When enzymes are added to laundry detergent, it adds a major boost of cleaning power. The enzymes attack the stains and break them down so that they are more easily washed away. There are many advantages of enzyme washing, such as being better for the environment than chemical detergents; allowing clothes to be washed in cold water, which can reduce energy costs; and softening the fabrics that are washed with enzymes.
Different enzymes attack different types of stains, including soil. For example, if a piece of clothing has a food stain on it, the stain most likely contains lipids, which are fats. An enzyme lipase would break down the stain and easily wash it away, so the use of enzyme washing can help ensure brighter colors and longer-lasting clothes.
Enzyme washing is better on the environment than the use of chemicals to wash clothes, because enzymes are biodegradable, so they break down instead of remaining in the water supply. Enzymes also work well with cold water, which can reduce one's energy bill. Hot water is not necessarily needed to remove stains. The high concentration of enzymes means that less detergent can be used per load of laundry, which also saves money.
Another advantage to enzyme washing is that enzymes soften the fabric and give it a finished look. For example, denim companies use enzyme washes to make jeans look well worn and comfortable. This allows a softer and worn-in feel without compromising the strength and quality of the denim. Other alternatives, such as stonewashing, can wear out the denim and affect how long it lasts. Enzyme washing also works well at any temperature, which means that delicate clothing can be cleaned without any damage being done.
The use of enzymes in detergent originated before the 1920s, but it took decades for the process to be perfected. Many detergent manufactures initially resisted the inclusion of enzymes, but enzymes became common in powdered detergents by the 1970s. By the early 21st century, most laundry detergents had enzymes in them.