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What are enzymes?

  1. What are enzymes?
  2. Frequently asked questions

What are enzymes?

enCatalysts are materials that help chemical reactions to occur faster without being consumed in these reactions and therefore are available to help multiple reactions. Enzymes are proteins produced by a living organism that act as a catalyst. They speed up chemical reactions that would occur at a much slower rate if they were not involved. Enzymes are therefore specialized proteins which naturally enable and accelerate chemical reactions in all living organisms. Many enzymatic reactions break down larger molecules into smaller ones. An example of this reaction is food digestion which is a role enzymes play in all living organisms.

Many of the enzymes currently being used in the cleaning industry have been introduced in the 1960s. These include protease, amylase, lipase, cellulase, mannanase, and pectinase. These enzymes have enhanced detergents in many ways that made them work better at removing stains, reduced required volumes, and lower wash temperatures required to clean.

Enzymes are very specific in the target (substrate) they act on. When they find their substrate, they lock on, break it down, then continue to the next stain. The enzymes used in laundry detergents act on materials that make up a variety of stains and soils so that these materials can be washed away more easily. These enzymes are named after the materials they can act upon, for example:

  • Proteases break down protein based stains,
  • Lipases break down lipid (fat) based stains,
  • Amylases break down starches and other carbohydrate based stains (amyl comes from the Greek for starch) and
  • Pectinase remove fruit and pectin-based stains that traditional detergent ingredients have trouble removing, doing it efficiently at low wash temperatures.

Adding enzymes to degreasers, cleaners, and laundry detergents is efficient and affordable. A small amount of an enzyme is required for each reaction since the same molecule can target many substrate molecules (soils in this case) before being exhausted in the reaction.

Are enzymes safe?
Enzymes are proteins by definition, therefore, they are completely biodegradable. They are generally non-toxic to plants and animals in the environment. They are harmless if accidentally ingested by a child. However, like many other proteins, enzymes can cause respiratory allergy in some people if they are breathed in at very high concentrations, frequently, and for long periods of time. This doesn't pose a safety issue for consumers who use laundry detergents. But this can represent a health issue for people that work in enzyme-making facilities and in detergent production facilities, if enzymes are not handled properly.


icons poFlindt, M. L. H. 1969. Pulmonary disease due to inhalation of derivatives of Bacillus subtilis containing proteolytic enzyme. Lancet, 1:1177-81.
icons poPepys J., J. L., Longbottom, F. E. Hargreave and J. Faux. 1969. Allergic reactions of the lungs to enzymes from Bacillus subtilis. Lancet, 1:1181-4.
icons po Newhouse M. L., B. Tagg, S. J. Pocock, A. C. McEwan. 1970. An epidemiological study of workers producing enzyme washing powders. Lancet, 1:689-693.
icons po Juniper, C. P., M. J. How, B. F. J. Goodwin and A. K. Kinshott. 1977. Bacillus subtilis enzymes: a 7-year clinical, epidemiological and immunological study of an industrial allergen. J. Soc. Occup. Med., 27:3-12.
icons po Flood D. F. S., R. E. Blofeld, C. F. Bruce, J. I. Hewitt, C. P. Juniper and D. M. Roberts. 1985. Lung function, atopy, specific hypersensitivity, and smoking of workers in the enzyme detergent industry over 11 years. Br J Ind Med.,42:43-50.
icons po Schweigert, MK, MacKenzie, DP and Sarlo, K. 2000. Occupational asthma and allergy associated with the use of enzymes in the detergent industry - a review of the epidemiology, toxicology and methods of prevention. Clinical and Experimental Allergy, 30: 1511-1518.
icons po Sarlo, K and Kirchner, DB. 2002. Occupational asthma and allergy in the detergent industry: new developments. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2:97-101.
icons po Sarlo, K. 2003. Control of occupational asthma and allergy in the detergent industry. Annals Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 90(suppl):32-34.
icons po In addition, a complete literature review on enzymes has been completed by the European Union:
icons po Aberer, W., M. Hahn, M. Klade, U. Seebacher, A. Spök, K. Wallner and H. Witzani. 2002. Final report: Collection of information on enzymes, European Commission Contract No. B4-3040/2000/27845/MAR/E2


Enzymes are produced by all living organisms and their purpose is to start chemical reactions. The three dimensional structure of an enzyme is composed of amino acids which places it in the protein family of organic compounds. Enzymes are therefore specialized proteins which naturally enable and accelerate chemical reactions in all living organisms. Many enzymatic reactions break down larger molecules into smaller ones. The human body for example produces many enzymes that play a major role in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Are enzymes safe?
In one word: Yes. For thousands of years enzymes have been used to make bread, cheese, and wine. Over the past few decades, enzyme use has extended into the laundry and dishwashing detergent market, agriculture, animal feed, chemical production, cosmetics, dental hygiene, dietary supplements, food, leather treatment, medicine, odor control, pharmaceutical, pulp & paper, textiles, water treatment to name a few! As a matter of fact, you have all ready used products which contain enzymes or have been manufactured using enzymes or both!

How do enzymes work?
The specific mechanisms responsible for explaining enzymatic activity are very complex. A simplified answer would be that enzymes lower the activation energy of a reaction. This lower level dramatically accelerates the reaction. As a result enzymes massively decrease required reaction times. Reactions which may normally take a few days could take as little as a few seconds to complete once enzymes added! Some reactions might not ever take place without the right enzyme being present. One might say enzymes are the facilitators of Mother Nature’s life cycle.

Enzymes are naturally produced by every living thing. Biotechnology allows for the commercial production of enzymes using a process known as fermentation. In the fermentation process the living conditions of certain microorganisms are optimized and carefully controlled producing enzymes. Specific enzymes are then harvested, isolated, filtered and stabilized.

What are the performance benefits of enzymes?
Enzymatic reactions are millions of times faster than conventional chemical products. Ozyme's products break down and destroy dirt, not just move it from one place to another. Chemical residues and strong odors associated with chemical cleaners are a thing of the past. Nausea, dizziness, watery eyes, breathing problems and headaches common to chemical cleaners are virtually eliminated.
Environmental benefits?

Ordinary chemical cleaners present environmental, health and safety concerns. Ozymes offer a safe, healthy alternative for all of your cleaning needs that meet the strict environmental regulations.

Ozymes products are non-toxic, non hazardous and 100% readily biodegradable. The primary packaging is 100% recyclable material. Therefore, our concentrated cleaners allow for the lowest environmental impact.
Cost benefits?

The concentrated form of our cleaners allows for more economical use as most cleaners contain a large percentage of water which you are being charged for. By adding your own water, you are guaranteed to be getting 20+ uses per container, which means you get more for your money. Therefore, Ozymes products are easier to use, ship, and store which saves you extra time and money.