Definition of wash in English:

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Pronunciation: /wɒʃ/


1 [with object] Clean with water and, typically, soap or detergent: Auntie Lou had washed all their clothes he washed down the woodwork in the kitchen
More example sentences
  • The only way I have found to get my spectacles really clean is to wash them in soap and warm water.
  • I lathered up and washed myself with honeysuckle-scented soap.
  • The plaintiffs had it cleaned and washed down on two occasions to get concrete and efflorescence off the walls.
clean, cleanse, sponge, scrub, wipe, scour
literary lave
clean, cleanse, sponge, scrub, mop, hose down, squeegee, sluice (down), swill (down), douse, swab (down), flush, disinfect
launder, clean, rinse (out);
literary lave
shampoo, lather, clean
1.1 [no object] Clean oneself with soap and water: he reached for the soap and began to wash
More example sentences
  • They were told to wash with soap and water and were sent home.
  • I really feel in this day and age, everyone should be able to drink and wash in clean water.
  • She lathered her hands up with the rose smelling soap and began to wash.
clean oneself, have a wash, wash oneself;
bathe, bath, shower, have a bath/shower, take a bath/shower, soak, douche, freshen up;
North American  wash up
formal or humorous perform one's ablutions
dated make one's toilet
1.2(With reference to a stain or dirt) remove or be removed by cleaning with water and detergent: [with object and adverbial]: they have to keep washing the mould off the walls figurative all that hate can’t wash away the guilt [no object, with adverbial]: the dirt on his clothes would easily wash out
More example sentences
  • Time has worn it down and dirt has been washed away, but stains persist.
  • In time, by coming clean, he may eventually wash some of the dirt off himself.
  • For example, enzymes in laundry detergents break down dirt and stains so that they may be easily washed away, even in cold water.
remove by washing, sponge off, scrub off, wipe off, rinse off, remove, flush out/away, expunge, eradicate
1.3 [no object, with adverbial] (Of fabric, a garment, or dye) withstand cleaning to a specified degree without shrinking or fading: a linen-mix yarn which washes well
1.4 [no object] Do one’s laundry: I need someone to cook and wash for me
More example sentences
  • One night I was in the laundry room reading and washing and Karen came in with a basket of clothes.
  • For the first time in their lives I am cooking, washing and taking them to swimming at 5 o' clock in the morning every single day rather than once in a while.
  • What do you do when you're not ironing, washing, cooking, and taking the children to and from school?
1.5 literary Wet or moisten (something) thoroughly: you are beautiful with your face washed with rain
More example sentences
  • A sunny, rain washed morning on the cusp between summer and autumn is pretty close to heaven in my book, and a wonderful, crispy-clean way to start the day.
  • Ministers and officers were sitting at a long table in the conference hall, a dull rain sorrowfully washing large windows.
  • Relief finally came three weeks later when nearly an inch of rain fell, washing the city and stabilizing the ash.
2 [with object and adverbial of direction] (Of flowing water) carry (someone or something) in a particular direction: floods washed away the bridges
More example sentences
  • Eighteen people were missing after flood waters washed a bus off a national highway on Thursday.
  • While trying to swim across to safety six of them were washed away by strong water current.
  • After rain, for example, it was relatively easy to find obsidian as the sand that covered it was washed away by the water.
sweep, carry, convey, transport, move, deliver, deposit, drive
erode, abrade, wear away, corrode, eat away, eat into, denude, grind down, undermine
2.1 [no object, with adverbial of direction] Be carried by flowing water: an oil slick washed up on the beaches
More example sentences
  • Disturbed by the impact of continual foot traffic, easily erodable soil washes away.
  • One forestry official pointed out that mountain forests were essential to prevent soil washing down the steep slopes in heavy rains.
  • For years there has been a problem with whales washing onto beaches.
2.2 [no object, with adverbial of direction] (Especially of waves) sweep or splash in a particular direction: the sea began to wash along the decks
More example sentences
  • The waves gently washed ashore, splashing on the rocks.
  • After several attempts and with large waves washing through the lifeboat, Crewman Rogers managed to bring three people over the bow.
  • In Thailand, 30-foot waves washed ashore in the resort area of Phuket.
splash, lap, splosh, dash, break, beat, strike, sweep, move, surge, ripple, roll, flow
literary plash, lave
2.3 [with object] (Of a river, sea, or lake) flow through or lap against (a country, coast, etc.): offshore islands washed by warm blue seas
More example sentences
  • The Atlantic Ocean washes Spain's north coast, the far northwest corner adjacent to Portugal, and the far southwestern zone between the Portuguese border and the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • The Gulf Stream stopped washing the shores of northern Europe with the warm waters of the Caribbean thirteen years ago.
  • For warm-water swimming you have to take a trip to the eastern coast, which is washed by the Indian Ocean, half an hour or so away.
2.4 [with object] Sift metallic particles from (earth or gravel) by running water through it: the sand has been churned and washed by miners
3 [with object] Brush with a thin coat of dilute paint or ink: the walls were washed with shades of umber
More example sentences
  • The outside was washed in red paint, which was chipping due to age and weather conditions.
paint, colour, apply paint to, tint, highlight, shade, dye, stain, distemper;
coat, cover
3.1 (wash something with) Coat inferior metal with (a film of gold or silver from a solution): copper washed with silver
plate, cover, coat, overlay, laminate, veneer, glaze, gild, silver
4 [no object, with negative] informal Seem convincing or genuine: charm won’t wash with this crew
be accepted, be acceptable, be plausible, be convincing, hold up, hold water, stand up, bear scrutiny, stand the test of time, be believable/credible, pass muster, prove true, make sense
informal stick


