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Detergent enzymes –from discovery to product – The power of nature harvested in eco-friendlycatalysts for laundry applications

*Corresponding author
Novozymes A/SKrogshoejvej 36, 2880 Bagsvaerd, Denmark


Enzymes represent nature’s work of brilliance, affording efficient catalysis of reactions and acceleration of biochemical processes, selectively and at a remarkable speed. The detergent industry is an important application area where industrial enzymes are utilized to boost cleaning performance. Enzymes represent environmentally sound alternatives to the use of toxic chemicals and pollutants, with reduced generation of waste and added performance benefits as the result. The discovery, application screening, optimization, and production of industrial enzymes for detergents are presented in this article, including examples of how formulation technology and protein engineering can enhance liquid stability. Proteases are used as the main example as this was the first enzyme class to find wide-spread use in laundering, and proteases remain hallmark enzymes in household care today.


Detergent enzymes have been used for a century in laundering, and continue to be of great benefit in household care today. In 1913 the first words in the story of laundry proteases were written, when pancreatic trypsin was introduced as an additive in the European pre-soak detergent product Burnus by Röhm and Haas (1). In 1963, a major development in the protease field took place when the first bacterial subtillisin protease from Bacillus licheniformis (subtilisin Carlsberg) was introduced into commercial detergent. The importance of properly formulating technical enzymes became clear during the early seventies, after the discovered risk of allergic reactions from dusty proteases caused a major setback for the detergent industry (2). This issue was solved by proper formulation of the protease product into non-dusting granulates or prills, resulting in protease enzyme products that are completely safe to use.
A common denominator for detergent enzymes is that they target tough stains and hydrolyse the various components in the soiling into smaller more water-soluble fragments. This helps boost the mechanical removal of the stain dur ...