Photo: Jennie Del Sol
Melissa Dilkes Pateras, a.k.a. the Laundry Lesbian, Writes Down Her Innuendo-Laden Cleaning Hacks
In a conversation about 'A Dirty Guide to a Clean Home,' the TikTok star implores us to ditch the dryer sheets and always clean the washing machine / BY Rosemary Counter / November 23rd, 2023
Like everyone else at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Ontario social worker Melissa Dilkes Pateras took on some boredom-busting tasks – in her case, cleaning and organizing her house. Unlike everyone else, she filmed herself for TikTok and the ever-viral “laundry lesbian” was born.
“Are your balls looking hairy, fuzzy or even linty?” begins one viral video (with 260,000 views and counting) on … wool dryer balls. “Old balls need a refresh once in a while, so I’m gonna show you how to spruce them up!” (If you must know, you shave them and then wash them with soft detergent and very hot water. Good to know.)
More than a million followers later, Pateras’ advice on laundry (and changing appliance filters, and unclogging drains and shower heads, and defrosting the freezer, etc.) has come together in her book A Dirty Guide to a Clean Home: Housekeeping Hacks You Can’t Live Without. The cover, like her advice, is full of clever sexual innuendo, with a cartoon drawing of the chunky bespectacled and heavily-tatted author perched atop an open dryer, with a great big caulking gun in hand. Among her chapter titles are: “This is where you strap it on … your tool belt” and “Know who is a top and who is a bottom,” about how to load the dishwasher.
Nobody is having as much fun cleaning as Pateras, so we had to call up the 48-year-old at her home in Uxbridge, about 80 km northwest of Toronto, to find out the secret to loving rather than loathing household chores, whether we’re using dryer sheets and dishwasher pods all wrong and how to remove a red-wine stain from a rug.
Rosemary Counter: We all have to clean our houses, but only you are the laundry lesbian. How did that happen?
Melissa Dilkes Pateras: This all started the beginning of the pandemic, when I was just looking for things to do. My kids were talking about TikTok, and they didn’t want me to try it because I was too old, but I did it anyhow. I filmed a few silly videos, mostly having to do with the kids, then I did this funny little laundry-folding video that blew up. The comments would have things like, “I didn’t know I was so into middle-aged lesbians,” which made me so distraught at first. That was the first time I realized I was a middle-aged lesbian! But when people started asking me for cleaning advice, and I realized I had the answers, I started to think ‘maybe these are my people.’
RC: Unlike most people, you actually like cleaning. What’s that about?
MDP: I think I got it from my grandmother, who passed her love of organization down to me. But it’s definitely a personality thing, because neither of my sisters got it. My grandma and I just clicked over this. I loved her showing me how to do things, doing them with her, the great feeling of everything being clean and in its spot. My favourite thing to do with her was laundry, because she had a wringer. When I was little, that was so cool! I loved everything flattened. I really enjoyed polishing the floor with her, too. It’s a bit weird, I know, but I just loved cleaning and scrubbing and organizing. In fact, I assumed everyone’s house was like mine and everyone knew how to do what I know how to do. Now I realize that people just legitimately don’t know this stuff.
RC: There were an embarrassing number of tasks in this book that I didn’t even know I was supposed to be doing.
MDP: It’s like a buffet, so you can definitely pick and choose, and you’re definitely not alone. Times have really changed in so many ways, most of all appliances. They used to be built to last, so you’d have to clean them, change filters, etc., yourself. But they weren’t a status symbol; your mom’s house tour didn’t include the laundry room in the basement. Now we’ve got these fancy showpiece appliances with a hundred features that look great and cost a ton of money, but they’re not built to last — especially if you don’t care for them. When was the last time you read the manual that came with your machine?
RC: Literally never.
MDP: Exactly. We’re a generation that will pay top dollar for a computerized smart fridge, but we’ll never change the filter. The other thing I see all the time is people just using whatever product their mom did. She used Tide, so you use Tide, and that’s just the way it’s always been. You just keep doing what you’ve always done because you don’t know about new products. This is worse now, because we used to see commercials for products that were basically lessons showing you how to use their product. Now nobody has cable TV, nobody’s watching a Dawn power wash ad, so they don’t know what it does. We’ve got all these pods now, too. No one knows how to use pods.
RC: Wait. What? Doesn’t it just go in the dishwasher dispenser?
MDP: Different pods for different dishwashers go in different places. That’s why you need to read the manual.
RC: I give up. How do you teach people to clean better without making people feel really bad about themselves?
MDP: This is literally the whole theme of the book. And I get it: A lot of people aren’t washing their washing machine. Don’t feel like you have to live in a world that looks like Instagram –nobody does. I don’t care what your house looks like, actually, and if it works for you, then it works. But if it’s cluttered and stressful to be in, then your house isn’t working for you.
RC: Okay, I want to do better. Where do I start?
MDP: You start by breaking it down. You don’t have to do everything today, just do one thing. If the whole thing feels overwhelming – and I promise you I’ve been there – start small. Even just get rid of something. Go into your closet and find something you’ve never worn and probably never will, and get rid of it. Keeping it isn’t getting your money back. Let it go.
RC: Is there one cleaning mistake everyone seems to make? Or particularly irks you?
MDP: One thing that bugs me is fabric softener and dryer sheets. You don’t need them! They don’t work, they’re a terrible product and they wreck your machines. People don’t know how to remove stains anymore, so they spend too much money on products that don’t work. No product is magic and they’re all kind of the same. You don’t need some expensive chemical-filled stain remover; liquid detergent takes out 90 per cent of stains.
RC: Even red wine on a carpet? How about one quick lesson for the road?
MDP: Absolutely: First, blot up everything you can. Then pour vinegar on it, put a cloth on top, and then use a hot iron. The key is the heat, which pulls the wine stain out. Now you know.