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Enzymatic Detergents and Contamination Control: A Guide for Instrument Reprocessing


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Because of their ability to speed up reactions, enzymes are well suited for cleaning chemistries. In fact, they begin working on contact to digest biological soils. How enzymes work can be compared to a pair of scissors, “cutting off” soils piece by piece from the surface. All enzymes have active sites in their structure that interact with a substrate (e.g., food soils, biosoils such as blood, human oils, fats) causing a series of reactions to occur. The enzyme acts as a catalyst when the substrate is attached to the enzyme’s active site. Simply put, the enzyme breaks up the substrate (soil molecule). Once the transformation of the substrate is complete, the enzyme releases itself and is ready to begin the process again on another molecule.

Use of enzymes in consumer products started with the addition of dried pancreatic extracts to powdered laundry detergents in the early 20th century.5 After 1950, bacterial proteases became the enzymes of choice in household detergents because of their improved stability characteristics.6 This paved the way for broad acceptance of enzymes in consumer products.

Enzymes are now widely included in many household and commercial cleaning products and combined in multi-purpose formulations to work on a number of different types of soils. Detergents and cleaning solutions used for cleaning surgical instruments have developed similarly.

Enzymes are specific in terms of the type of soil they remove. There are four classes of enzymes commonly used in detergent formulations:

• Proteases break down and digest proteins, dissolving blood and body soils.7

• a-Amylases break down carbohydrates, starches and sugars. This is typically used in laundry to remove food soils.8

• Lipases break down fats and oils. This enzyme is especially useful in cleaning fatty soils associated with specific surgeries and patient populations.9

• Celluloses break down cellulose fibers. This enzyme is typically used in the textile industry for fabric treatments.10

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