CLOSE
IStock
IStock

Can Washing Machines Really Eat Socks?

IStock
IStock

Do enough laundry and eventually you’ll find yourself standing over a pile of clothes looking perplexed. Two red socks entered the wash. Like a fabric softener-scented Thunderdome, only one has emerged. 

Are you imagining things? Does a sock monster reside in your laundry room? Where do missing socks go?

Mechanically speaking, it actually is possible for your washing machine to “eat” an errant sock. According to the Whirlpool Institute of Home Science, both top-loading and front-loading washers are capable of allowing a sock to exit the drum and get trapped in areas not normally visible or accessible to the user. For front loaders, it might get lodged just underneath the rubber water seal; for top loaders, the sock could sneak into the crevice between the inner and outer drums as a result of overloading the appliance, then get snagged in the water drain or pump. It’s also possible for socks to get stuck underneath a top-loader’s agitator.

Fix Appliances CA Bradford via YouTube

So, yes, your washer might be licking its metaphorical chops and eagerly devouring your freshly laundered socks before they're able to find safe harbor in the dryer. If they do make it to a dry cycle, socks can be victimized by static electricity, sticking to the inside of pant legs or other material and going unnoticed during the folding process.

But there’s actually another component to missing hosiery, and it has nothing to do with mechanical error or static. The problem is your perception.

Last spring, Samsung’s UK division commissioned psychologist Dr. Simon Moore and statistician Geoff Ellis to evaluate the epidemic of missing socks for an honest-to-goodness study [PDF] of the epidemic. According to Samsung, Brits lose an average 1.3 socks every month, or 15 a year. That’s 84 million abandoned socks each month, far too many for machines to masticate. So where do they go?

According to Dr. Moore, who interviewed 24 consumers in person and polled an additional 2000 online, the disappearance of socks is a result of cognitive bias. “These are things that give you the illusion of doing something when you’re not,” Moore tells mental_floss. “As an example, we found a correlation between sock vanishings and the size of a household. The more people in the household, the greater diffusion of responsibility.” Someone charged with loading the washer will expect someone else to unload it properly; if they notice a sock missing, they might assume another family member will find it.

The second predictor of sock misadventure is heuristics, the mental shortcuts for problem-solving. When a sock goes missing, Moore says, people tend to look only in the most obvious places before giving up. “The best way to find a sock would be to systematically turn things over, but we don’t. We’re lazy.” Instead of peering behind radiators or under beds, we accept the remaining sock as a singular entity, experience a brief grieving process, and go on with our lives.

But the people Moore polled who saw washing as less of a chore and more of a pleasurable activity were less likely to experience sock loss. “People who had a positive attitude about the whole process, who liked doing it, actually had fewer missing socks," he says. "They simply paid more attention to detail.”

In the end, Moore believes that relatively few people who embrace the pleasure of domestic duties will continue to lament the loss of their socks and fall back on blaming an external reason—like a sock monster.

“It’s better to blame washing machines than their own failures,” he says. “The alternative is to admit they’re rubbish at doing chores.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
iStock
iStock

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios