an act or instance of making clean: Give the house a good cleaning.
Slang. an overwhelming or complete defeat, financial loss, or failure: Our team took a cleaning in yesterday's game.
Informal. killing(def 3).

Nearby words

  1. clean-shaven,
  2. clean-tech,
  3. clean-up,
  4. cleanability,
  5. cleaner,
  6. cleaning lady,
  7. cleaning woman,
  8. cleanliness,
  9. cleanliness is next to godliness,
  10. cleanly

Origin of cleaning

First recorded in 1655–75; clean + -ing1

Related formsself-clean·ing, adjective



adjective, clean·er, clean·est.

free from dirt; unsoiled; unstained: She bathed and put on a clean dress.
free from foreign or extraneous matter: clean sand.
free from pollution; unadulterated; pure: clean air; clean water.
habitually free of dirt: Cats are considered clean animals.
characterized by a fresh, wholesome quality: the clean smell of pine.
free from all writing or marking: a clean sheet of paper.
having few or no corrections; easily readable: The publisher demanded clean proofs from the printer.
free from roughness or irregularity: He made a clean cut with a razor.
not ornate; gracefully spare; forceful and simple; trim; streamlined: a clean literary style; the clean lines of a ship.
complete; unqualified: a clean break with tradition.
morally pure; innocent; upright; honorable: to lead a clean life.
showing good sportsmanship; fair: a clean fighter.
inoffensive in language or content; without obscenity.
(of a document, record, etc.) bearing no marks of discreditable or unlawful conduct; listing no offenses: a clean driver's license.
  1. innocent of any crime.
  2. not having a criminal record.
  3. carrying or containing no evidence of unlawful activity or intent, as controlled substances, unlicensed weapons, or contraband: The agents searched the car for drugs, but it was clean.
  4. not using narcotics.
(of a nuclear weapon) producing little or no radioactive fallout.
not radioactive.
(of a document or financial instrument) free from qualifications or restrictions: a clean bill of lading.
free from defects or flaws: a clean diamond.
free from encumbrances or obstructions.
neatly or evenly made or proportioned; shapely; trim: a clean profile.
made without any unanticipated difficulty or interference: The bank robbers made a clean getaway.
Chiefly Biblical. having no physical or moral blemish or carrying no taboo so as to make impure according to the laws, especially the dietary or ceremonial laws: a clean animal; clean persons.
dexterously performed; adroit: a clean serve in tennis.
(of a jump over an obstacle) made without touching the obstacle.
Slang. having no direct associations, business interests, etc., that could prejudice one's official acts or decisions: The new governor is clean because he's sold his construction business and doesn't owe political favors to anyone.
Slang. without money or funds.
(of wine) having a taste that is unusually refreshing and smooth.
Nautical. (of an anchorage, harbor, etc.) free of obstructions or hazards (opposed to foul).
(of the legs of a horse) free from injury or blemish, as capped hocks, splints, or scars.
Foreign Exchange. (of currency floats) not influenced by exchange-rate manipulation (opposed to dirty).

adverb, clean·er, clean·est.

in a clean manner; cleanly: Nobody wants to box with him because he doesn't fight clean.
so as to be clean: This shirt will never wash clean.
Informal. wholly; completely; quite: The sharp carving knife sliced clean through the roast. In a year, he had gone clean through his inheritance.

verb (used with object)

to make clean: Clean those dirty shoes.
to remove or consume the contents of; empty; clear: She sat down to dinner ravenous and within five minutes had cleaned her plate.
to dry-clean.
to remove the entrails and other inedible parts from (poultry, fish, etc.); dress.
Slang. to take away or win all or almost all the money or possessions of (often followed by out): The cards were marked and I got cleaned.
Metallurgy. to remove the seams from (a casting) by filing or grinding.
Philately. to delete intentionally the cancellation from (a postage or revenue stamp).

verb (used without object)

to perform or undergo a process of cleaning: This kind of fabric cleans easily. Detergents clean better than most soaps.
to get rid of dirt, soil, etc. (often followed by up): to spend the morning cleaning.

