What is the difference between "clean" and "clear"?


verb [with object]

make clean; remove dirt, marks, or stains from: clean your teeth properly after meals I cleaned up my room (as noun cleaning) Anne will help with the cleaning


make or become clear, in particular:

[with object] remove an obstruction or unwanted item or items from: the drive had been cleared of snow Carolyn cleared the table and washed up

Why does one clean teeth, but clear the drive? How to decide which one to use?


5 Answers 5


You can think of it this way: something that is cleared can still be dirty.

For example, if the floor is cluttered with things such as toys and papers and whatnot, you can clear the floor by removing everything from the room. However, all those things probably left dirt or stains about. Next, you would have to clean the floor to remove those.

  • and when it comes to system folders/files? should I clean/clear the folder?
    – FiruzzZ
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 13:35

I think that you normally use the verb "clean" to talk about removing dirt, stains and similar things from objects or surfaces; as you correctly said, "clear" indicates the removal of objects or obstructions; for example, if you say:

I've cleaned the table

you're stating that the table was dirty before, and now it has been polished; if on the contrary you say:

I've cleared the table

you are stating that it was encumbered with materials (it does not matter whether wanted or unwanted), which made it difficult to use it.


Clear means to remove stuff from something. For instance:

I cleared the counter.

This implies that the counter had stuff on it. This cannot be used in place of cleaned when it refers to making less dirty.

I cleaned the counter.

This is typically used to show making less dirty. However it can also be used to mean cleared, however it cannot go both ways in this instance.


Also they can be used to present status.

1) Clean: Assume a cop is examining a suspect for possessing illegal arms but nothing was found. Then he would report to his boss as:

"He is clean boss."

2) Clear: In army generally, "all clear" is used to tell the status of a secured site.

"All clear, Go Go Go!!! or

"Sector Clear, team B move ahead."


Clear and clean are basically defined by what is being cleared or cleaned, and how.

To "clear" a table is to remove "large" objects from it, such as plates, silverware, napkins, etc., basically things that can be picked up with a hand.

To "clean" a table is to remove "small" objects such as dust, food particles, crumbs, sauce, etc., for which you need a rag and some soap.

A tooth is a small object, and things that are removed from it are "cleaned."

A drive is a large (hand holdable) object, and things are "cleared" from it.

A room can be "cleared" of large objects such as furniture. Or "cleaned" if the reference is to dust, dirt, papers, etc.

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