verb (used with object), scrubbed, scrub·bing.

verb (used without object), scrubbed, scrub·bing.

to cleanse something by hard rubbing.
to cleanse one's hands and arms as a preparation to performing or assisting in surgery (often followed by up).


Origin of scrub

1300–50; Middle English scrobben (noun) < Middle Dutch schrobben
Related formsscrub·ba·ble, adjectivenon·scrub·ba·ble, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for scrubbing

washing, wash, scrub, cleaning, cleansing

Examples from the Web for scrubbing

Contemporary Examples of scrubbing

Historical Examples of scrubbing

  • Pop was putting away the dishes, and Jud was scrubbing out the sink.

  • Bill was scrubbing the porch, and a farmhand was gathering bottles from the grass into a box.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Even when fresh from a scrubbing, his hands were not entirely clean.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • Pansy Murphy was scrubbing out the office when he came down for breakfast.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • The grime was perpetually renewed; scrubbing only ground it in.

    Alice Adams

    Booth Tarkington

British Dictionary definitions for scrubbing



verb scrubs, scrubbing or scrubbed

to rub (a surface) hard, with or as if with a brush, soap, and water, in order to clean it
to remove (dirt), esp by rubbing with a brush and water
(intr foll by up) (of a surgeon) to wash the hands and arms thoroughly before operating
(tr) to purify (a vapour or gas) by removing impurities
(tr) informal to delete or cancel
(intr) horse racing slang (of jockeys) to urge a horse forwards by moving the arms and whip rhythmically forwards and backwards alongside its neck


the act of or an instance of scrubbing
See also scrub round

Word Origin for scrub

C14: from Middle Low German schrubben, or Middle Dutch schrobben




  1. vegetation consisting of stunted trees, bushes, and other plants growing in an arid area
  2. (as modifier)scrub vegetation
an area of arid land covered with such vegetation
  1. an animal of inferior breeding or condition
  2. (as modifier)a scrub bull
a small or insignificant person
anything stunted or inferior
sport, US and Canadian a player not in the first team
the scrub Australian informal a remote place, esp one where contact with people can be avoided


small, stunted, or inferior
sport, US and Canadian
  1. (of a player) not in the first team
  2. (of a team) composed of such players
  3. (of a contest) between scratch or incomplete teams

Word Origin for scrub

C16: variation of shrub 1
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 scrubbing



"rub hard," early 15c., earlier shrubben (c.1300), perhaps from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German schrubben "to scrub," or from an unrecorded Old English cognate, or from a Scandinavian source (cf. Danish skrubbe "to scrub"), probably ultimately from the Proto-Germanic root of shrub, used as a cleaning tool (cf. the evolution of broom, brush (n.1)).

Meaning "to cancel" is attested from 1828 (popularized during World War II with reference to flights), probably from notion of "to rub out, erase" an entry on a listing. Related: Scrubbed; scrubbing.



late 14c., "low, stunted tree," variant of shrobbe (see shrub), perhaps influenced by a Scandinavian word (cf. Danish dialectal skrub "a stunted tree, brushwood"). Collective sense "brush, shrubs" is attested from 1805. As an adjective from 1710. Scrub oak recorded from 1766.

Transferred sense of "mean, insignificant fellow" is from 1580s; U.S. sports meaning "athlete not on the varsity team" is recorded from 1892, probably from this, but cf. scrub "hard-working servant, drudge" (1709), perhaps from influence of scrub (v.).



"act of scrubbing," 1620s, from scrub (v.). Meaning "thing that is used in scrubbing" is from 1680s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper