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Can Washing Machines Really Eat Socks?

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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.”

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

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

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