What are enzymes and why do we use them in laundry detergents?
What are enzymes?
They're proteins produced by all living organisms. Tiny amounts can speed up chemical reactions that would otherwise occur at a much slower rate or not at all. In other words, they act as 'catalysts'.
Enzymes fit their targets like a lock fits a key.
The active site of an enzyme is open only to specific targets with a matching chemical and 3-D shape. If it doesn't fit, it can't enter and no reaction occurs. This makes the action of enzymes highly specific.
A little enzyme goes a long way!
Like other types of catalysts, an enzyme can complete its chemical reaction without being used up or destroyed, leaving the enzyme protein available for yet another reaction. This means that one enzyme protein molecule can act on many target molecules. Eventually, all the targets are gone and the enzyme stops working. Also, the enzyme will eventually break down on its own.
Why is this important in a laundry detergent?
The enzymes used in laundry detergents act on a variety of stains and soils so that they can be washed away more easily. These enzymes have different names, for example, proteases break down protein-based stains, lipolases break down fat -based stains and amylases break down starches and other carbohydrate-based stains. Since one enzyme molecule can act on many target molecules, a tiny amount of enzyme added to a laundry detergent can provide big results.
Are enzymes safe?
Enzymes are proteins, therefore, they are completely biodegradable. They are non-toxic to plants and animals in the environment, and they are harmless if accidentally eaten by a child.
Can enzymes cause respiratory allergies?
A respiratory allergy is a response we can have when we are exposed to proteins such as house dust mites, cat and dog hair and fluff, pollens and molds. Not everyone will develop respiratory allergy to the variety of proteins we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Enzymes can cause respiratory allergies in some people if they are breathed in at very high concentrations, frequently, and for long periods of time. This is something that never happens when you are using laundry detergents in the home because of the tiny amounts used.
But this can happen among people who have to work with enzymes in labs or manufacturing facilities, and do not take the necessary safety precautions while they work.