The Warriors, so disappointing in their previous game at Warrington, produced another flat performance but this time it was good enough to see off willing but limited opponents to gain the win that lifts them three points clear of the second-placed Wolves with two matches left of the regular season.
Salford rarely troubled the Wigan defence until 20-year-old debutant forward Adam Walne produced a solo burst a minute from the end to create a consolation try for prop Jordan James.
Richards, the 2010 Man of Steel, was their hero on his return from a four-month absence following knee surgery with an 18-point haul while, on the other flank, Josh Charnley, Super League's leading tryscorer, was subdued on his 50th Super League appearance
It was the Richards' show from the 13th minute when he opened the scoring, picking up from where he left off by scoring 26 points on his last appearance at Hull in April.
The Ireland international set up the position with a run through the heart of the Salford defence and got on the end of George Carmont's final pass to cross at the corner for the game's first try.
Four minutes later he turned provider, sending full-back Sam Tomkins over for his 34th try of the season after Carmont had once more come up with the telling pass, and then collected Brett Finch's high kick to score a trademark second try.
Richards converted Tomkins' try but scored both of his too far out wide to leave the score at 14-0 after 21 minutes.
That is how it stayed until half-time, although the Warriors would have been out of sight but for some erratic finishing, with Richards and Tomkins both failing to take difficult passes from Carmont with the defensive line breached.
It was only a matter of time before Wigan increased their lead and former Salford scrum-half Matty Smith was the provider for their fourth try, popping up a pass for centre Darrell Goulding to go over six minutes into the second half.
Finch, celebrating his 31st birthday, then split open the Reds defence to get replacement second rower Jack Hughes over and Richards kicked his third goal to make it 26-0.
Second rower Harrison Hansen stretched out of Stuart Howarth's tackle to score his side's sixth try on 66 minutes and skipper Sean O'Loughlin supported a break from prop Jeff Lima to claim a deserved score, with Richards taking his goal tally to five from seven attempts.
- George Carmont