Preventing sock tragedies: CBC investigates the cause of missing socks

Chances are, it's happened to you. You threw your clothes in the laundry. But as soon as they came out of the dryer, you noticed your favourite black wool sock was missing its partner.

Here's a hint: It's probably not the dryer

(Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
If you're like many folks, you might have received a gift of socks over the holidays. Interested in knowing how to make sure none of them go missing? We have a very scientific look into where missing socks go. 4:54

Chances are, it's happened to you.

You threw your clothes in the laundry. 

You knew your socks were all in pairs because you'd just finished wearing them on both feet.

But as soon as they came out of the dryer, you noticed your favourite black wool sock was missing its partner.

Like you, I used to suffer through sock tragedy after sock tragedy, believing that accumulating partner-less socks and making late night visits to the drug store because I was suddenly out of matching pairs was simply a burden of the human condition.

But something happened last year that changed everything. 

Socks for life

After dropping $125 on five pairs of socks that came with a lifetime guarantee, the CBC's Heather Kitching went to extremes to keep those socks together. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

It began in the spring. 

My heel had just torn clean through the bottom of my cheap, cotton, grocery store-bought sock.

I was fed up with low-quality foot-coverings — when suddenly, I saw a sign in a shop window:  "Merino wool socks.  Lifetime guarantee."

"Lifetime guarantee!" I thought.  "I just have to have those socks!"

And $125 plus tax later, I had five pairs.

But if was going to get my money's worth on $25 socks, those socks were going to have to stay with me.

For life.

That meant, I was going to have to guard against those other sock tragedies, such as "lone sock disappearance." 

That meant, I needed to understand how it happens. 

Dryer not guilty

One dryer repair expert contacted by the CBC said dryers occasionally swallow socks or other small items of clothing if the lint filter is missing or improperly placed or if the area around the filter has become worn. However, he said, this preventable clothing accident doesn't happen often enough to account for the global epidemic of missing socks. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

My investigation began with the prime suspect: the dryer.

I wanted to know how often repair people open them up and find partially-digested socks.

"It happens occasionally. … a couple times a year," said Art Staal of General Appliance Centre in Thunder Bay, Ont. Staal has been repairing dryers for more than 30 years. 

"A customer calls,  dryer's very noisy.  What happens is something's got past the lint filter.  … which means someone left the lint filter out or loose or up."

But this totally preventable clothing accident doesn't happen often enough to account for the global epidemic of sock disappearance, Staal told me.

So if not the dryer, then who or what was responsible for the missing socks?

I decided to survey some sock-owners at Frank's Laundromat on Algoma Street to see if they had any ideas.  

Sock owners speak out

Sock-owners at Frank's laundromat in Thunder Bay, Ont., blame sock disappearance on everything from the washing machine to "gremlins." (Heather Kitching/CBC)

"It's called little gremlins that usually come by and grab them out of the dryer machine," Marco Deschatelets speculated.

"It sticks in the washer," said Marueen Cheeseman.  "You find them always."

"Maybe I forgot to pick it off the floor and wash it," said Mike Coutts, with a laugh.  

Their theories were interesting, but I needed facts, and for that, I needed the scientific method.  

I launched an experiment using my five pairs of socks.   

Every week for six months, I inventoried those socks before placing them in the washing machine.   

I inventoried them again before transferring them to the dryer, and again coming out of the dryer.

If at any point the inventory didn't check out, the process was halted and a search for the missing sock was commenced. 

Most of the time, the sock was safely located somewhere in the washer or dryer, but sometimes the search was far more epic.

Crisis hits

Heather Kitching's friend, Paul Jorgenson, located her missing socks under the futon in his spare room and texted her this photo so that she could positively identify them. (Paul Jorgenson)

On Nov. 25, 2017, I found myself pacing around the frozen ground outside the laundromat desperately trying to find black socks #5 and #6.   

They'd gone missing as a pair before even arriving at the laundromat.

Had they fallen out of the basket en route?

I went home and tore my house apart, searching every place I'd learned to look for missing socks. Nothing.

Then I remembered something:  I'd taken the socks to Ottawa with me the previous weekend in my carry-on baggage.  

"They could've fallen out anywhere!" I realized.

I was beside myself with despair at the thought of my cherished, very expensive socks lying abandoned under a seat on an Air Canada jet or tossed aside on the floor at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport — or worse, living out their unlimited lifespan in a landfill someplace, having already been efficiently scooped up by maintenance crews.

I filed a missing sock report with Air Canada's lost and found department, praying that an airline might find something.

I also texted the friend I'd stayed with in Ottawa to see if he'd come across them.

Several painstaking hours later, that friend called me back.

"I went and kind of looked around my place," Paul Jorgenson said, his voice like a chorus of angels on the other end of the line.

"And then under the futon in the spare room, uh, lo and behold, I found socks #5 and #6."

I nearly wept with joy at the news.

Socks #5 and #6 were on their way home, safely in the hands of a traceable packaged delivery service.


I've been conducting this experiment for more than six months now, and I'm pleased to be able to share my findings.

Here's where to look for those missing socks: 

  • stuck to other items of laundry 
  • in the trunk of the car 
  • behind furniture 
  • under the chest of drawers because the drawer overflowed out the back
  • left behind at the laundromat 
  • anywhere you might have travelled with them

All of this brings me to my conclusion:  the true cause of sock disappearance is human error.


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