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Fabric Stain Removal Guide

Enzymes
their place in detergent history

The biggest single revolutionary trend in the detergent industry in the latter years has been the use of enzyme additives. Enzymes as aids to washing are not new to the industry. Proteolytic enzymes had been tried as additives to washing powders in Germany in the 1920s with only moderate success and again in Switzerland in the 1930s. Enzymes, which can be called organic catalysts, tend to hasten reactions and the proteolytic enzymes convert or 'break down' proteins wholly or partially into amino acids. The action is rather slow and the production costs high, but with improved methods of production and purification, strains of enzymes, usually in admixture with a proportion of amylase which breaks down starches, were developed which were relatively fast acting. These were added initially to 'pre-soak' detergents and found immediate acceptance in the European countries where washing habits were such that washing was normally soaked for a period prior to the wash proper.

Better and better strains of enzymes were developed, with stability to a wider pH spectrum, stability against perborate and quicker action. In the United States detergent manufacturers resisted the incorporation of enzymes into their powders for some years after this type of powder had almost completely swept the board in Europe but in 1968 enzymatic powders started appearing there as well. The position at present is that enzymatic powders are now holding a large proportion of the household detergent market and formulations appeared made for machine washing. Some washing-machine manufacturers are now producing automatic washing machines with a 'Bio' programme which allows the washing to remain in contact with the detergent solution for an extended period of time at a relatively low temperature before beginning the washing and heating cycle. The future of enzymes is at the moment obscure as the production of enzymatic powders has raised its own problems, and one Scandinavian firm has already decided to withdraw its powder containing enzymes from the market, but other large firms are taking enzymes out of some of their powders while forging ahead with others.

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Conclusion

These then, are the main early trends in the development of detergents, but one must not lose sight of the fact that many other types of detergent were produced in large or small quantities concurrently with the few mentioned in this topic. Each has a definite place and use of its own, but the vast majority are modifications of the few types mentioned here

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