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Enzyme-based cleaners: another marketing ploy?

by Doris Penner

            Most Canadian households have a cupboard full of products meant to dissolve stubborn stains, sanitize toilets, make windows shine and deodorize pet urine spots. If one bothers to read the labels, it is noted there are warnings against inhaling the cleaner and allowing the product to touch bare skin as well as recommendations about safe storage. This is for good reason. Many common cleaners contain toxic chemicals that may do well the job of ridding carpets, couches and clothes of stubborn stains, leave mirrors and windows sparkling clean and cause rust to disappear, but are harmful to people and the environment by emitting fumes, leaving residues on surfaces and destroying life in waterways. While many Canadians have concerns about products featuring a cocktail of chemicals and the harm they may inflict, they also want homes free of dirt and harmful bacteria, and conclude the benefits in using chemically-based household cleaning products outweigh the risks. However, there's no reason why one can't have sanitary houses and fresh clean laundry by using chemical-free cleaners.

            One alternative currently on the market is enzyme-based cleaners. This is one of a number of green products formulated to do work effectively while giving the population peace of mind that the product they are using will not cause respiratory problems on inhalation, is safe for human skin and unlikely to cause allergies and, in addition, will not harm plants and animals when released out into the environment. In a way, the non-chemically based products on the market today build on cleaners your grandmothers used in the kitchens such as baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar which did the job in times past and left a pleasant smell behind.        

Found in all living things

            Enzymes are proteins found in all living things with one of their main roles being to speed up biological reactions at the cellular level in the body. As ingredients in cleaners they have the ability to break down soils, stains and other debris. As an example, let's consider the bacteria Bacillus often a part of cleansers which contains a number of enzymes each with a different function. Proteases combat protein-based stains, amylases work on carbohydrates and starches while lipotases break down fats (lipids).

            How do enzymes actually work? A simple way to look at it is to think of them as catalysts—they are proteins that speed up reactions that need to happen in removing stains and odours while remaining intact themselves. Enzymes are not in danger of being consumed while the reaction is taking place, and thus are able to continue combating a spot of dirt for a long time—longer, in fact, than many chemical cleaners.

            Enzymes are often included in laundry detergents, for example since they appear to have the ability to remove stains from sweat, milk, blood and grass with apparent ease. The number and types of enzymes vary from brand to brand, but generally speaking, enzymes work faster to get rid of stains than do many of the chemically-based detergents. Another bonus is enzymes work efficiently at lower temperatures, so less electricity is required for doing laundry.

            There are also formulations for cleaning kitchen and bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and sinks as well as for killing mildew or mold sometimes found in damp spots behind appliances or in corners near the tub or shower. Pet owners are often looking for both stain and odour removers to clean upholstery and carpets. Enzyme-based cleaners are known for removing the stains but also the smells left behind.

Holding their own

            So are enzyme-based cleaners just another marketing ploy? That's a fair question. Thus far, in considering various controlled tests and consumer testimonials, it appears the “green” cleansers are holding their own among the cleaners of the world. Some of the well-known manufacturers of cleaning products are starting to include enzymes in their products which speaks volumes. Knowing that using enzymatic cleaners reduces environmental impact as well as helps keep users safe from adverse effects (including allergic reactions) associated with regular cleaning products seems to say “they are worth a try.”

            One particular Canadian-produced enzymatic cleaner developed in 1989 is worthy of mention since is is affordable and all-purpose. Going under the name of Pink Solution, is can be purchased in a large quantity and diluted with water in various strengths depending on the purpose it is meant for. It can be used for cleaning a variety of different surfaces including porcelain, fiberglass, porcelain and plastic, for carpets, mirrors and windows, in pressure washers for cleaning up driveways and boats, for dissolving wax, gum and tar, for washing wood or vinyl flooring, as a laundry soap and jewelry cleaner.