[wosh-ing, waw-shing]


Origin of washing

First recorded in 1175–1225, washing is from the Middle English word wasschunge. See wash, -ing1


[wosh, wawsh]

verb (used with object)

to apply water or some other liquid to (something or someone) for the purpose of cleansing; cleanse by dipping, rubbing, or scrubbing in water or some other liquid.
to remove (dirt, stains, paint, or any matter) by or as by the action of water (usually followed by out, off, etc.): to wash grime out of clothing.
to free from spiritual defilement or from sin, guilt, etc.: to be washed whiter than the snow.
to bathe, wet, or moisten with water or other liquid: a meadow newly washed with morning dew.
to flow through, over, or against: a shore or cliff washed by waves.
to carry, bring, remove, or deposit (something) by means of water or any liquid, or as the water or liquid does (often followed by up, down, or along): The storm washed the boat up on the shore. A sailor was washed overboard.
to wear or diminish, as water does by flowing over or against a surface (often followed by out or away): The rain had washed away the lettering on the stone.
(of water) to form by flowing over and eroding a surface: The flood had washed a new channel through the bottom lands.
  1. to subject (earth or ore) to the action or force of water in order to separate valuable material.
  2. to separate (valuable material) in this way.
to purify (a gas or gaseous mixture) by passage through or over a liquid.
to cover with a watery or thin coat of color.
to overlay with a thin coat or deposit of metal: to wash brass with gold.

verb (used without object)

to wash oneself: After using the insecticide spray they washed completely.
to wash clothes: Monday is the day we wash.
to cleanse anything with or in water or other liquid.
to undergo washing without injury, especially shrinking or fading: fabrics guaranteed to wash.
Informal. to be found true, valid, or real when tested or closely scrutinized; stand being put to the proof: His honesty won't wash.
to be carried or driven by water (often followed by along or ashore): The boat had washed ashore in the night.
to flow or beat with a lapping sound, as waves on a shore.
to move along in or as in waves, or with a rushing movement, as water.
to be eroded, as by a stream or by rainfall: a hillside that washes frequently.
to be removed by the action of water (often followed by away): Much of the topsoil washes away each spring.


the act or process of washing with water or other liquid: to give the car a wash.
a quantity of clothes, linens, etc., washed, or to be washed, at one time: a heavy wash.
a liquid with which something is washed, wetted, colored, overspread, etc.: She gave the room a wash of pale blue.
the flow, sweep, dash, or breaking of water: The wash of the waves had drenched us.
the sound made by this: listening to the wash of the Atlantic.
water moving along in waves or with a rushing movement: the wash of the incoming tide.
the rough or broken water left behind a moving ship, boat, etc.; wake: The little boats tossed about in the wash from the liner's propellers.
Aeronautics. the disturbance in the air left behind by a moving airplane or any of its parts: wing wash.
any of various liquids for grooming or cosmetic purposes: a hair wash.
a lotion or other liquid having medicinal properties, as an antiseptic solution or the like (often used in combination): to apply wash to a skinned knee; mouthwash; eyewash.
Mining. minerals from which valuable material can be extracted by washing.
the wearing away of the shore by breaking waves.
a tract of land washed by the action of the sea or a river.
a marsh, fen, or bog.
a small stream or shallow pool.
a shallow arm of the sea or a shallow part of a river.
a depression or channel formed by flowing water.
Geology. alluvial matter transferred and deposited by flowing water.
Also called dry wash. Western U.S. the dry bed of an intermittent stream.
a broad, thin layer of color applied by a continuous movement of the brush, as in water-color painting.
Also called watershed, weathering. Architecture.
  1. an upper surface so inclined as to shed rain water from a building.
  2. any member of a building having such a surface.
Metalworking. Also washing. a thin coat of metal applied in liquid form: a gold wash.
waste liquid matter, refuse, food, etc., from the kitchen, as for hogs; swill (often used in combination): hogwash.
washy or weak liquor or liquid food.
the fermented wort from which the spirit is extracted in distilling.
Informal. an action that yields neither gain nor loss: The company's financial position is a wash compared with last year.


capable of being washed without shrinking, fading, etc.; washable: a wash dress.

Verb Phrases

wash down,
  1. to clean completely by washing: to wash down a car.
  2. to facilitate the swallowing of (food or medicine) by drinking water or other liquid: to wash down a meal with a glass of wine.
wash out,
  1. to be removed by washing: The stain wouldn't wash out.
  2. to damage or demolish by the action of water: The embankment was washed out by the storm.
  3. Informal.to fail to qualify or continue; be eliminated: to wash out of graduate school.
  4. to become dim, indistinct, or blurred: The face of the watch washes out in sunlight.
wash up,
  1. to wash one's face and hands: Aren't you going to wash up? Dinner is almost ready.
  2. to wash (dishes, flatware, pots, etc.): I'll wash up the dishes, don't bother. We had someone in to wash up after the party.
  3. to end, especially ignominiously (usually in the passive): After that performance, he's all washed up as a singer.