Verb Phrases

clean out,
  1. to empty in order to straighten or clean.
  2. to use up; exhaust: He had cleaned out his savings.
  3. drive out by force.
  4. to empty or rid (a place) of occupants, contents, etc.: Eager customers cleaned out the store on the first day of the sale. The thief cleaned out the safe.
  5. cause to lose all or almost all one's money or possessions.
clean up,
  1. to wash or tidy up.
  2. to rid of undesirable persons or features: They cleaned up the local bars.
  3. to put an end to; finish: to clean up yesterday's chores.
  4. make a large profit: They cleaned up in the stock market.

Origin of clean

before 900; Middle English clene, Old English clǣne pure, clear, cognate with Old High German kleini (German klein small)

Related forms
Can be confusedclean cleanse (see synonym study at the current entry)cleanliness cleanness

Synonym study

1. Clean, clear, pure refer to freedom from soiling, flaw, stain, or mixture. Clean refers especially to freedom from soiling: a clean shirt. Clear refers particularly to freedom from flaw or blemish: a clear pane of glass. Pure refers especially to freedom from mixture or stain: a pure metal; not diluted but pure and full strength. 35. Clean, cleanse refer to removing dirt or impurities. To clean is the general word with no implication of method or means: to clean windows, a kitchen, streets. Cleanse is especially used of thorough cleaning by chemical or other technical process; figuratively it applies to moral or spiritual purification: to cleanse parts of machinery; to cleanse one's soul of guilt. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cleaning

British Dictionary definitions for cleaning



without dirt or other impurities; unsoiled
without anything in it or on ita clean page
recently washed; fresh
without extraneous or foreign materials
without defect, difficulties, or problemsa clean test flight
  1. (of a nuclear weapon) producing little or no radioactive fallout or contamination
  2. uncontaminatedCompare dirty (def. 11)
(of a wound, etc) having no pus or other sign of infection
pure; morally sound
without objectionable language or obscenitya clean joke
(of printer's proofs, etc) relatively free from errors; easily readableclean copy
thorough or completea clean break
dexterous or adroita clean throw
sport played fairly and without fouls
simple in designa ship's clean lines
aeronautics causing little turbulence; streamlined
(of an aircraft) having no projections, such as rockets, flaps, etc, into the airstream
honourable or respectable
habitually neat
(esp of a driving licence) showing or having no record of offences
  1. innocent; not guilty
  2. not carrying illegal drugs, weapons, etc
nautical (of a vessel)
  1. having its bottom clean
  2. having a satisfactory bill of health
Old Testament
  1. (of persons) free from ceremonial defilement
  2. (of animals, birds, and fish) lawful to eat
New Testament morally and spiritually pure
clean sweep See sweep (def. 33)


to make or become free of dirt, filth, etcthe stove cleans easily
(tr) to remove in making cleanto clean marks off the wall
(tr) to prepare (fish, poultry, etc) for cookingto clean a chicken


in a clean way; cleanly
not standard (intensifier)clean forgotten; clean dead
clean bowled cricket bowled by a ball that breaks the wicket without hitting the batsman or his bat
come clean informal to make a revelation or confession


the act or an instance of cleaninghe gave his shoes a clean

Derived Formscleanable, adjectivecleanness, noun

Word Origin for clean

Old English clǣne; related to Old Frisian klēne small, neat, Old High German kleini

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cleaning
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with cleaning


In addition to the idioms beginning with clean

  • clean as a whistle
  • clean bill of health
  • clean breast
  • clean hands, have
  • clean house
  • cleanliness is next to godliness
  • clean out
  • clean slate
  • clean someone's clock
  • clean sweep
  • clean up

also see:

  • come clean
  • have a clear (clean) conscience
  • keep one's nose clean
  • make a clean breast of
  • make a clean sweep
  • new broom sweeps clean
  • take to the cleaners
  • wipe the slate clean
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.