1 [usually in singular] An act of washing something or an instance of being washed: her hair needs a wash
More example sentences
  • Today I got up, used the toilet, had a wash, cleaned my teeth and ate my breakfast.
  • Give that girl a bath, or at the very least a hair wash, some elocution lessons and the imagination to ask questions beyond the banal.
  • They were very dirty and needed a good wash, the blankets.
clean, cleaning, cleansing;
shower, douche, dip, bath, soak
formal or humorous ablutions
rare lavation
1.1A quantity of clothes needing to be or just having been washed: she hung out her Tuesday wash
More example sentences
  • She kept picking my clean sports clothes out of the wash.
  • Kathryn was cackling happily as she dropped Olivia's purple sock into the wash with her brother's white underclothes.
  • I am ‘punished’ for not doing the wash by having only dirty clothes to wear.
laundry, washing;
dirty washing, dirty clothes, soiled linen
British dated bagwash
2 [in singular] The water or air disturbed by a moving boat or aircraft: the wash of a smart motor boat
More example sentences
  • Another went racing across the wash of the boat, its sail and sickle shaped tail leaving no doubt as to its identity.
  • Stand aft to look down on the wake frothing up from the propeller wash.
  • When we land near water, the wash from the blades moves them around like floating logs.
backwash, backflow, wake, trail, train, path;
churning, disturbance
2.1The breaking of waves on a shore: the wash of waves on the pebbled beach
More example sentences
  • Above him, sea birds wheeled and called and although he couldn't see a beach, he could hear the gentle wash of waves on the shore.
  • But there is a Caribbean calm, intense in the tropical sun, and the sedative wash of the waves.
  • The seafront rooms hear a constant wash of incoming waves, but for most people this becomes a sleeping pill in the end.
surge, flow, swell, welling, sweep, undulation, rise and fall, ebb and flow, roll, splash
3 (the Wash) An inlet of the North Sea on the east coast of England between Norfolk and Lincolnshire.
4 [mass noun] A medicinal or cleansing solution applied to the skin: citrus-scented body wash
More example sentences
  • Tired of traipsing around the globe with shampoo, body wash, face cleanser, and 1,200 other grooming products?
  • Shampoo, toothpaste and body wash contain harmful toxins too.
  • The range includes body wash and deodorant in addition to eau de toilette.
lotion, salve, application, preparation, rinse, liquid, liniment, embrocation, emulsion
5A layer of paint or metal spread thinly on a surface: the walls were covered with a pale lemon wash
More example sentences
  • Her variegated surfaces may be opaque or layered as transparent washes, glazed or scraped, scumbled, wiped down or sanded.
  • The moon hung in the sky nearly full, spreading a luminous wash across the pale landscape.
  • Both cabinets are made of sycamore entirely ebonized, and the panels are painted with washes of brown and amber, so that the golden color of the close-grained wood shows through.
paint, stain, varnish, coat, layer, film, overlay
6 [mass noun] Silt or gravel carried by a stream or river and deposited as sediment.
6.1 [count noun] A sandbank exposed only at low tide.
7 [mass noun] Kitchen slops and other food waste fed to pigs.
8 [mass noun] Malt fermenting in preparation for distillation.
Example sentences
  • Here they found three stills, two still heads and two worms, with five barrels of wash ready for distillation, and a quantity of yeast.
9 [in singular] North American informal A situation or result that is of no benefit to either of two opposing sides: the plan’s impact on jobs would be a wash, creating as many as it costs
More example sentences
  • If the matchup problems he creates can offset the matchup liabilities he endures on defense, he could play many opposing centers to a wash or better.
  • Together, the two films and DVD presentations cancel each other out, resulting in a wash for a recommendation.
  • However, I think we have a ways to go in terms of convincing actuaries that in fact e-mail is at worst a wash and probably a benefit.



