Patric Richardson loves doing laundry. His infectious stories about the women in his life who shaped his knowledge of caring for clothes and fine linens, and his methods of clothing care developed over years of working at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, make him a compelling expert.
This month, he published his first book, “Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore.” The Minnesota-based fashion pro and textile expert runs a summer program called Laundry Camp where he teaches his lessons of laundry do’s and don’ts. An on March 31, HGTV launched a new show on discovery+ starring Richardson called “The Laundry Guy.”
Richardson joined The Washington Post for a recent chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: My cotton dish towels and everyday cotton/linen napkins smell bad. What can I do?
A: Use less soap. I know it sounds crazy, but they will be cleaner.
Q: I have sensitive skin, and I’m unable to use any typical fabric softener products. I add table salt to the wash cycle, use tennis balls instead of liquid fabric softener and use tennis balls in the dryer. They help prevent static, but they don’t make my clothes as soft as traditional products do. I also use Arm & Hammer’s washing soda. I can’t use standard laundry detergents, even the ones marked “free and clear.” What am I missing in my quest to prevent static and allergies?
A: I would switch to soap. I think you’ll be happier with the result, because the soda needs an agent to help clean along with it. I would let go of the salt. If your clothes are really dirty, add a little soda to the wash, but otherwise, soap is fine. Wool balls are great, but what you need is a ball of aluminum foil to take care of the static. Make a ball of foil about the size of a tennis ball, and put it in the dryer. When it shrinks to the size of a walnut, recycle it and make another one. For softness, less is more on the soap; a tablespoon is plenty.
Q: Do you have any tips for washing underwear? I’ve heard you want to use really hot water to clean them, which makes sense, but I also don’t want them to get so beaten up. All my lace underwear comes out shredded and ripped.
A: Warm water will be just fine; there’s no need for hot. If your underwear are cotton, add a little oxygenated bleach if you want. The key here is to use a mesh bag. When you said lace, I knew what happened: The lace is snagging. Toss them in a mesh bag, and they’ll be safe while they’re coming clean.
Q: I have a polyester fleece bathrobe that always catches the smell of my neck and hair, even though I’m a clean person. Washing it in hot helps, but not for long. What can I do?
A: The oils from your hair and neck are stuck in the poly fleece, which is super common and easy to remedy. Use some oxygen bleach, then use less soap when you wash it.
Q: I have my grandmother’s tablecloths, napkins and small linens, and I love them, but the ancient linens have ancient stains. I’ve tried a few remedies, but to no avail. Are they doomed?
A: Doomed? No, they are just getting started. Use some oxygen bleach, not chlorine, and they will look like they did the day she got them. Let them soak for about half an hour, then wash. Don’t starch them if you’re going to store them; starch them only when you’re ready to use them.
Q: What’s the best way to wash jeans?
A: Wash them like everything else. You don’t have to turn them inside out. The key is to not overwash them. You can wear jeans at least 10 times or longer before washing them, as long as they aren’t dirty. Before you wash jeans for the first time, soak them overnight in the sink with 1/4 cup of salt and hot water if you want them to hold their color forever.
Q: You’ve previously said to have vodka on hand in the laundry room. What does it do, and how do you use it?
A: Vodka will remove odor from just about anything you spray it on, and when the odor is gone, you don’t have to wash it. It’s a great trick for when you stand next to a smoker or go to your favorite restaurant and leave smelling of food. Use cheap vodka, though. Save the good stuff for grapefruit juice.
Q: What do you think of OxiClean?
A: I love the active ingredient, sodium percarbonate, almost as much as I love cookies, but I prefer to buy it as an ingredient rather than in OxiClean, which has fillers. However, I’ve been known to buy a bucket when in a jam. Look for sodium percarbonate online or in hardware stores.
Q: I have a silk scarf that I use a lot and am very careful with, but how can I wash it? Or should I focus on spot-cleaning it if something comes up?
A: Spot-clean as long as you can, but if you have to wash it, use a tiny bit of soap, and you should be fine — just test for colorfastness. The key is to steam it from the back; it will have more luster that way.
Q: Can you use warm water and an express cycle even when a clothing label says to use cold and delicate?
A: Don’t let your clothes tell you what to do. They will be fine as long as you use the right soap. Put them in a mesh bag if they seem delicate.
Q: My washer gets nothing clean and uses so little water that the clothes don’t even get damp, much less wet. I’ve had the machine checked several times, and I’ve been told it’s functioning “as advertised.” How do I get my clothes clean?
A: I’m guessing you’re using too much detergent. When there is so little water, it’s harder to rinse detergent away. You need only a little to clean your clothes. It’s hard to get used to using less, but when you do, you’ll love it. If you aren’t using warm water, try washing on the express cycle.
Q: Is there any fix for a shrunken sweater? I read somewhere that if a wool sweater shrinks in the wash, it can be fixed, but only if it’s 100% wool. My favorite baggy turtleneck was thrown in the wash by accident and is now too tight in the body and too loose in the arms and neck, and it’s not all wool.
A: Put it in a sink of hot water, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and let it rest overnight. The next day, pull it out and immediately massage it back into shape. It will be soaking wet, so put a towel down. Let it dry, wash the oil out and it should be good as new. As long as there is more than 3% wool, consider it wool. You can probably massage the arms to be smaller, too.
Q: I’ve read that plant fibers break at the folds if they’re left folded too long. I want to iron all my linen tablecloths and napkins, but is there a trick to getting those fold marks out, so I can roll them to store them again?
A: You are correct. I would wash them, then roll them. They’re probably starched, which isn’t the best way to store them. Plant-based fibers are twice as strong when wet, so the washing won’t hurt them. Wash them, then take them out and smooth them with your hands (you can iron them if you want), but don’t store them starched. Starch when you are ready to use them.
Q: Any tips on how to store clothes or get the beautiful folds that they have in stores?
A: I cover my out-of-season items with an old sheet. If you want that killer fold, do what the stores do and use a folding board. It gives crisp lines, and everything will be the same size. You can make one with a piece of cardboard, but measure first, so the size works in your closet. I do this myself, because I like all of my items folded. If you have kids, I would try to talk them into doing this for you; tell them you’re playing store.
Q: I want to wash my antique comforter, which isn’t very thick and is more like a quilt because it’s filled with cotton batting, but it won’t fit in my machine. I also want to wash my queen-size down comforter, but the cost of dry cleaning it is about as much as I paid for it. What should I do?
A: Wash your antique comforter in a giant mesh bag, but use a laundromat with the big machines. Use a tiny bit of soap and nothing else, and it will look fresh and new. Take all the money you saved by not dry cleaning it and get a book or something to read while it washes; it will take about an hour to dry.
Q: One year ago, I washed my favorite gray T-shirt with a ballpoint pen, which made two big spots on the back of the shirt. A year and several washes later, is there a way to get the spots out?
A: I would go straight to my friend Amodex.
Q: Is there a product that will remove black hair dye from a wool sweater?
A: This will be tricky, but it should come out with sudsy ammonia. You might have to wash it a couple of times in the ammonia, but it will work. Then you could use oxygen bleach.