August 23, 2017

Is the Washer Eating Your Socks? -Missing Socks Form One of Life’s Little Mysteries

Two socks enter the washer. Two socks exit the dryer.

As household tasks go, what could be simpler? A pair of socks goes from drawer to feet to dirty clothes to washer and dryer and back into the drawer.

Of course, anyone associated with a social group that faintly resembles a family knows the truth. Socks do disappear. Virtually every residence in the free world has a drawer, pile or basket of mismatched socks. Millions – no, billions – of socks drift aimlessly without mates.

“Washing machines and dryers eat socks,” says my wife of 27 years, who oversees the laundry in our seven-person family. There are other theories, of course. Sock heaven is one. A Bermuda Triangle for socks is another.

For whatever reason, our family’s mismatched-sock pile grows and grows, like an expanding cotton-blended Blob. Two or three times a year we try to match socks. Far too often, they remain alone, sentenced to the rag pile, one wipe closer to the garbage.

Today, sock sales in the U.S. are about $4.9 billion annually. Perhaps because I seem responsible for about a $1 million of those sales, I just lose it over mismatched socks. As frustration builds, I erupt, like any normal, sock-wearing person.

Once, when my daughter Allyson was playing competitive soccer, her black game sock came back from the wash inexplicably partnered with one of my black dress socks. When I put them on, the sports sock reached my knee; the dress sock climbed past my ankle. “Who in their right mind would put these two socks together?” I shouted in a rage.

My wife, returning clean clothes to drawers at the time, answered: “If you don’t like how we do socks, you can do the laundry.” By emphasizing “you” and modifying “laundry” with a word unsuitable for print, my wife revealed to me for the first time that she is truly capable of murder.

Since no matches existed for these black socks, they, too, were exiled to our pile.

“I share your pain,” says Gail Hammond-Gibson, who manages the laundry in her Long Island Freeport household of four that includes husband, Bill, daughter, Nowell, 15, and son, Julian, 13.

The family has a bag of lonely, single socks. “The problem is the bag of mismatches is larger than our supply of good socks,” she says.

Although she has no proof, she wonders if socks are made specifically to disappear, or whether there’s a conspiracy between the weavers of socks and appliance manufacturers. “It’s all about buying new socks,” she says.

Hammond-Gibson’s son seems to be the only family member who has a plan for keeping his socks together; he folds the tops of one open end into the other. “At least they get to the washing machine paired up,” mom says.

The youngster is on to something, says Audrey Reed-Granger, a marketing and public relations executive at Whirlpool, a Michigan-based manufacturer of appliances. The journey from hamper to laundry room is fraught with danger for socks.

Contrary to popular opinion, washers and dryers do not eat socks, Reed-Granger says, and she insists there is no conspiracy between the hosiery industry and the appliance manufacturers.

There are logical explanations for single-sock phenomena. First, Reed-Granger says, most socks do not make it to the washer in pairs. “Boys shoot dirty socks into hampers like they’re shooting basketballs,” she says, “so socks end up behind furniture or under the bed.”

Then she asks me if I’ve ever followed my wife as she carries a load of clothes to the washer.

I reluctantly admit that my wife often leaves behind a trail of single socks, T-shirts and unmentionables.

“The logic is based on research by Whirlpool’s Institute of Fabric Science, which studies how consumers use things like washers and dryers. The institute also claims static cling causes socks to divorce. Even when a pair gets through the washer and into the dryer, static cling can split them up. A single sock can be swallowed by a pillow case or a pant leg, which hints of textile cannibalism.

“The laundry room has been unfairly identified as a Bermuda Triangle for socks,” Reed-Granger says. “But, really, it’s not the fault of the room or the machine. It’s you.”

Well, not me. And certainly not Mary Ellen Zimmermann of Kings Park. After 20-plus years of laundry, she knows exactly why socks go single: “They escape to sock heaven.” If you were a sock, she asks, wouldn’t you be looking for greener pastures?

Reed-Granger understands.

“Before joining Whirlpool, I had a lot of missing socks, too, and I thought I was going crazy.”

One solution is using mesh laundry bags, which keep socks together before they reach the laundry room, Reed-Granger says.

Experts like author Linda Cobb, the self-professed “Queen of Clean,” says clips and rings – sold as SockCops and SockPro and designed to link single pairs as they wash and dry – also prevent socks from disappearing. Reed-Granger prefers the mesh bags, because she says such plastic items could loosen and potentially damage the appliances.

To heck with bags and organizing clips, scoff those who launder regularly. Especially those who have large families. Bags, clips and rings are too much work. Plus, deep down, they are true believers in the household legends of sock heaven and sock-munching appliances.

Again, Reed-Granger understands. So much so that she grudgingly reveals there is a rare – an extremely rare – opportunity for a washing machine to gobble up a sock.

Under the lid of the traditional machine is a gap between the tub and the drum, Reed-Granger says. “You have to really, really overload a top-end machine, so when the cycle starts, a small item could be flipped up into that gap and be lost.”

To those who toil under mountains of grimy clothes, all the while haunted by the ghosts of single socks, it finally makes sense. “What did I tell you?” my wife says.


  1. My mother tried for years to convince us kids to safety pin our socks together when we took them off at night. She still does this and it works for her. I just throw all the socks in the drawer and pull out a set when I need one. Hey- it works!

  2. A51davedy says:

    Lost Sock
    Let me just saw this if you are looking for a good answer I do not have it. I am an engineer and I approach problems logically. First we must define just what is a LOST sock. For one thing a sock is not considered to be lost until it has been missing for a documented 30 days not just 24 hours like ho say your spouse. So things like in a pillowcase or in the sheets do not make the list. Now under the bed or other furniture, in the couch cushions, or behind the close hamper only count if you never thought to look or never just clean. Ho and sock heaven and just run away, not on list. How can one sock run any way? As much as I would like to support the sock eating appliance theory washers and dryers have lint screens, what goes in the door comes out the door. Now if you use a laundry mat and a sock is left stuck to the washer after the spin cycle and the next user take it home, well now we have two single socks. I have never brought a strange sock home. Yes there is a gap in most top loading washers that small things could get thru. I have been in the case of many old washers doing repairs and never found any thing. I have not seen the Maytag repair man on TV saying here are your lost socks. I have had pets take socks and dogs that go in and out will bury them. This however only accounts for a small percentage and if your only pet is gold fish, the socks would plug the filter. I have long suspected the static cling theory of hiding socks in pant legs or shirtsleeves. They just hide and wait for a chance jump off for a clean get away. I give this a 10. That would be say 10 per state per year or around 500 in the USA per year. The USA population is just over 300,000,000 so if every one only lost one per year that leaves 299,999,500 to account for. Now as for my wife and me, we average 3 to 4 lost socks each. So we could be looking at numbers as high as 1,049,999,820 socks lost per year in just the US alone. Now add in the rest of the world and adjust for the countries do not even have shoes, and world wide is close to 13,614,906,512 per year, that is 13 ½ billon. Now I am going on 60 years old and have seen some shoes on the side of the road and few socks out wandering the great out doors, 13 ½ billon, big foot could still be out there.

  3. The answer is that the machine is ‘eating’ the socks, by these small items slipping through the drum and getting pumped through the machine into the drain. Check your drainage. We just had a drain blocked by pieces of clothing. Only two adults living in the house – neither puting clothes into the toilet!