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Enzyme Detergent is NO FRIEND to Washable Silk and Wool

Are you looking to wash your favorite wool sweater, silk pillowcase, or cashmere throw blanket? This article is for you! Laundry enzymes are a powerful natural ingredient that helps detergents clean and remove stains, but they can damage your silk and wool washables. Read on to learn why enzyme-free Heritage Park Silk and Wool Detergent should be your top choice for washing these items.


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At Heritage Park, our team is dedicated to making laundry day easier and more efficient for our valued customers. We also pride ourselves on being transparent about the ingredients we use in our products and how they work. If you’ve spent time here—and thank you so much for that—you know that we talk a lot about enzymes. Laundry enzymes deliver exceptional cleaning power by triggering a natural chemical reaction to break down and remove stains from clothing, bedding, towels, and other laundry. Our All-Purpose Detergent and our new Activewear Detergent each contain targeted enzyme blends that make them super effective.

But enzymes aren’t the answer for every fabric. Indeed, when it comes to silk, wool, and cashmere, enzyme detergent should be avoided. Let’s take a closer look and explain why.

How Laundry Enzymes Work

Laundry enzymes are powerful cleaning agents that target specific types of stains. Most stains are made from multiple components, including proteins, starches, and fats. Different enzymes are designed to break down each of these components. Our All-Purpose Detergent, for example, contains the following detergent enzyme blend:

  • Protease enzymes: break down protein-based stains like grass, blood, and dairy.
  • Alpha-amylase enzymes: tackle starch stains from foods like pasta, potatoes and oatmeal.
  • Pectate lyase: attack fruit and vegetable stains
  • Lipase: targets fats and lipids
  • Mannanase: attacks mannans used to thicken and stabilize foods and some personal care items.

Much like the digestive enzymes in saliva, laundry enzymes break stains into smaller molecules that allow the dirt, stains, and foreign matter to be removed from fabric fibers. This makes an enzyme detergent (biological detergent) effective at removing stubborn stains. When it comes to protein-based fabrics like silk and wool, however, powerful enzyme detergents are actually too much of a good thing.

Why Enzymes Are Problematic for Some Delicate Fabrics

Detergent enzymes can actually damage protein-based fabrics like silk, wool, and cashmere. We asked Ira Lysa, Textile Expert and Owner of Imperial Alterations, to explain the potential issues with using enzyme detergents on silk and wool. Here's what she had to say:

"There are few basic types of enzymes in laundry detergents which are supposed to target organic materials such as protein enzymes, lipases, and amylases that are likely to be components of the usual stains,” she said. “These enzymes cannot differentiate between the 'stain' proteins and the 'fabric' proteins, it is as though the silk and wool are not there at all. Eventually [enzyme detergent] causes degradation in the fabric's protein fibers; the loss could manifest in [the] form of holes, thinning of the fabric or a change of texture by breakdown of fabric fibers."

In other words, the same stain-fighting enzymes that make your detergent so effective will, over time, start to break down the protein fiber in wool, cashmere, and silk clothes and home textiles. This can lead to weakening of the fabric, changes in texture, and even holes. The most damaging enzyme to silk and wool is protease, because it targets protein; however, nearly every stain contains at least one protein-based component, which is why protease is such an essential ingredient to any effective enzyme blend.

What Laundry Detergent to Use for Washing Silk and Wool

With enzyme detergent off the table, what should you use to clean washable silk and wool garments? The key is choosing a pH-neutral, mild detergent made to effectively clean without enzymes: Heritage Park Silk and Wool Detergent.

“We developed Heritage Park Silk and Wool Detergent to provide a safe, effective, enzyme-free detergent for washing silk, wool, cashmere, and other protein-based fabrics,” said Taylor Robertson, Heritage Park Brand Manager.