come out in the wash

informal Be resolved eventually with no lasting harm: he’s not happy but he assures me it’ll all come out in the wash
More example sentences
  • I was hoping to wait until we saw each other, or to see if he got in touch with me at all - childish I know, but hey ho, we are good friends anyway, so it will all come out in the wash.
  • If governments act as they should, and everything else as it should, the market will take care of itself and everything will come out in the wash.
  • It'll all come out in the wash, as my Gran used to say.

in the wash

(Of clothes, bed linen, or similar) put aside for washing or in the process of being washed: the sweater has shrunk a little in the wash
More example sentences
  • I spilled water on my shirt, and all my clothes are in the wash.
  • I kept forgetting to put my clothes in the wash, so this morning when I got up, I realized that I had no clean gym clothes.
  • I threw my clothes in the wash and then went for another shower.

wash one's dirty linen (or laundry) in public

informal Discuss one’s personal affairs in public.
Example sentences
  • There is a terrible pressure within the community to close ranks, not to be seen in public, washing one's dirty linen in public.
  • There are people who do believe we should not wash our dirty linen in public, but we don't agree.
  • I take your point about their relative ease in front of the camera, but then these are people who like, and are used to, living their lives and washing their dirty linen in public.

wash one's hands

Go to the toilet (used euphemistically).

wash one's hands of

Disclaim responsibility for: the social services washed their hands of his daughter
Originally with biblical allusion to Matt. 27:24
More example sentences
  • Like some libertarian Pontius Pilate, he washed his hands of any responsibility, skillfully uncoupling the role of the executive from execution.
  • It was a show they had virtually washed their hands of and abandoned, but one which they didn't actually realise was, in itself, a sensation.
  • By this time the American representatives of the governing body had washed their hands of all responsibility and even stopped attending board meetings.
disown, disclaim, renounce, reject, abjure, forswear, disavow, have nothing to do with, have done with, be finished/through with, give up on, turn one's back on, cast aside, end relations with, abandon;
Law  disaffirm

wash one's mouth out (with soap and water)

[often as imperative] Stop swearing.
Example sentences
  • Your mom may have once threatened to wash your mouth out with soap.
  • Both sides, whilst washing their mouths out with soap, may still ponder the title.
  • You people should go wash your mouths out.

