Ask Dr. Pete: On Cellulases and Synthetics vs. Natural Ingredients

Ask Dr. Pete: On Cellulases and Synthetics vs. Natural Ingredients

A product inventor, innovator, and sustainability expert, he’s the brains behind our Bio Laundry Detergent and was a founding member of The Sustainability Consortium. Last month he covered everything you need to know about removing balsamic vinegar stains. This month he’s back with more helpful knowledge about cellulases and the real difference between synthetics and organics. 

What can you tell us about synthetics versus organic/natural products? Is organic always better? Are synthetics OK to use sometimes? Why would one want to use synthetics over organics? 

There is no standard definition or conventional agreements in terms of the definition of natural and organic products. However based on science and common sense, we would like those natural products to be defined as made of plant, animal, mineral and/or microbial ingredients present in (or produced by) nature. On the other hand, organic products are made of living organisms found in nature and life. For example, salts and essential oils are both natural products. Palm and coconut oils, and some essential oils are organic. The environmental "life cycle analysis" for many natural and organic products does show that they have less harmful impacts vs. their synthetic counterparts if "managed properly". But natural and organic products can cause more harm than their synthetic counterparts if abusive production or distribution methods are applied. The deforestation caused by massive palm oil production is a good example, which triggered the responsible and sustainable palm oil organization called RSPO.

While many natural and organic products are safe, there is no warranty for safety just because the products carry natural or organic labeling. For example, borax, a widely used household and laundry cleaning ingredient is a naturally extracted mineral, and it has been identified as a health risk for human's reproduction systems by EU and Canadian regulatory agencies. In another example, 100% organic essential oils can carry significant levels of known fragrance allergens. Innovations in biomimicry can help solve some of these issues, in which case some synthetics that closely mimic their organic counterparts can and should be prioritized. 

I noticed that one of the enzymes y’all have is cellulase. I looked up cellulase and found a few articles that said the cellulase enzyme attacks plant matter, including cotton, and can be very destructive on cotton fabrics. I was wondering if this should be a cause for concern with 100% cotton items. I have some new towels I just purchased that are expensive and 100% cotton. I want to make sure I preserve the towels’ fibers and softness and didn’t know if I should wash my towels with a detergent that doesn’t have cellulase in it.

There are a wide variety of enzymes within the cellulase family. For example, in addition to the applications in our Bio Laundry Detergents, specific types of cellulase enzymes are used in food processing to breakdown the cellulose contents in fruity drinks and starchy foods. When cellulase enzymes were initially applied to laundry detergents in the 1990s, the industry made some mistakes in using the wrong types of cellulase at higher dosage levels, which triggered consumers reporting about damage to their cotton-based fabric materials.

Since then, there have been many scientific advancements in cellulases used for detergents which have made them more precise in their targeting and very safe for cotton fibers. The advanced cellulases that we use in our Bio Laundry Detergents eliminate the pilling without damaging the cotton fibers, improving the fiber’s softness and help to prevent the redeposition of dirt and stains during the washing and rinsing cycles.

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