Do enzymes in detergents damage cotton?

stbonnerNovember 4, 2010

I know that enzymes can damage silk and wool, causing small holes and failure of the fabric. I started wondering about damage to cottons, since there have been numerous threads on this forum about small holes in cotton shirts, etc. Anyway, I googled around a little and found several articles on the subject. Apparently cellulase "eats" fabric pills, etc., but can also damage cotton if proportions are not correct. Here is one of the articles I found:

Interesting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. I'm putting lots of effort into trying to keep my clothes looking new, and I'm wondering if I'm shooting myself in the foot by using enzymes - although the other side of the coin is that stains will ruin garments too.

Here is a link that might be useful: enzymes

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Yes, there are enzymes that help to smoothen fibres. This is one of the claims of the actiLift formula - it makes fibers so smooth that stains can't attach as easily. Cellulase is one of the ingredients of Tide Total Care: it prevents, as you've said, pilling on certain fibres and "keeps them looking like new". It also removes dust and mud - according to

I don't think regular detergent will cause holes in people's cotton clothes, though. That would be a major disaster for P&G. On the list of Tide Total Care's ingredients, cellulase is the second lowest. However, there are many detergents without cellulase - just in case...

Just my two cents, Alex

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 9:16AM
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These are the typical enzymes and the type of soil they break down to simpler forms for removal by detergent:

Amylase (starch soils)
Lipase (fatty and oily soils)
Protease (protein soils)
Cellulase (reduces pilling and greying of fabrics containing cotton and helps remove particulate soils)

I have not read that they will âÂÂdamageâ cotton. They will damage wool/silk as wool/silk are made up of proteins and enzymes attack proteins. Enzyme detergent cannot differentiate between a bit of egg stain and a bit of silk so the enzymes will eat away at it.

I have read several places where they say not to use an enzyme detergent for fine cottons like Egyptian and Pima (particularly sheets/towels).

I personally think an enzyme detergent is only necessary when the laundry warrants it. If it does not contain the above types of stains why would you need them? ItâÂÂs over kill in my mind.

I use a mild detergent without enzymes or brighteners on my fine sheets and towels (Vaska Herbatergent).

I also use oxygen bleach when needed to keep them white. Never use chlorine bleach as this will destroy the fibres over time.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 11:54PM
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If cellulase reduces pilling, it must have some small impact on cotton fabric structure. I would guess the detergent makers' standard is that a laundry product should be safely usable for the standard lifespan of a garment. That's what, 50 washings or so?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 4:21PM
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There must be reason there are so many new detergents popping up that claim to keep things looking newer longer. I've read that enzymes and optical brighteners can be hard on fabric over time. Making things look worn and faded.

As well, "regular" detergents are very hard on things - they are designed to tackle the worst stains. What if your laundry is not that dirty?

For example - this from the Woolite Complete copy:

"You are probably familiar with common washing problems, such as your favorite dress or T-shirt fading, your blouse shrinking, or your favorite jeans thinning.

WOOLITEî COMPLETE⢠gives all your clothes the right balance of cleaning and caring. It doesn't contain harsh ingredients, so it wonâÂÂt cause stretching, shrinking or fading. With WOOLITEî COMPLETEâ¢, you can keep all your clothes looking like new!"

This formula does not contain enzymes or OBAs. It also contains a PH balancer.

Having said that - Tide Total care contains both.

Go figure ... although TTC does contain a proprietary Protective Fiber Complex that conditions your wash water to help prevent damage from chlorine and mineral deposits, minimizing fading and helping to keep colours bright.

I have also read that chlorine in your tap water can cause things to fade - makes sense.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 5:16PM
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Being in the sun or under certain lighting will cause your clothes to fade.

Do enzymes damage cottons? I've had no such experience. I have 20 year old clothes washed in a lot of enzymes, including boosters so if they damage the clothes, then they're some dang tough clothes!

    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 2:43AM
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A lot of the imported clothing today has cheap crappy dyes in them.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 6:25AM
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I was looking up this topic and am wondering if anyone has any additional information. I get small, random holes in my cotton clothing and cannot figure out what it could be. This is fairly common, but not common enough that it leads me to believe that it is the detergent. I do not have any bugs or moths in my laundry area. UGH!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 12:33AM
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