"Are you watching The Laundry Guy?" the conversation begins. "Is it a TV show … about laundry?" "Yes. It's on discovery+. Watch it. You're going to love it!" I've recently been on both sides of this conversation. The reaction is often a groan, followed by disbelief that laundry can be emotional, educational, and fun. Yet it is -- if you take the philosophical and professional approach that Patric Richardson, the laundry guy, does. Plus, if you have considered someone a philistine because they mix darks and lights in an unholy washday mess, this is the show for you. (My editor here refers to it as "the most relaxing program on television.")
My dirty little secret is this: I love laundry. As a feminist to my marrow, I've always felt that perfecting matters of home economics, especially if you do so for a man, is somehow loosening the often-tenuous grip on equality. Yet, I maintain that you need not be dirty or smell rancid to be a feminist. And so, I separate clothes properly, use every setting on my machine, have never dry cleaned a cotton shirt, and use starch when I iron. I admitted this to Richardson (pictured at top and below right), who declared that we would be great friends during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage.
Some love laundry because it smells the way spring should. Some appreciate that it's one of the household chores that yields immediate results. Others may be more pragmatic: They need a crisp, white shirt, and the only way to make that happen is to clean and iron it. These people may not mind doing laundry.
Richardson, however, loves laundry with the zeal of a lifelong passion. He has also written a terrific book on the subject.
"The year I turned three, Santa brought me a toy washing machine," he shared. "I had a washing machine at three!"
Richardson's sudsy love goes back to his eastern Kentucky childhood, watching his grandmother wash clothes.
"One of my earliest memories is handing my granny clothes pins for clothes on the clotheslines," he says. "I was either 18 months or 2½."
Later, whenever they visited anyone, "I would ask other people if I could see their laundry room," Richardson recalled.
Not surprisingly, he has excellent advice for what should be in your laundry room. His first answer is the embodiment of why this show is fun: a disco ball!
"Besides a disco ball," Richardson maintains that well-appointed laundry rooms need a washer and dryer, of course, but also much more. "You have to have some kind of really good soap," he says. "I want people to buy what they are most comfortable with. If you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't buy it! Some horsehair brushes; a spray bottle of 50 percent vinegar, 50 percent water; a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol; a spray bottle of cheap vodka; some little cloths, I use washcloths. To me, those are your must-haves."
A standard most people keep for their whites, liquid bleach, Richardson detests. Instead, he prefers oxygen bleach. "It removes protein-based stains," he explained. "It takes red wine right out. You may have reasons for other things. Amodex, a stain remover made by a women-owned company in Connecticut, is what Sharpie recommends."
In each episode, Richardson visits two people in the Twin Cities, where he lives. They have problems way beyond ring-around-the collar. On principle, Richardson wants to tend to, not dispose of clothes.
In between meeting folks with stained treasures, he shares tips on living better. Consider this a laundry lagniappe. His advice is easy to follow and innovative. Wrapping a present in a tea towel sounds unusual but looks terrific, especially with a bottle of wine. Most of the half-hour episodes are devoted to removing pesky stains and reviving older garments to their pristine conditions.
The pieces he works with on air are special. One woman, who lost her mom when she was six, wants to restore her mother's handmade wedding gown. In another episode, a woman's wedding gown was one of the few items to survive a fire, and it's heavily streaked with soot. One man presents his stuffed Snoopy, very much the worse for wear, but he clings to it because it was what he cuddled as an immigrant child.
As people talk to Richardson, they reveal much about their lives. Holding anything your late grandmother created is emotional. He empathizes. These are not mere dresses or quilts; they are links to people's pasts. One man wanted to revive his glory days when he earned his high school letter jacket. The vinyl sleeves had turned gooey, and the woolen jacket was pilled and discolored.
A wizard of washing, Richardson scrubs and soaks, almost always with his go-to, soap flakes. He's determined to help people who have entrusted him with cherished keepsakes. As he listens to their stories, Richardson comes to know and care about them.
"I believe you do laundry for people that you love," Richardson said. "I am meeting these people for the first time. I need a few minutes to love them, but when you hear those stories -- the Snoopy, the wedding dress. I didn't know those people. It is not staged. I am going to get this done. I want this for them. James, with the Snoopy, he was just the greatest guy. He moved from Taiwan to northern California, and Snoopy was his one constant. You want that to be restored. Angel, with that dress her mom made, I would have walked from hell and back to get that dress clean. I know what that feels like to love somebody that deeply, and you just want that."
It's hardly a spoiler to reveal that stains stand no chance against Richardson. And when he returns clothes to as close to their original states, Richardson brings their owners joy.
"It is incredibly rewarding," Richardson said. "It gets me choked up because it reminds me of my granny and my mother and even my dad. He built our house and built subsequent houses for me, and the things my mother and grandmother did, they did because they love me."
He paused for a moment, collecting himself. "How can you not be madly in love with your life if that's what you get to do?" Richardson asked. "It is like being a florist, times ten. I don't think it gets any better than that. I get to use this gift, this knowledge of textiles, and laundry. It is awesome."
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