Origin of wash

before 900; Middle English washen (v.), Old English wascan (cognate with Dutch wasschen, German waschen, Old Norse vaska) < Germanic *watskan, equivalent to *wat- (root of water) + *-sk- v. suffix + *-an infinitive suffix
Related formspre·wash, noun, verb (used with object)re·wash, verbun·der·wash, verbwell-washed, adjective

Synonyms for wash

1. clean, lave, rinse, launder, mop, swab. 4. bedew. 5. bathe. 24. ablution, cleansing, bathing. 37. swamp, morass.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for washing

Contemporary Examples of washing

Historical Examples of washing

  • If there is any washing necessary, he is content to do it after the meal.

  • They want to get into the garage; they insist on washing the car.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • It was washing all the color out of the picture, and leaving it a dirty gray.

  • I will do the washing this time, mother, for it is the greatest of delights to me.

    The Dream

    Emile Zola

  • When I went there, the place was full of people who would have been much better for a washing.

    American Notes

    Rudyard Kipling

British Dictionary definitions for washing



articles that have been or are to be washed together on a single occasion
liquid in which an article has been washed
something, such as gold dust or metal ore, that has been obtained by washing
a thin coat of something applied in liquid form



the Wash a shallow inlet of the North Sea on the E coast of England, between Lincolnshire and Norfolk



to apply water or other liquid, usually with soap, to (oneself, clothes, etc) in order to cleanse
(tr; often foll by away, from, off, etc) to remove by the application of water or other liquid and usually soapshe washed the dirt from her clothes
(intr) to be capable of being washed without damage or loss of colour
(of an animal such as a cat) to cleanse (itself or another animal) by licking
(tr) to cleanse from pollution or defilement
(tr) to make wet or moist
(often foll by away, etc) to move or be moved by waterthe flood washed away the bridge
(esp of waves) to flow or sweep against or over (a surface or object), often with a lapping sound
to form by erosion or be erodedthe stream washed a ravine in the hill
(tr) to apply a thin coating of paint, metal, etc, to
(tr) to separate (ore, precious stones, etc) from (gravel, earth, or sand) by immersion in water
(intr; usually used with a negative) informal, mainly British to admit of testing or proofyour excuses won't wash with me this time
wash one's hands
  1. euphemisticto go to the lavatory
  2. (usually foll by of)to refuse to have anything more to do (with)


the act or process of washing; ablution
a quantity of articles washed together
a preparation or thin liquid used as a coating or in washinga thin wash of paint; a hair wash
  1. any medicinal or soothing lotion for application to a part of the body
  2. (in combination)an eyewash
the flow of water, esp waves, against a surface, or the sound made by such a flow
  1. the technique of making wash drawings
  2. See wash drawing
the erosion of soil by the action of flowing water
a mass of alluvial material transported and deposited by flowing water
land that is habitually washed by tidal or river waters
the disturbance in the air or water produced at the rear of an aircraft, boat, or other moving object
gravel, earth, etc, from which valuable minerals may be washed
waste liquid matter or liquid refuse, esp as fed to pigs; swill
an alcoholic liquid resembling strong beer, resulting from the fermentation of wort in the production of whisky
come out in the wash informal to become known or apparent in the course of time

Word Origin for wash

Old English wæscan, waxan; related to Old High German wascan; see water
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 washing



late Old English wæsc "act of washing" (see wash (v.)). Meaning "clothes set aside to be washed" is attested from 1789; meaning "thin coat of paint" is recorded from 1690s; sense of "land alternately covered and exposed by the sea" is recorded from mid-15c.



Old English wascan, wæscan, from Proto-Germanic *watskanan (cf. Old Norse vaska, Middle Dutch wasscen, Dutch wassen, German waschen), from stem *wat-, the source of water. Related: Washed; washing. Used mainly of clothes in Old English (the principal verb for washing the body, dishes, etc. being þwean). Washed-out "faded" is from 1837. Washed up is 1923 theater slang, from notion of washing up at the end of a job.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for washing




To cleanse, using water or other liquid, usually with soap, detergent, or bleach, by immersing, dipping, rubbing, or scrubbing.
To make moist or wet.


The act or process of cleansing or washing.
A solution used to cleanse or bathe a part.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with washing


In addition to the idioms beginning with wash

  • wash down
  • washed out
  • washed up
  • wash one's dirty linen in public
  • wash one's hands of
  • wash out
  • wash up

also see:

  • come out in the wash
  • won't wash
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.