Enzymes are made up of proteins and amino acids, and they catalyze certain chemical reactions. Our bodies contain countless types of enzymes that help us process food and other things. Pool enzymes are made to break down and digest non-living organics, which makes water cleaner, and chemicals more efficient.
Oxidation vs. Enzyme Breakdown
Chlorine and bromine are primary sanitizers and oxidizers for swimming pools. Oxidation is a chemical process where electrons are stolen from an oxidant (like bather waste or metals). In swimming pools, oxidation is basically burning contamination out of the water, but at the expense of chlorine, because along with oxidation comes reduction. Remember those electrons that were stolen from the oxidant? Well they have a negative charge (e-), which reduces the charge of the oxidizer. Eventually that oxidizer has no more ability to steal electrons, and can therefore no longer oxidize. When say chlorine is "used up", we mean it was reduced. you can learn more about this in our article about Oxidation-Reduction Potential (ORP).
Without enzymes, oxidation virtually the only way for a swimming pool to rid itself of non-living organics and oils. And while chlorine is an excellent sanitizer, it is a relatively lousy oxidizer.
Downsides of Oxidation
While there are some oxidants that enzymes cannot address–like ammonia and other nitrogen compounds–the vast majority of oxidants in a swimming pool are carbon-based. In other words, non-living organics. These include bather waste like sweat, body oils, saliva and mucous, as well as bather products like lotions, cosmetics, sunscreen and anti-perspirant.The downside here, as mentioned earlier, is that oxidation reduces chlorine.
If chlorine oxidation were as effective as enzymes are against bather waste, why do so many pools relying on chlorine have problems like scum lines and oily water? Why do those same pools often struggle with cloudy water? Why do sand filters routinely get fouled with organic grease and grime? And most importantly, why do these problems often cease to exist when a pool is being treated with Orenda enzymes?
Enzymes work by attracting (or seeking out) a given type of molecule, known as a substrate. The enzyme has a special place that fits that type of substrate and nothing else, and either binds two substrates together, or breaks one apart. Swimming pool enzymes break the non-living organic molecule apart, and digest the carbon bonds, and convert them into CO2. This CO2 then off-gasses as small clusters of bubbles on the pool surface, which is noticeable for several hours after the initial enzyme treatment, called the purge dose.
Check out the Renaissance-quality illustration above. In step 1, a molecule of–let's say, sunscreen–drawn to the enzyme, which has a perfectly suited space for it to land in. Step 2 shows the carbon bond being broken down when the piece of organic waste is lodged in the enzyme's grasp. Finally, the bond is broken and released as carbon dioxide, along with the now-separated substrates, inert and harmless.
Here is a very quick video demonstrating the other way enzymes work:
Now here's a video showing a real reaction of Orenda enzymes breaking down WD-40, which is an oil product to represent oils and bather waste. Notice the carbon dioxide bubbles, showing the release of CO2 into the air.
Plenty of pool products exist to address symptoms that stem from poor management of bather waste. If the bather waste were handled properly (instead of relying on oxidation to burn through it all), many problems would never start. This is why Organic Waste and Carbon Management is our Second Pillar of Proactive Pool Care.
Enzymes help chlorine efficiency
Let's not forget that chlorine is the primary sanitizer in pools. Killing germs and keeping the pool safe to swim in is the primary purpose of having a residual sanitizer in the first place. Oxidation is chlorine's secondary responsibility, yet the vast majority of contaminants in water are non-living oxidants. So why not let enzymes do the heavy lifting against bather waste, and let chlorine get back to what it's best at?