Denim Enzyme Wash Process

Enzyme Wash:
Heavy enzyme or vintage wash is used to get the old or used appearance. Garments are washed inside a washing machine with enzymes. Fleece sweatshirts are washed with a heavy enzyme. Enzyme wash is performed with a kind of live cell, which can break some of the fibers of fabric and can give the fabric a special effect, desired on the garment. Enzyme wash provides the fabric a soft, sanded or ‘peached’ effect that is very desirable on many garments. Enzyme wash is also useful for indigo denims. In this case, enzyme can replace stone but gives denim a stone-wash look, with a better and nicer blue and white contrast on the fabric. Enzyme wash is, however, costlier than stone wash.

Enzyme Washing process

There has been increasing interest in the use of environmentally friendly, nontoxic, fully biodegradable enzymes in modern textile finishing processes. Enzymatic treatment can replace a number of mechanical and chemical operations which are applied to improve the comfort and quality of fabrics.

In enzyme washing process, cellulase enzymes are used. Hydrolysis of the cellulose, which is catalysed by cellulase, causes the surface fibers to become weakened and later they get removed when there is either fabric-to-fabric abrasion or fabric-to-stone abrasion during washing. The temperature and the pH used are specific to the type of cellulase employed. Usually neutral cellulases are applied at pH 6–7, while acid cellulases are applied at pH 4.5–5.5. However, the latter result in a greater extent of back staining, being more penetrative. An enzyme dose of 2–4 g/L is normally sufficient, provided that the enzyme activity is not impaired. In general, the color of the enzyme washed goods is more uniform, particularly when stone is not added. Because cellulases are reactive only on cellulose, any size materials or other impurities must be removed before the cellulase treatment.

Enzyme washed jeans
Figure: Enzyme washed jeans

Flow Chart of Enzyme Wash:
The steps of denim enzyme washing process are shown as follows:

Loading of garments


Rinse (Two times)

Addition of enzyme

Adjusting PH for Acid Cellulase or enzyme (4.5-5.5) by adding Acetic acid (CH3COOH).

Required temperature kept for different enzyme

Tumbling for 30-60 minutes (depending on shade)

Rinse (two times)




Enzyme Washing Process:
Temperature is the most important factor in enzyme treatment. Generally speaking, enzyme reaction increases with temperature but it is only activated within a temperature range in which the enzyme structure remains stable and unchanged. Beyond this optimum range, the enzyme activity decreases sharply as the protein structure of enzyme is tangled through thermal agitation. There is a trend of increase of color fading effect when temperature increases from 50°C to 60°C. This is because the enzyme reaction is activated by higher temperature within the optimum temperature range and thus more surface fibers are hydrolysed by cellulase and the weakened fibers are removed by abrasion of fabrics and mechanical agitation. The indigo dye particles are also removed along with the cotton fibers.

The mechanical action can provide color fading effect of denim garments in enzyme washing. The specimen treated without any agitation has better color fading effect than that treated with mild and vigorous agitation because the fibers are weakened after treating with enzyme alone and are not well removed by mechanical agitation. The surface of fabric becomes more hairy and a layer of fuzz gets formed on the surface.

For specimens treated under vigorous agitation, a biopolishing effect is obtained. The weakened fibers are well removed by strong mechanical agitation, and thus a cleaner and smoother surface is produced and the fabric has a lighter shade as dye particles are also removed with cellulose fibers.

Longer enzyme treatment time prolongs enzymatic degradation of cellulose and the time for further abrasion. It is shown that the color fading effect increases with increased treatment time. The increase in color fading effect is mainly due to desorption of dye particles that are weakly adsorbed on fabric. In addition, the increased color fading effect with more time is also due to the fuzziness of fabric caused by prolongation of the enzyme treatment. With a longer treatment time, cellulase effectively hydrolyses fragments of cotton fibrils and thus the fabric is less fuzzy than the original.

Advantages of Enzyme Wash:
Usage of cellulase has some distinct advantages, such as:

  1. Cellulase is economical and environmentally friendly as compared with stone washing using pumice stones. The percentage of fabric damages is reduced with cellulase treatment. The enzymatic treatment of denim fabric ensures the same result but consumes less water and time, resulting in less waste and damage to machines. The pollution, quality variability and imperfections are also reduced in enzymatic treatment.
  2. Enzymes can be recycled.
  3. The productivity of washing is increased due to the space formerly taken up by the pumice stones; the same washing machines can handle more jeans.
  4. The time consumption for removing stone fragments from the denim garments is eliminated in the case of cellulase treatment.
  5. The duration or number of rinse washing after enzyme treatment is less than pumice stone washing.
  6. A small quantity of enzyme can replace several kilograms of pumice stones during washing, which ultimately leads to less damage to garments and machines.
  7. Washed garments with a softer feel and better appearance is achieved in cellulase treatment.
  8. Cellulase treatment of denim fabric has some disadvantages, too. There may be chances of backstaining in cellulase treatment. To remove the backstaining, the garments are rigorously washed. However, this adds to usage of water for the washing.


  1. Denim : Manufacture, Finishing and Applications. Edited by Roshan Paul
  2. Sustainability in Denim. Editors: Subramanian Muthu
  3. Handbook of Value Addition Processes for Fabrics by B. Purushothama

You may also like:

  1. Effect of Enzyme Wash on Denim Garments
  2. Enzyme Stone Wash Process of Garments
  3. Effects of Various Enzymes on Denim Garment Washing
  4. Application of Enzymes in Textile Processing

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