What does the idiom "come clean" mean?

The expression come clean is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the come clean idiom.

Meaning of "come clean"


The phrase ‘come clean’ is used to refer to when someone is being honest and confessing the truth. It is commonly used when someone has been caught in a wrong-doing and is trying to make amends by confessing, or when someone wants to reveal something that is otherwise hidden.


The phrase ‘come clean’ is thought to have originated in the late 1800s, although its exact origin is unknown. It is thought to be derived from the phrase ‘to come clean of

  • one’s
sins’ which was used in sermons in the same period. An alternative theory suggests that the phrase may have been derived from the phrase ‘come clean with’ which was used in the 1700s in reference to an obligation to settle a debt.


The phrase ‘come clean’ is generally used in casual conversation, typically when someone is trying to make amends and be honest about their actions. It is often used in the context of a confession or an apology. It is also used when someone wants to reveal something that was previously hidden. It can be used as a request for someone to be honest and open, or as an accusation if one suspects someone of being dishonest.

Example Sentences

  • I know you've been lying about your whereabouts, so come clean and tell me the truth!
  • If you want to make things right, you'll have to come clean about what really happened.
  • I need you to come clean with me about what happened at the party last night.

The meanings of the words in the "come clean" idiom

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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