Swedish Language Blog

Washing and rinsing in Swedish Posted by on Jul 22, 2016 in Swedish Language, Vocabulary


When we talk about washing something in English, it can mean various things in various contexts. For example, we use the word wash when we’re talking about washing clothes or washing dishes, or when you’re in the kitchen, washing the vegetables. You wash your hair and wash the car.

Well, in Swedish, there are a few different words for washing with important differences.


Tvätta is the word we use when we’re talking about washing something with a lot of water and soap. For example, we can tvätta kläder “wash clothes”, tvätta bilen “wash the car”, and tvätta håret “wash one’s hair”. We can even simply tvätta, in which case we might say Jag ska tvätta imorgon, “I’m going to do laundry tomorrow”.

So far, tvätta sounds like the basic equivalent to the English “wash”. But this doesn’t give the whole picture. For instance, you never tvättar tallrikarna “wash the plates” – in that specific case, we use diska:


Diska is the word we use when we want to talk about washing dishes or other supplies for cooking and eating. We can diska besticken “wash the silverware/cutlery”, diska ett glas åt Emilia “wash a glass for Emilia”, or just diska “wash the dishes” (UK “do the washing-up”). You would never tvätta besticken or tvätta ett glas – that just doesn’t make sense in Swedish!

To say that you use diska when washing “supplies for cooking and eating” is to be a bit vague; for instance, you can’t diska ett äpple “wash an apple”! You can’t really tvätta ett äpple with tvätta either, unless it’s the very rare occasion in which you might use soap. (Does anyone do that?)

No – when washing food items or anything else with just plain water, we usually use the word skölja:


Skölja is the word we use when we talk about washing off fruit or vegetables when we get home from the grocery store. We generally don’t use soap, so skölja is easily summarized in the English equivalent “rinse”! We can also use skölja in other situations in which we would say “rinse” in English.

The key difference here is that tvätta and diska involve soap, while skölja does not. Between tvätta and diska, diska involves dishes, whereas tvätta is used when washing anything else with soap.


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About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.


  1. Anna Smith:

    Hej Stephen

    It would, for me, as a newcomer to Swedish, be helpful if you could indicate pronunciation. For example, is ‘skölja’ pronounced ‘sherlya’? TIA!

  2. Yhandros:

    And what about cleaning something without water?