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Enzymatic Detergents and Contamination Control: A Guide for Instrument Reprocessing


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Although new enzymatic detergent formulations are very effective, enzymes work best under certain environmental conditions such as specific temperature ranges, pH levels, and washer settings and in combination with other chemical ingredients.

Each type of enzyme has its own optimal temperature at which an enzyme’s catalytic activity is at its greatest. A wash temperature that is too high for a specific enzyme will denature it, thus disabling the enzyme’s normal activity. Enzymes used in automated washer cycles are often selected based on their stability at different temperature ranges. Enzymes are not denatured by lower temperatures, but their ability to react rapidly may be greatly reduced.10

Like most chemical reactions, the rate of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction increases as the temperature is raised. However, once the optimum temperature is reached, hotter temperatures will only decrease the effectiveness of the enzyme activity.

A new introduction to the instrument reprocessing market includes enzymatic detergent formulations that are engineered with two enzymes that work together as a system to be functional in both low and high wash temperatures.

The pH of the detergent formulation must also be carefully balanced with each enzyme ingredient; pH higher or lower than what is normal for a particular enzyme will denature it, thereby disabling the enzyme’s activity. Each type of enzyme has its own optimal pH at which an enzyme’s catalytic activity is at its greatest.11

In addition, water hardness can affect the enzyme activity. High levels of calcium and magnesium ions in water can elevate the pH, inhibiting enzyme activity. Detergent manufacturers may add sequestering agents, which bind these heavy metal ions, in the enzyme formula as an easy correction for this problem.

To ensure that enzymes are at their peak effectiveness, automated washer settings must also be taken into account. The detergent dosage, type of washing cycle, time of washing steps, and temperature should be calibrated to work with the type of enzyme detergents being used to achieve optimal efficiency. Detergent manufacturers must ensure that other ingredients such as surfactants, or anti-scaling agents are selected carefully so that they don’t interfere with enzyme active sites that are responsible for reacting with soils.12

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