$36 million lottery winner in the US destroys ticket in washing machine

Lottery ticket.
The woman bought her ticket in California last year before putting it in her pants pocket - then the unthinkable happened. Photo credit: Getty Images

A US woman who won a US$26 million (NZ$36m) lottery prize has potentially put all her winnings down the drain after her ticket was destroyed in the washing machine.

The woman, who has yet to be identified, bought her ticket in California last year before putting it in her pants pocket, the Whittier Daily News reported. 

Then the unthinkable happened - she went to a laundromat and put those pants through the washing machine, destroying the ticket.

Bobby Henley, a regular customer at the service station where the lottery ticket was purchased, said a colleague of the woman told him about how the incident unfolded. 

"Her clothes were washed and when she pulled it out, it was all crumpled up into little pieces and she said she frantically tried to put it back together, but she couldn't," Henley told local news station CBS 2. 

Service station employees told CBS the woman returned to the service station last week and explained her ticket had been lost in the laundry.

The store has since passed on security footage to local lottery officials to try and prove her purchase - but it won't be enough. Cathy Johnston, a spokeswoman for California Lottery, told CNN punters either need to have either a photocopy or a photograph of the front and back of the ticket as proof of purchase. 

Johnston said the woman needed to speak with lottery officials directly to try and solve the issue, but she's yet to make contact with them.

"If she did, we will investigate as we always do," Johnston told CNN. "If she did not, there is nothing to investigate and no more we can do."

If the winnings remain unclaimed, they'll be distributed to public schools in California.