Are there any difference in the meaning between do/wash the dishes?

Are they used in different situations or are they synonyms?

For example 'mountain hiking' would not say 'hiking mountain' ...

This question was asked by a friend, and I don't know either,

English isn't my mother tongue, so if somebody knows it, please help me.

  • 2
    Probably a good fit for our sister Website ell.stackexchange.com – Noah Sep 23 '13 at 9:19
  • Have a look books.google.com/ngrams/… – mplungjan Sep 23 '13 at 9:50
  • 1
    What has "mountain hiking" got to do with "do the dishes"? – Andrew Leach Sep 23 '13 at 9:53
  • What is the "DISHES", is it the plates, or washing away the dishes (or foods)? – Matt Gutting Aug 22 '14 at 17:14
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    @Noah - I actually think this is a little more complex than ELL. – RyeɃreḁd Aug 22 '14 at 17:23

While the previous answers are correct in stating that you can use 'do', 'wash' and 'clean' interchangeably, I would argue that 'do' is a lot more informal. 'Do' used in this way is a little bit slangy. For example 'I'm going to get my hair done', or "We're going to a do at the Town Hall'. Note how in the latter example 'do' is used as a noun to mean 'party/event', and is very colloquial.

Oi Pete, can you do the dishes? [informal]

Excuse me Peter, would you be so kind as to wash the dishes? [formal]


Yes, they mean the same thing, and the choice between them is a matter of personal style.

  • I agree, they both mean the same thing, and I would use them interchangeably. But it is probably true that in some regions one is preferred and in other regions the other is preferred. – GEdgar Sep 23 '13 at 17:25
  • If you ask someone to wash the dishes would they dry them or put them away? – RyeɃreḁd Aug 22 '14 at 17:24
  • It depends on who you live with. – Barrie England Aug 22 '14 at 19:08

Can you please _ the dishes?




all of the above

Often in English there are many ways to express something. IN the example above you can use any of the words "do", "wash" or "clean" to talk about the dishes.


In the context of family life "doing" the dishes implies that you will deal with the dishes. This may mean any (or more likely all) of the following:

  • rinsing and putting dishes in the dishwasher. It may also imply putting the dishes away after dishwasher is done. But that is two hours later, I am a male, and any grey area is a negative to me.
  • washing the dishes, drying the dishes, and putting them away.
  • putting away already cleaned dishes

Now washing the dishes means that you scrub the dishes with a pad, soap, and water. This means something different to me. If I told someone to wash the dishes I wouldn't want them loading the dishwasher either.

So if you tell someone to "do the dishes" you are giving them free reign to deal with the dishes but you are also implying they have more tasks than simply wash the dishes.

If you tell someone to wash the dishes, they might comment back, "OK but you are drying."

  • Is it a matter of (in)formality or the process of cleaning (as in "doing" we 'wash', 'dry' and 'put the dishes away')? – A-friend Aug 18 '19 at 11:07

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