enzymes to clean clothing or to finish fabric, especially in the case of jeans and other garments with a worn-in look. Various enzymatic cleaners are available from stores that specialize in laundry supplies, and they can also be special ordered. For regular cleaning, enzymes carry many economic and environmental benefits. On an industrial scale, it has replaced laborious laundering techniques such as stonewashing, saving money and environmental impact for companies.

The enzymes used in this technique are proteins produced by living organisms. All organisms produce a wide range of these proteins to accomplish necessary biological tasks. Some can also be replicated in the lab, or engineered to perform in a particular way. One of the reasons that enzyme washing is so ecologically friendly is the natural origins of enzymes, which biodegrade rather than lingering in the water supply. These products are also much more potent than other laundry products, requiring people to use far less, in terms of volume.

Different types of enzymes are suitable for different stains. In all cases, the washing process breaks the stain down into smaller molecules, which can be removed with water or conventional soap. Amylases will remove starch-based laundry stains, while proteases break down protein chains, making them suitable for protein stains. Lipases work very well on grease and oil, and cellulases are excellent general cleaners. The washing process also yields a softer, more supple garment.

For delicate garments, enzyme washing can be an excellent way to get clothing fresh and clean. Enzymes also work at very low temperatures, making them suitable for cold wash only things ranging from silk to wet suits. Many natural detergent products mix these proteins into their formulas, to ensure that they are effective at all temperatures and on all stains.

Commercial clothing manufacturers also use enzyme washing to make their clothing appear aged and worn, especially in the case of jeans. Cellulases are usually used, since they will loosen the indigo dye in the denim, making the jeans look broken in and used. The enzymes will not compromise the strength of the fabric, but they will make the jeans softer, more supple, and more neutral in odor. Unlike stonewashing, the process will not leave residue in drains and on clothing. These garments may have labels indicating that they were subjected to the washing process before shipment and sale.

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AboutMechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon187675 — On Jun 18, 2011

Come on folks, Tide and other high end detergents already have enzymes in them. go look for yourself!

By anon175205 — On May 12, 2011

I'm confused about enzymes. They are normally living creatures, but how do they work with temperatures? don't they die?

By anon43923 — On Sep 03, 2009

this is sachin, i want to know about preventive measures for enzyme wash and chemicals.

By anon38760 — On Jul 28, 2009

So how can I enzyme wash at home? Do I just open up a digestive enzymes capsule or two (or 10?) and put it in my laundry with no soap and just water? My organic cotton clothes are rough and scratchy and I want to soften them. Will that do the trick? Anybody knows?

By anon4998 — On Nov 08, 2007

Why would a large diaper-cleaning company be interested in a new cleaning powder containing enzymes even though the new product is slightly more expensive?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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