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Always Room to Improve
Do you ever have one of those moments where things change and you look at something in a completely different way? Call it a light bulb moment or a fork in the road, but once it happens, it’s hard to go back to the way things were.
I remember one of the biggest light bulb moments for me was way back in 2007 when I was a PA on the set of This Old House and we were documenting a “green” renovation in Austin, Texas.
We had the good fortune of partnering with builder Bill Moore, who helped develop Austin’s green building program. Bill was somebody who walked the walk. He would save and reuse just about any scrap of lumber around the job site, and he was the first builder I ever heard discuss things like zero-VOC paints and LED lighting.
Working with Bill changed my outlook on just about everything. What started with sustainable building quickly spread to other aspects of my life. If our paint should be good for us, shouldn’t our cleaning products and shampoos? If the things we put on our body matter, the things we put in our body must really matter. Within the span of a few months, I completely changed nearly all of my spending habits and style of consumption.
I spent a few years being really cognizant of my choices, although once I had kids, there were definitely times where convenience won out and my values were less absolute. After all, I was using a high efficiency front load washing machine and Seventh Generation Free & Clear detergent- that’s all pretty good, right?
Well, this past week’s interview with Patric Richardson also felt like a light bulb moment that pretty good can still be improved upon. His passion is all about laundry, but in the most environmentally friendly way, which also happens to be much better for your clothes.
I already made one switch by washing all of my clothes yesterday on the “Speed Wash” setting, which uses just a little bit of water, and I already felt like my clothes came out feeling better. It turns out that having your clothes soaking wet and rubbing up against each other for almost an hour isn’t really that great for them, but 15 minutes is just enough to get them clean without doing damage. I was also done with laundry in half a day, and it can often be a full weekend project the old way.
It’s funny how the push to modernity can lead us to forget so much of the knowledge of our grandparents. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and realize that “new” isn’t always “improved” and there can be times where the old way may still be the best after all.
Patric had a big March this year. His new show The Laundry Guy started streaming on Discovery+ and airing on HGTV, and his new book Laundry Love hit store shelves. Given his sudden turn in the limelight, I was curious what it was about the pandemic that may have sparked a broader interest in laundry:
“It’s funny, it really got people into the idea of home keeping. So I hate to say this, but I think more people are interested in what I have to say now that they’ve been home for a year. When people got stuck at home, they wanted to start taking care of their things because they were surrounded by them everyday.”
I was worried when I first heard about Patric and his show that he might be advocating for lots of detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and the like. It turns out that his approach is very different, which was surprising at first, because so much of the laundry industry seems to be geared around chemicals.
Patric explained that he came up understanding the chemistry, but at a certain point, his taste changed:
“I went to the University of Kentucky, studied merchandising, apparel, and textiles and became very interested in textiles. So then I kind of learned the chemical way that all these things worked. And then I didn’t want to use chemicals anymore. I don’t really want them on me. So my rule now is if it can’t go in me, it doesn’t go on me.”
Patric’s recommendations for laundry products are often very old fashioned- think soap flakes, oxygen bleach, vinegar, and liquid bluing. Many of these products are hard to find on store shelves, or may be hidden in an obscure corner of the laundry aisle. He still advocates using modern machinery like a washing machine, although he tends to prefer the “express” setting for almost all textiles.
When Patric decided to make the shift to more traditional methods of cleaning clothes, he was able to pull from his own childhood to remember some best practices:
“It came from my grandmother. I lived next door to her and I literally worshipped the ground she walked on and she treated me like a deity, so we were a good pair. She used these simple things and they were effective. I associate laundry with her and with my mother. I learned that respect for the home.”
Patric’s new show on Discovery+ The Laundry Guy is really informative and can also get heartfelt at times. It explores the emotional connection that many of us have to articles of clothing, blankets, and other textiles. Patric told me why he thinks the show has received such a positive reaction from viewers:
“Those people and those stories are totally the star of the show. When you hear about the letterman jacket or the wedding dress or the baby blanket or the Snoopy, it’s like you root for them. I like to think I’m fun to watch, but the reality is you want to see that Snoopy clean, or you want to see that dress that was through the fire white again. You want to see her get to see that. And me too. I wanted to see those people get their item back.”
We also talked about the production process behind the show, including the added pressure that he felt when working on one-of-a-kind, heirloom articles:
“I’m very confident in the washing skill. So if you said I have this white dress, it has green ribbon, it has stains on it, I’d be like Oh okay, got this. The second that you say My mom made this, she died when I was six, it becomes a whole different item. At that point, you’re not washing a flag, you’re washing the Star Spangled Banner.”
Patric’s book Laundry Love is available now and is the type of book that you’ll want to have on your bookshelf to reference again and again. He goes over the basics of fabric care in a natural way that’s better for you, your clothes, and the environment.
If you have a chance to listen to the full interview, you’ll learn a lot too. Patric was a really fun and really knowledgable guest.
This Thursday is Earth Day, and I have been saving a special interview for it. I will be talking with journalist and author Amelia Pang, who has a captivating new book out called Made in China. In it, she explores the forced labor system taking place in Chinese detention camps, especially among political dissidents and ethnic minorities like the Uyghers. Much of this system is well hidden from audits and is driven in part by strong Western consumer demand. Earth Day seems like the perfect time to reexamine our relationship with consumerism, and I am really looking forward to chatting with Amelia. I hope you’ll tune in!
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