How to Solve the Mystery of the Missing Sock

This story is part of Try ThisCNET’s collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

It seems like it happens every time we do laundry. We go to put away all of the socks, only to find a few stragglers without a match in sight. What happened to the missing socks? Did they never make it to the washer? Were they abducted by the sock monster? Are they lost for good?

There are innumerable potential culprits and danger zones. Children, pets and messy roommates (ahem, partners) increase the risk of single sock desertions, as does being in a rush or traveling longer distances to the machines. Even failing to take a couple extra seconds to look around when doing laundry can prove catastrophic to sock matrimony.

To learn sock-saving tips, I spoke with friends and colleagues to find out how socks get separated from their mates and to learn strategies that prevent sock loss. Most of these methods require just a few minor tweaks to the average laundry process. While no single tactic is foolproof, one of them will most likely work for you if you have a determined mindset.

For more tips, here’s how to wash your car without water, fall asleep with a simple five-minute task and keep mold from growing in your washer.

Where do all the single socks go?

First, let’s run through a list of where we may have lost individual socks.

  • They’re stuck inside clothes and shoes: Socks get stuffed in shoes and stranded inside pant legs, especially tighter-fitting clothing like leggings.
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  • They’re scattered in or around the bed: Single socks frequently end up smooshed in sheets or blankets or underneath the bed collecting dust bunnies, especially if you shed your foot warmers in the middle of the night.
  • They missed the hamper: Socks love to hide next to the hamper, behind it or deep at the bottom where you can’t see.
  • They got lost during the trip to or from the laundry room: Lone socks jump ship during the first transfer point on laundry day. Even if they make it into the laundry basket, they can fall out along the way. If you wash your clothes at a public laundromat, there are even more escape routes like elevators, sidewalks, cars.
  • They’re stranded in or around the washer or dryer: Socks abandon their matches during the laundry process itself — sometimes lying helplessly on the floor next to the machines. Often they’re fixed to the washing machine tub or caught in the dryer drum.
  • They’re trapped inside other clean laundry: The biggest culprit here is fitted sheets.
  • They became your pet’s toy: Some dogs just really love chewing on socks, even when there are plenty of plastic bones and squeak toys around.

And those aren’t all the places to look. Single socks end up inside gym bags and under layers and radiators. Got kids? Also look in toy bins, backpacks and practically anywhere they play outdoors.

an array of flying white socks against a blue background

You could always just get 20 pairs of the same style and color.

James Martin/CNET

How to avoid losing just one sock

To guard against losing individual socks, here are six strategies.

Strategy 1: Keep the sock pairs together

The goal here is to make sure dirty pairs always go into the hamper together. Never toss in just one sock — that’s a recipe for failure.

You can secure matching socks with a safety pin or clip, or by rolling them up, before throwing them in the dirty clothes bin. This method is effective but potentially time-consuming if you need to unroll or unfasten the matches before they go in the washer and the dryer.

You could also follow my dad’s technique, which has prevented him from losing single socks since at least the 1980s. He uses “sock locks,” plastic-ring doodads that are machine-safe and keep socks paired in the washer and the dryer. After my dad removes his dirty socks, he slides the pair through the plastic ring and throws them in the hamper. The “sock lock” stays on throughout the entire laundry cycle, and the clean pair ends up back in his drawer — all without sorting or separating.

Strategy 2: Separate the socks from other laundry

Single socks get tangled up in clothing and bedding before, during or after the laundry process. One way to avoid this is to always keep your socks separate from other items. Some people keep a second hamper or laundry bag just for socks.

Here’s what I do: Along with the socks, I separate out smaller items such as underwear and washable undergarments right before throwing them in the wash, and I make sure they all stay together in the dryer, too. Doing an independent load with only these smaller items can prevent socks from getting trapped in larger things such as fitted sheets and pillowcases.

Strategy 3: Keep the socks separate and in a mesh bag

With this method, wash and dry socks in a laundry net or mesh bag (often used for lingerie or items that get easily snarled). If you’re someone who already separates lights from darks before you wash, setting apart your socks and undergarments should be relatively painless.

Strategy 4: Maintain a sock orphanage

Every time you find a single sock, put it aside in a bag, box or separate drawer. That way if its partner appears in the next load of laundry, they can be reunited. It may take months for socks to reconcile, so check periodically. Some long-term loners might have a happy life transitioning into a dust rag, shoe buffer or hand puppet (for CNET’s Scott Stein, it’s a travel case for a handheld gaming console).

Strategy 5: Buy multiple pairs of the same style and color of socks

If you’ve resigned to the fact that socks will get lost, buy ones that are similar or identical so that singles always have a match. The downside is that your feet will be just a little less interesting if all your socks are alike.

Strategy 6: Embrace the chaos of mismatched socks

If lost socks are inevitable in your household no matter what you do, go rogue. First, start pairing up socks that are a tad similar. Then trust the boldness of clashing. Pretty soon you’ll learn to accept that some socks were just never cut out for monogamy in the first place.

For more tips, here’s how to cut a cake without a knife, put an end to junk mail and start a fire with Doritos.

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