The concentrated, plant-based formula gently cleans and removes stains from clothes and home textiles while preserving the softness and integrity of silk, wool, cashmere, and other natural fibers. The fragrance-free variety is hypoallergenic and dermatologist- and pediatrician-tested, which makes it ideal for anyone with sensitive skin. Silk and Wool Detergent also comes in two lightly fragranced options, Lavender Mist and Spring Magnolia. Like all Heritage Park laundry detergents, this gentle liquid detergent is made with no harsh chemicals; can be used for hand washing or in your washing machine; and works in regular and HE machines.

Pro tip: When washing silk, wool , cashmere, and other costly fabrics in your machine, we recommend laundering them in a separate load on a gentle or “delicates” wash cycle; placing items like silk sheets and silk pillowcases in a mesh laundry bag to protect them; and never using bleach, fabric softener, or dryer sheets. Protein-based fabrics should always be air dried away from direct sunlight.


Can You Use Enzymes to Spot Treat Stains on Silk and Wool?

As laundry professionals, we get a lot of questions about tackling tough stains. In most cases, we suggest sticking with a dedicated silk and wool detergent for both washing and spot-treating your silk and wool items.

However, there are some (rare) cases where you may want to use an enzyme formula for targeted stain removal on silk or will. If you have a particularly stubborn stain, applying a small amount of enzyme detergent solution directly to the fabric may help break the stain down. If possible, test first by applying detergent to an inconspicuous area; let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing with cool water; and inspect carefully for any changes in color or texture before proceeding.

The Bottom Line on Enzyme Detergents

Enzyme detergents are a powerful tool in your laundry arsenal, but they're not the right choice for every fabric. When it comes to silk, wool, cashmere, and other natural fabrics, choose a gentle, enzyme-free formula like Heritage Park Silk and Wool Detergent. Your wool sweaters and silk sheets will thank you! As always, the Heritage Park team is here to answer any questions you have about fabric care; stain removal; and our products.

Our Clients Also Ask:

Can you use enzyme detergent on silk?

No, you should not use enzyme detergent on silk. Enzymes dissolve proteins and silk is a protein-based fabric. Over time, enzyme detergent will degrade the fabric.

Can you use enzyme detergent on wool?

No, you should not use enzyme detergent on wool. Enzymes dissolve proteins, and wool is a protein-based fabric. Over time, enzyme detergent will degrade and damage wool fabric.

What detergent is best for silk? 

Heritage Park Silk and Wool Detergent is best for washable silk. It is a plant-based, gentle, pH-neutral formula made without enzymes that can damage silk.

What ingredients should you avoid when washing silk?

When washing silk, avoid harsh chemicals; bleach and brighteners; and enzyme detergents, particularly those that contain protease, which can degrade silk fabric.

What kind of fabric softener for wool and silk?

Never use fabric softener of any kind on wool or silk.

What is enzyme-free detergent?

Enzyme-free, or non-biological, detergent does not contain detergent enzymes. Instead, it uses other ingredients to break down and remove stains. Enzyme-free detergent such as Heritage Park Silk and Wool should be used on protein-based fabrics like silk, wool, and cashmere.

What can ruin silk?

Silk can be ruined by harsh detergent chemicals such as bleach or brighteners which fade and discolor it; heat from the dryer which damages the fibers; and enzyme detergent which degrades the integrity of the fabric.

How do you take care of silk and wool clothes?

Follow the care guidelines for silk and wool clothes. If they can be washed, use a gentle, enzyme-free detergent like Heritage Park Silk and Wool. Hand wash or machine wash on delicate and air dry away from direct sunlight.

Heritage Park Laundry Essentials

At Heritage Park, caring for fine fabric is our passion. As lifelong collectors of luxury sheets, towels, and cloths, we found many commercially available "gentle detergents" either damaged our fabrics or didn't get the job done, leaving stains. We knew we could do better. So we developed a formula with the perfect balance of powerful -- yet safe -- ingredients designed to remove tough, set-in stains while remaining gentle on luxury linens. Please connect with us at (800) 977-1841 or visit our store or email us with any product feedback or cleaning questions.

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