Solving the missing sock mystery

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One of the great modern mysteries is one that plagues almost every household: the missing sock in the dryer.

The blogosphere is rampant with theories of gremlins and sock monsters hiding deep inside the dryer. They strike at random, eating one of your socks just to aggravate the heck out of you. Or there's a magical portal that opens up in your dryer. A sock jumps in and is sent to sock heaven.

Some have even given it a name: Missing Sock Syndrome.

The real explanation is not nearly as interesting, but can hit even those who work in the appliance industry.

Just last month, Audrey Reed-Granger, spokeswoman for the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science, came face to face with the sock monster.

A mother of two children, ages 4 years and 14 months, she said her washing machine suddenly stopped working. A message on the front panel indicated a problem with the pump. She turned to her colleagues for advice.

Washing baby socks? They knew immediately what had happened. One of the tiny socks had slipped between the drum of the machine and the wash basket and was trapped in the pump. She took off the front panel, removed the sock and the washer was good to go.

"I talk about this issue all the time in my job," she joked. "I'm like the cobbler's daughter who has no shoes."

That situation also is one of three ways that socks go missing, Ms. Reed-Granger explained.

Reason No. 1: The sock never makes it to the washing machine in the first place. "They're small. A family member may have dropped one behind the hamper. One might be under the bed."

Reason No. 2: A person overloads the washing machine (very common) and the smaller pieces of clothing like socks can slip into the inside of the machine. So again, they haven't even made it to the dryer.

Reason No. 3: Once a sock makes it to the dryer, static cling may paste it the inside of a shirt sleeve or pants leg or the underside of a T-shirt. It's often not discovered until several days later.

So, no gremlins or monsters or magical portals.

A relatively new product aims to prevent Missing Sock Syndrome. The Sock Cop, plastic clips that clip two socks together, was invented in 2004 by Tampa police officer Rich O'Connor after his wife became frustrated with constantly losing socks. The couple has four children.

He began tinkering in the garage and came up with the idea. The clips can withstand temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Reed-Granger of the Institute of Fashion Science said the temperatures of most dryers range between 112 to 154 degrees.

Squeeze the clip open to attach it to a pair of socks then throw it into the wash. The couple suggests people keep the clip on when socks are taken out of the dryer to keep them organized in drawers.

The retail price is $8.99 and includes 20 clips in multi-colors per package. The company Web site and the Container Store packages include five each of red, blue, green and yellow clips and Bed Bath and Beyond's package includes 10 black and 10 white.

In this reporter's household of three children, we use safety pins to keep socks together, although they sometimes get tangled in the stretchy material.

But since we've started using them, we've never lost a sock to the sock monster.

Virginia Linn can be reached at or 412-263-1662.


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