MINNEAPOLIS – When most people have an unusual obsession, they try to deny it or, at the very least, hide it. Not Patric Richardson. The 48-year-old St. Paulite hasn’t just embraced his obsession, he’s turned it into a profession.
Richardson is into clothes. Specifically, dirty clothes. And how to clean them. Known locally as the Laundry Evangelist, he sells specialized laundry products (some of which bear his moniker) and holds intensive Laundry Camps at Mona Williams, his Mall of America store, which he hopes to resume after the pandemic.
Now the Kentucky native (who got a toy washing machine when he was 3), is going national. He’s written a book, “Laundry Love,” and has landed a Discovery + TV series, “The Laundry Guy,” starting March 31. His surprisingly captivating book is part autobiography (complete with a cast of larger-than-life characters), part how-to. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s up for a good story — and wants to get that mustard stain out of their favorite shirt.
We talked to Richardson about washing wool suits, why he hates detergent pods and why laundry really is about love.
Q. How did you get fixated on laundry?
A. My Granny Dude [his nickname for his grandmother]. She was incredibly well-dressed and stylish and surprisingly modern. She would travel to the nearest big town to shop. At the time, our town didn’t have a dry cleaner, so she figured out how to wash all the fine clothes she owned.
Q. And you were her helper?
A. One of my earliest memories is of handing her clothespins. I had this incredible love for her and I came to associate that love with doing laundry.
I loved washing machines. My Uncle Quinn used to hold me up so I could look down into the washing machine while it was running. My Uncle Kit’s first wife took me to the laundromat where they had front loaders. When I was 3 years old Santa brought me a [toy] washing machine.
Q. Was it just laundry you loved?
A. I loved clothes, too. Oh, my goodness! I was voted best dressed — in grade school and high school.
Q. So when did you start actually doing laundry?
A. My mom did the laundry once a week. If I wanted to wear something for a game on Friday night that I’d worn to school on Wednesday, I had to wash it myself. When I got to high school, I got really concerned about how things were ironed. My mom said if I wanted my clothes ironed just so, I would be the one doing it.
Q. You studied fashion merchandising and worked in apparel in Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. When did laundry reappear in your career?
A. I opened Mona Williams in northeast Minneapolis, selling vintage and high-end designer clothes. I knew some of the vintage pieces wouldn’t hold up to dry cleaning, so I started to carry a line of laundry products.
I loved telling people how to care for their clothes. That was the best part. I would tell people, “Yes, you absolutely can wash that wool Chanel suit.”
Q. Was it then that you got noticed by a certain newspaper?
A. Aimee Blanchette [now Aimee Jordan, a former features writer for the Star Tribune] wrote about me and her article just blew up. We couldn’t keep the [laundry] products in stock and the phone was ringing off the hook with people asking laundry questions.
Q. How did you end up holding Laundry Camp?
A. Originally, it was called Clean Clothes and Dirty Martinis because I thought I needed booze to attract people. When my store moved to the Mall of America, I couldn’t serve alcohol. But people didn’t really care. They wanted to know about sorting, cleaning, drying, ironing and, my fave, dealing with stains.
Q. How did the book come about?
A. It was one of those things that was floating out there. But then [local writer and editor] Karen Miller came to one of my Laundry Camps and we just hit it off.
Q. Americans seem to love convenience and hate chores. You’re trying to elevate washing clothes. Isn’t that an uphill battle?
A. When I was a kid, all the sitcoms, all the magazines, all the movies made it seem like cooking dinner was this huge chore. It was seen as drudgery. Well, now there are dozens of TV shows and channels, books and magazines devoted to cooking. We have celebrities who are famous because of cooking.
And cooking hasn’t changed. We still put a chicken in the oven like we did in the ‘70s. What’s changed is our attitude. We decided that cooking was something fun to do, a hobby.
Q. And you want to do the same with laundry?
A. Look, there are lots of people who are out of the closet about their love of laundry. There just needs to be someone who says it’s OK to like doing laundry, sort of a Julia Child of laundry.
I’m not comparing myself to Julia Child. She’s an icon. But she was one of the first to tell people it was OK to like to cook.
Q. During the pandemic, most of us haven’t gotten out of sweatpants. Do you think we can care about how we look again?
A. As soon as we come out of the pandemic, there’s going to be a huge resurgence in dressing — or we’re going to stick with sweatpants. But if we do, we’ll buy really nice sweatpants and take good care of them.
Q. You say that learning to take care of clothes is freeing. How so?
A. If you know how to take care of your clothes, nothing is off the table. You can buy whatever you want because you can make it last.
The whole point of being able to care for our clothes is to wear what you love. It’s a freedom from rules. I don’t have to change into my play clothes. All of my clothes are play clothes because I know how to keep them looking good.
Q. How do you typically dress?
A. I like to look good, but I like to be comfortable. I love beautiful textiles and I love cardigan sweaters. You may see me in a cardigan, but it’ll be cashmere.
Q. Describe your laundry room.
A. It’s my version of a man cave. It’s combined with our master bath. And I’ve been known to put in a load of laundry and soak in the tub. It’s not a large room, maybe 8-by-8. It has heated floors. It’s steamy and warm. It’s like being in a spa.
The most important thing my laundry room has is a disco ball. You have to have a disco ball in your laundry room!
Q. Let’s get down and dirty. Where do you stand on detergent pods?
A. There’s waaaay too much detergent in them. That detergent stays in your clothes.
Q. So are you an advocate of a second rinse?
A. No, I’m an advocate of using the right amount of soap to wash your clothes.
Q. I notice you said soap, not detergent. What’s the difference?
A. Soap has to be relatively pure to saponify [or solidify]. Detergent you can put anything in it you want. Still, it leaves a residue and it doesn’t get the stains out.
Q. You sell the Laundress products at your store. Are there other laundry soaps you recommend?
A. There are lots of good soaps out there. I recommend that you take a look at the ingredients. It’s just like your food. You look at the ingredient list. If there’s a long list of words you can’t pronounce, you don’t buy it.
Q. You are big on sorting laundry. But does anyone sort anymore?
A. Even people who say they don’t sort really do. They separate out towels or sheets. I just recommend that people sort differently: whites; blacks; blue, green and purple; red, orange and yellow; and athleisure, which is mostly a kind of polyester.
Q. Polyester doesn’t seem like your kind of fabric.
A. Polyester is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It’s like chicken. It can be made into anything — ballgowns and tires. You just have to take care of it correctly, which is something you can learn in my book. Hey, I can’t give all my secrets away.
Q. Well, can you share three do’s and don’ts with us?
A. Sure. I’ll start with the don’ts. Don’t ever use dryer sheets. Ever. Don’t be afraid to wear anything you own. Don’t worry about the [laundry] process. Just do it. You’ll learn. Do get a disco ball for your laundry room. Do assemble a kit for all your laundry supplies so you have all your tools with you. Do use laundry products that you want to put on your body.
Q. How does laundry equate to love?
A. I iron [partner] Ross [Raihala’s] shirts because I want him to look good and feel good. I want him to be happy. You do these things because you care. One of the languages of love is an act of service. Laundry is an act of service. You do laundry for the people you love.