Patric Richardson made a dozen women gasp out loud when he uttered these words: “Never wash in cold.” Still, he forged ahead. “Cold water doesn’t dissolve the soap.” More gasps.
“When you wash in cold, clothes don’t get clean.”
For two years, the self-styled Laundry Evangelist has been raising eyebrows and hackles during his Laundry Camps at his Mona Williams store at the Mall of America in Bloomington. Now he’s making headlines.
Last month Richardson landed back-to-back national TV appearances on “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt and “Inside Edition,” catapulting him from local laundry legend to national name. There’s a book in the works. And his thrice weekly Laundry Camps are booked through July.
Richardson’s rising star is thanks to several converging forces. Tired of fast fashion and the culture of disposability, more people are interested in investing in higher-quality clothes and maintaining them. Others, worried about their health and the environment, are concerned about the chemicals used in dry cleaning.
Still others just want to get the stain out of their favorite T-shirt so they can wear it again.
Then there’s Richardson himself.
A vivid storyteller with a Southern drawl and a background studying textiles at the University of Kentucky, he’s the kind of guy who can make even the most laundry-averse take an interest in getting clothes clean.
“Someone said to me, ‘Laundry Camp, God, that sounds like punishment,’ ” said Lori Hughes, a freelance publishing consultant in White Bear Lake and a camp veteran. “But it was relaxed and fun, not the stuffy and boring thing it sounded like it was going to be.”
Richardson’s passion for laundry started when he was a kid. A self-described clothes horse, he often ended up asking his mom to wash his clothes several times a week. She refused. Monday was laundry day, she told him, and if he wanted clothes washed more often, he would have to wash them himself.
So he turned to his grandmother (whom he calls Granny Dude), who had learned how to do laundry in the pre-chemical, pre-dryer sheet age. She taught him everything she knew.
By the time he was a teenager, he was washing all his own clothes. In college, he taught others how to do a proper load of laundry. And when he later worked in luxury retail stores, he taught customers how to wash their $900 cashmere sweaters at home.
“Customers would say, ‘I’m afraid to wear this because I might spill something on it,’ ” said Richardson, who lives in St. Paul. “And I would say, ‘Well, then, why don’t you wash it?’ ”
Richardson, who said he hasn’t been to a dry cleaner in five years, prides himself on being able to get a stain out of anything with a few simple products: vinegar, vodka, rubbing alcohol, some nontoxic soap-based stain solution and a bleach alternative for tougher stains.
Not long ago, a woman brought him a stained cloth napkin that had been used by her family for holiday meals for the past 50 years. The napkin was an heirloom. Could he get out the stain?
He did. The woman was thrilled, but Richardson’s napkin coup had one negative consequence: Some members of the family had gotten so used to the stain that they missed it when it was gone.
Going to camp
During the free Laundry Camps (held at his designer vintage and resale shop), Richardson reveals his secrets in stages. First sorting, then washing, drying and tackling stains. He concludes with his “fireworks” advice, the tricks of the trade that make attendees ooh and ahh.
An entertainer at heart, Richardson’s sequence is designed to build suspense. Everyone really wants to know how to get ink out of dress shirts, but few people think they need to be schooled in how to sort.
However, he explains that sorting has its own set of little known rules. Don’t sort by lights and darks, but by color: blues, greens and purples; reds and oranges; yellows; blacks; whites. You also should sort by fabric: wool and cashmere; silk, polyester, intimates; technofibers and athleisure; cottons and linens.
As he moves on to washing and drying, more secrets emerge — it’s like watching a movie with unexpected twists around every corner.
Ninety-nine percent of his advice is easy and safe and ends up being far cheaper to follow than using conventional products and stain removers (unless you spring for the most expensive bottle of vodka). He advocates using vinegar, but buys “the cheap white vinegar at any grocery store.” And while he washes almost everything in mesh bags, he gets those bags at Target.
One percent of his advice is impossible to follow, unless you have a summer home in France.
“Did you know in Provence they dry bedsheets on beds of lavender?” he asks, clearly enamored of the idea.
Like most Laundry Campers, Lori Hughes was surprised by what she learned at the 90-minute session, and took Richardson’s advice to heart and washed her clothes in warm water.
“Anyone who has strident ideas about how to do laundry needs to go to Laundry Camp,” she said, “because they’re probably wrong.”
Laine Bergeson Becco is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.