The enzyme-based detergent


With the launching of the stain remover BURNUS® on the market in 1914, Röhm & Haas made an important contribution to the transition from traditional, strenuous washboard laundry methods to cutting-edge technology with self-activating detergents.

Enzymes for breaking down protein—obtained from animal pancreases—were used for the first time in BURNUS®. These released the dirt embedded by the protein, which would have penetrated the textiles through the high washing temperatures. Dirt removal from the textiles would then only be possible with a great deal of soap and mechanical effort. In this respect, BURNUS® was not a detergent in the traditional sense, but a pure stain remover applied before the actual washing process. The laundry was soaked in Burnus for a few hours and then washed with only a little soap and much less harm to both the fibers and the person doing the washing.

During the development of BURNUS® for the first time in the history of laundering, Dr. Otto Röhm carried out in-depth investigations into the composition of dirt on laundry. His wife also performed numerous experiments to find a suitable technique for washing with BURNUS®.

Despite the high quality of the product, selling the soaking agent BURNUS® initially made a great deal of unusual demands on the company. Laundry women expected an agent, intended to make washing easier, with lots of foam, sold in large cartons. This was not the case with BURNUS® and resulted initially in a cool reception from potential customers. It took the scarcity of fat, soap and fuel during the war and crisis years to influence consumers buying habits more favorably towards the product. Since BURNUS® helped to remove a large part of the dirt in cold water, it helped to save fuel and soap. As a result of a number of unfortunate marketing decisions, BURNUS® did not enjoy commercial success until the beginning of the 1930s. In 1937 a company with the same name as the product was formed to market it.

The 1950s saw fundamental changes in the way laundry was washed. Even a product that had been adapted to machine washing could not survive in the market alongside the new quick-acting, all-in-one detergents. In the 1960s, when enzymatic detergents found wide use, BURNUS®—the enzymatic washing pioneer—became less significant. Finally, the product was removed from the market to make room for new developments designed for modern washing technology. After Röhm GmbH was taken over by Hüls AG in 1989, the Burnus holding company was sold in 1996.