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Effective Laundry Chemistry Solutions (Part 2)

Bioactive/enzyme performance activator product development

RICHMOND, Ky. — With all of the challenges facing laundries today, from labor issues to inflation, it’s vital for operations to be able to provide quality goods as efficiently as possible.

Laundry chemistry can be a key component in the process.

Four chemical company representatives shared strategies for maximizing the outcomes of chemical usage in laundry operations during the recent Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar Chemical Solutions.


Doug Story, president of the large laundry division of UNX Industries in Greenville, North Carolina, then examined bioactive/enzyme performance activator product development.

These activators are a combination of living organisms and a combination of enzymatics.

“We have enzymatics that are capable of removing everything from protein all the way over to petroleum,” says Story. “It’s just a matter of how you set the formulas up and how you wash the goods.

“So, these bioactive agents, not only are they active today and doing a good job today, but I think they’re going to be actually a big part of our future as we look down the road in terms of laundering and processing.”

He says work with these activators began in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s with enzymes that worked at high temperatures. Experiments shifted to finding solutions that worked at lower temperatures, including eliminating microbes in the process.

“Microbes actually produce the enzyme that they use to break down the cultures with,” shares Story. “This capability in the activity of these agents has been evolving over the last 30-40 years to become very, very revolutionary and very useful today.”

He says enzymatic programs here were designed to solve the problem of blood, sweat, protein, grass stains, paint, etc., on the uniforms of athletes.

“We did a lot of work in those enzymatics for removing those items from those uniforms, and as we started working more and more, let’s see how we can expand it into linen supply, healthcare, hospitality, into that type of a business,” he says. “So, we started translating them over into the industries that most of us are involved in.”

So, what is an enzyme? An enzyme is a protein molecule that has a “key” on its surface. The key reacts with whatever molecule that it’s targeted to go after.

“For example, if it’s a protein enzyme, there’s a little key on the surface of that molecule called an ‘active site’ that will actually find a protein molecule, attach itself to it, and break that molecule down into smaller component parts, such as amino acids and things like that,” says Story.

The lock-and-key process uses lower pH and less heat, water and time compared to alkalis, which use more of those elements for its destructive action to break down molecules.

So, what makes using enzymes and bioactive agents in a laundry worthwhile?

First, these agents target, and are effective against, certain types of soils, and they work at a variety of temperatures.

“We have a greater functionality now with the enzymatics and with the bio-organisms,” says Story. “They’ll work in high temperatures and they work at low temperature, so you have a broad range of functionalities.”

Next, Story says enzymes and bio-agents can have a positive wastewater impact. Most of the time, a wastewater system is needed to take the soils removed from textiles and break them down into non-lethal soils. Then the water can be recovered for further use.

“The cool thing about the enzymes and these bio-agents is they actually are doing that in your wash wheel,” he says.

“So, if you’ve got fat soils and greases in your wash wheel, and you’ve got some of the enzymatic products that we developed over the years, they will start breaking those large molecules down in the wash wheel so that you will notice a reduction of fat and grease in your wash cycle, and you will see a reduction of your BODs (biochemical oxygen demand), especially if you’re linen supply plants and in food and beverage or you’re in a healthcare plant.

“You will notice that you will be using less alkalinity and things like that as well. So it does have definite impact on the wastewater.”

The agents can also remove mildew from cotton goods without destroying the dye on the fabric.

“You won’t receive 100% recovery, but you’ll get a high percentage, more than throwing all of them away,” he shares.

Factors that operators need to be cautious about when using these agents include the fact that they have targeted functions.

“If you have a protease enzyme, that means it goes after proteins and destroys proteins,” Story says. “The problem is if you take that same molecule, put it in a washer that has oils and greases and starches in it, that enzyme will not do a thing against that type of soil. It will only attack.

“It’s only specific to the type of soil, the proteins that it’s going after, so it will have difficulty in that regard. So in most cases, what everybody does and what we do is we actually mix a good blend of enzymes that do that work across the broad spectrum.”

While these agents are effective in various temperatures, they are sensitive to the environment in which they live, he says.

“For example, if you take a low-temperature enzyme and put it in temperatures that are way too hot for it, and if you take a low-temperature microbe and put it in temperatures that are way too hot for it, you will kill the microbes and you will deactivate the enzyme so it will not work,” Story points out.

“So, you have to be very cognizant of what the operating conditions are. It’s not a plug-and-play product. You’re going to have to make sure that the individuals that work with you and the technical service reps are well trained and know exactly what they’re doing in terms of writing the programs and formulas that are necessary to use these products.”

A key point to consider is that while enzymes can break the soils down, they will not remove the soil.

“They just break it down off the surface of the fabric,” says Story. “You’re still going to have to use surfactants and detergents as part of that component in order to remove those soils.”

Finally, enzyme products can be more expensive on a gallon-to-gallon basis versus traditional products.

“But the cool thing about them is the time savings that you have and the water savings and the fact that you can actually get longevity of your fabrics and you reduce your fabric damage because you’re not having used the alkalinity that you normally have to use,” Story points out.

“With each wash formula, when you’re utilizing these bio-active components or utilizing these enzymatic components, you’re going to have to be very cognizant of the fact that your formulas have to work well, and there are some plants where this will not be applicable,” he says.

“Your plant has to have good programmable washers. You have to have mechanically sound washers. They have to work right with the programmability and the mechanical action with them and make sure that maintenance and preventative maintenance on them is done so you can utilize these programs. These programs will then yield you some very, very high-quality work at some very efficient numbers.”

And with today’s labor challenges, he says laundries will have more automation, and the chemistry programs and wash formulas used will have to be adaptive to that same kind of environment.

“These bioactive and enzymatic-type products in conjunction with the formulas that are programmed into the system will, in fact, yield that kind of result,” Story concludes.

Read Part 1 on redefining the wash pie by clicking HERE. Check back Tuesday for Part 3 on flexible, holistic solutions.

Effective Laundry Chemistry Solutions

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected] .