Biological detergents damage woollens & silks (cause holes)

detergent Did you know you shouldn’t wash silk or wool items in biological detergent, and that doing so can damage them? I’m sure this isn’t common knowledge, which a quick check with my wife and my mother-in-law just confirmed.

Our own laundry is currently washed with a biological detergent. On the box there is a warning – although it’s not very prominent and I bet most people don’t read the small print on boxes of washing machine detergent. The exact wording is contained in a small box titled “looking after fabrics and you” and the second line reads, “DON’T use this product for washing wools and silks”.

Washing-detergent At the foot of the box another section is headed, “What to use it for” and states, “… for pretty much your whole wash with the exception of wools and silks where we recommend you use a product that is specially made for delicate fabrics”.

The best gentle detergent I currently know of is Dreft, which is commonly used for babies laundry but is specifically said to “safer for fine fabric washing, particularly wool or silk.” I would recommend using a delicate detergent specifically for wools and silks or any item of clothing that has any wool or silk in it.

Using biological detergent with woollens or silks

Silk clothing can get holes around the seams at first and then in other places. Wool can become weakened, mis-shaped and holed too. Basically, the biological detergent contains enzymes and these enzymes will attack wool and silk causing irreparable damage.

The only reason we don’t appear to have had any problems with our laundry is because we don’t really have any silk items and very few woollens, but if you do, it may be worth keeping a more gentle detergent for them.

Did you know? Bold detergent is biological but they don’t seem to shout about it. It says so only in small print on some boxes.

How does biological detergent damage silks and woollens?

The following explanation is kindly supplied by the head of marketing at Miele –

Biological detergents contain certain enzymes that are there to remove proteins from a garment. This is how they are effective at cleaning things such as egg from clothing. However, silk and wool are also made up of proteins. Biological detergent cannot differentiate between a bit of egg stain and a bit of silk so the enzymes will eat away at it…

…This results in very small, randomly placed, holes on a garment. They won’t appear after the first wash, but tend to appear after several washes once the enzyme has gradually eaten the fabric away. This is a common complaint, as in the UK, despite there being dozens of detergents
available, most households tend to use just one type….usually a biological…


Damage to clothes – a common problem?

A recent topic on my washing machine forum entitled Small holes in clothes after wash highlighted a common problem where many people are having their washing damaged and the washing machine is being blamed.

There are many possible causes of holes and tears in laundry including faults with the washing machine itself but at least some of the damage can be attributed to the user. Only once these user “faults” are eliminated should the washing machine become a true suspect. This topic inspired a blog article – Holes in washing (laundry)

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7 thoughts on “Biological detergents damage woollens & silks (cause holes)”

  1. Great information. I have been getting small holes in my natural fabrics, usually soft fabrics of cotton, model, and rayon. I thought it may have been bugs, but I check my clothes before they go in and are fine, but come out with small holes. I use only biological products, so am beginning to think they do more damage than just to wool and silk. The enzyme information makes a lot of sense. Ugh, I am just sick with the many shirts I have lost. I have a few pairs of jeans that have holes, but not many.
    I have a front end load machine, so maybe the biological detergent is to strong. I am afraid to do any more experimenting.
    Thank you so much for the information, I will be changing my products.
    Dori D.

  2. James Bradley

    I’ve been washing my clothes for the past few years with biological soap powder and hot water (usually 50 degrees C) but have found that my cotton clothes are falling apart. The cuffs on my shirs and pyjamas have come away from the sleeves and the fabric is so weak, that my clothes rip very easily. I never had this problem years ago when my wife or mother washed my clothes. They apparently used non bio powders. So, after reading this article on silk and wool problems, it got me thinking. I looked up cotton and see it DOES CONSIST OF PROTEINS, AS WELL!

    So, I feel we should all be suing the manufacturers for ruining our clothes!!!!
    Here is the cotton info:

    “Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) mRNA (H6) is expressed predominantly in fiber cells and is present during early primary cell wall formation. However, H6 protein is found to accumulate during later stages, when active secondary cell wall formation occurs, indicating possible regulation at the translational level and function in the secondary cell wall assembly. The nucleotide-derived amino acid sequence of pCK-H6 is proline rich (35 mol %) with a calculated molecular mass of 21 kD. Cotton protein H6 contains a repetitive pentameric motif (17) of alanine (serine)-threonine (serine)-proline-proline-proline. Its amino acid composition and solubility indicate that it may belong to the group of arabinogalactan proteins. Both sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (55 kD) and size-exclusion chromatography (77-83 kD) overestimated the size of in vitro synthesized H6 protein compared to the molecular mass derived from the nucleotide sequence (21 kD). The conformation of the molecule determined by its unusual primary structure may be the cause of its anomalous mobility. The presence of a proline-rich, arabinogalactan-type protein in cotton fiber raises the interesting possibility that it may be an integral part of the plasmalemma taking part in the development and architecture of the secondary wall of cotton fiber.”

  3. I found small holes in my wool jumpers after very little wear and washing,however my biological detergent is clearly the reason for this damage! I spoke to two manufacturers where one said they have no product for wool/silk but the other , Persil, has a silk/wool liquid washer so I hope no more holes; thanks for your info.

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