Simple Science: How in the World do Enzymes Clean?
When you hear the word bacteria it can easily conger up images of sickness or danger. But strains of bacteria exist that are beneficial to human health and are helpful for cleaning. “Bio-enzymatic” cleaners—those that are bacteria and enzyme-based—can be safe and effective soil and odor removers, especially for organic types of soil. But how in the world do enzymes clean?
Bacteria and Enzymes … Better Together
To better understand bio-enzymatic products, some simple science about how bacteria and enzymes work in tandem to clean will be helpful. As you may remember from science class, bacteria are microorganisms that are present in most of the earth’s habitats, including soil, water, dust particles—even the human stomach. There are two kinds of bacteria: pathogenic (harmful) and “good” bacteria, such as probiotics that help with digestion and immunity.
Contrary to popular belief, enzymes are not alive. They are produced by live bacteria and pave the way for it to work. Enzymes operate as helpful tools that catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions between bacteria and soils, making the bacteria more efficient. Enzymes work to break down complex waste particles into smaller pieces that bacteria can more easily consume. These smaller particles—organic wastes, urine, grease, stains—become “food” for bacteria to digest and break down into two basic compounds—carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).
Typical enzymes can be categorized into four main groups, based on the types of soils they react with.
- Proteases break down protein-based soils including blood, urine, food, feces, wine and other beverages.
- Lipases break down fat molecules like oils and grease.
- Amylases break down starch molecules like eggs, sugars, sauces, ice cream, gravy.
- Cellulases are used to soften fabric and restore color to fibers made up of cellulose material. They also remove particulate soil and reduce fabric graying and pilling.
Each type of enzyme is different and will catalyze only one type of reaction (known as a ‘lock and key’ mechanism). They are highly specific to the type of surface or material they can work on and are only active when conditions are correct.
The Magic of Bio-enzymatic Cleaners
Biological cleaning products are live solutions formulated using strains of safe, natural bacteria along with specifically selected enzymes. Both bacteria and enzymes work together to clean, relying on each other to get the job done. When applied to surfaces, soils, stains and malodors are broken down by the enzymes, then consumed by the bacteria. As long as soil is present and surfaces are sufficiently damp, these microscopic “cleaners” multiply, continuing to remove traces of grime and odor from surfaces hours or even days after the initial application.
Enzymes Go Solo
Enzymes can also be used without bacteria in certain cleaning products (although they are initially harvested from bacteria). Enzymes in laundry detergents, for example, work to catalyze the chemical reactions of other ingredients in the detergents. In wash water, they help to break down soils so that water can more easily wash it away.
Getting The Biggest Bang from your Bio-enzymatic Cleaners
When using bio-enzymatic cleaners in your facility, it’s important to select the appropriate product for the type of soil you are cleaning. Bio-enzymatic formulations work particularly well for these four cleaning applications:
1. Drain Maintenance
The natural cleaning process of bio-enzymatic products can make them a safer, gentler way to keep pipes free flowing. Bactizyme Drain Cleaner/Maintainer is a natural choice for maintaining drains and traps, working to break down organic materials like grease, fats and scum that can clog plumbing and cause odors.
2. Urine and uric acid
When used as part of a regular maintenance program, the specific formulation of Nyco’s Arrest Uric Acid Eliminator attacks stains and uric acid odors from restroom surfaces including hard-to-reach crevices and grouted areas. Its residual effectiveness means it works long after application to keep high traffic areas smelling fresh and clean for days.
3. Carpet Cleaning
Enzymatic products are often formulated for carpet cleaning applications as they can penetrate soft surfaces without discoloring them. Their near-neutral pH helps ensure these cleaners won’t damage surfaces.
4. Laundry Detergents
Generally safe for most fabrics, various enzymes will be added to laundry detergents with the intent of removing specific stains. Blood, gravy, fatty foods stains and oily cosmetics are easy targets for enzymes to zero in on.
Always Follow the Directions
Bio-enzymatic products do have a shelf life (usually one to two years), so be mindful of expiration dates. Extreme temperatures may cause them to lose their efficacy. Also, never use disinfectants or products with a high pH on the same surface, as this can neutralize enzyme activity and reduce their cleaning power.
Bio-enzymatic cleaners are a high-performing choice to include in your cleaning arsenal for specific types of surfaces and soils. For cleaning applications like restrooms, drains and malodors, let these tiny organisms do the dirty work in your facility.
Simple Science Enzyme Vocabulary
• Amylases – Type of enzyme that breaks down starch molecules.
• Bacteria – Microscopic, one-celled organisms that can be found everywhere. They can be dangerous or beneficial.
• Bio-enzymatic Cleaner – Formulation that is bacteria based and/or enzyme-based.
• Catalyze – Speed up.
• Cellulases – Type of enzyme that reacts with cellulose material.
• Enzyme – Protein produced by bacteria that are used to speed up chemical reactions.
• Lipases – Type of enzyme that breaks down fat molecules.
• Proteases – Type of enzyme that reacts with protein-based soils.