Phrasal verbs


wash something down

Accompany or follow food with a drink: bacon and eggs washed down with a cup of tea
More example sentences
  • Hundreds of sausages and burgers were washed down with pints of guest ale and resident brews.
  • Here, hearty staples can be washed down with a selection of moderately priced wines.
  • He seemed both tired and restless by the time the meal was washed down with a cupful of water.

wash out (or wash someone out)

North American Be excluded (or exclude someone) from a course or position after a failure to meet the required standards: a lot of them had washed out of pilot training
More example sentences
  • Paperwork was initiated to declare him unstable, a misfit, and wash him out of military service with a Section-8 discharge as ‘unsuitable for military service.’
  • However, the commander told me that I had not soloed in ten hours and he was going to wash me out.
  • People were trying to wash him out, and it's lit a fire under him.

wash something out

1Cause an event to be postponed or cancelled because of rain: their match against Australia was washed out
More example sentences
  • England's only realistic hope of avoiding defeat lay with the weather and their prayers were answered as Sunday's first two sessions were washed out by rain.
  • Play started just an hour late after the previous two days had been washed out by heavy rain and a waterlogged outfield.
  • The two semi final matches were washed out by rain and according to the rules the finalists were decided on the net run rate.
2(Of a flood or downpour) make a breach in a road: the water washed out three highways
More example sentences
  • A mile or so of the road had been washed out by a flood in 1995, and the agency had decided to keep it closed, saying that construction would hasten erosion and threaten the river's dwindling population of bull trout.
  • She said the entire island, which is about 14 miles wide, by the way, is covered in about four feet of water, that the ferries aren't running and all their roads are washed out.
  • A woman in labour was air-lifted from Ruatahuna to Rotorua Hospital, while about 30 people are cut off from civilisation in Ruatoki after access roads were washed out.

wash up

1 (also wash something up) chiefly British Clean crockery and cutlery after use: I cook for him, but he must wash up wash up the teacups
More example sentences
  • I can't think of a better way to end a moving day - food and booze, and not having to wash up afterwards.
  • Forget about buying the food, cooking the dinner, washing up or organising the New Year party - just relax and concentrate on spending time with your loved ones.
  • He finished crunching up his toast and absent-mindedly washed the plate up, putting it back in the cupboard with the others.
wash the dishes, wash the crockery, do the dishes, do the washing-up
clean, rinse, do, scrub, scour
2North American Clean one’s hands and face: supper’s about done—go wash up
More example sentences
  • The men cleaned their boots off, washed up, and everyone sat down to supper.
  • I think I will go wash up, but I have clean clothes, soap, and a towel.
  • Okay, let me wash up and change into a clean shirt and we'll take off.

wash over

(Of a feeling) affect (someone) suddenly: a deep feeling of sadness washed over her
More example sentences
  • As the plane touched down, the fatigue and stress suddenly washed over me and I nearly burst into tears.
  • Suddenly Selena felt a wave of sadness washing over her.
  • I bit my lower lip as if a moment of clarity had suddenly washed over me and I realized what I had just agreed to.
affect, rush over/through, thrill through, race over, surge through, course through, flood over, flow over, sweep over, flutter through
5.1Occur all around without greatly affecting (someone): she allowed the babble of conversation to wash over her
More example sentences
  • Other times, I'll just sit there, letting the conversation wash over me, convinced that I have nothing useful or interesting to add.
  • So I decided to let the intense clamour of conversation wash over me and enjoy it.
  • For the rest of the journey Mary allowed the conversation to wash over her and she finally felt normal.


Old English wæscan (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wassen, German waschen, also to water.

  • An Old English word that is related to water. Someone who is washed up is no longer effective or successful—they are like something thrown up on to a beach. The first example of the expression, from the 1920s in the USA, states that it is stage slang. Similarly ineffective or disappointing is a wash-out, recorded from around 1900, which in RAF slang was specifically a person who failed a training course. To wash your hands is a euphemism for going to the lavatory—a male equivalent of powdering your nose, used since the 1930s. To wash your hands of, or disclaim responsibility for, is a biblical allusion to the Gospel of Matthew. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea who presided at the trial of Jesus, was unwilling to authorize his crucifixion, but saw that the crowd were intent on his death. ‘He [Pilate] took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.’

Words that rhyme with wash

awash, Bosch, bosh, brioche, cloche, cohosh, cosh, dosh, Foch, galosh, gosh, josh, mosh, nosh, posh, quash, slosh, splosh, squash, swash, tosh

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: wash

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