What does the idiom "wash sb's hands of sb" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does wash sb's hands of sb mean? In what situations is wash sb's hands of sb used?

Meaning of "wash sb's hands of sb"


The phrase “wash one’s hands of” is an idiom that has been in use for centuries, but its meaning has evolved over time. It originally meant to absolve or forgive someone for their transgressions. Today, however, it more commonly refers to refusing to be involved in a particular situation or person’s troubles. It essentially means to distance oneself from any responsibility for the situation or person.


The phrase has its roots in ancient Roman law, which was a form of legal absolution that allowed a person to be freed from any legal obligation or responsibility. Essentially, a person would literally wash their hands of the matter. The idiom is first recorded in English in the 1620s, and is still used to this day.


This idiom can be used in any situation where someone wants to distance themselves from a particular person or situation. It is often used in a figurative sense, as it can indicate that a person is no longer willing to be involved with a situation or person, or that they want to remain neutral.

Example Sentences

  • When the scandal broke, Joe decided to wash his hands of the whole affair.
  • I have decided to wash my hands of the situation and let the parties involved sort out the mess for themselves.
  • I'm afraid I can't help you any further; I've washed my hands of this issue and you'll have to take it from here.
  • The company decided to wash its hands of the dispute, leaving the two sides to resolve the issue on their own.

The meanings of the words in the "wash sb's hands of sb" 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.


No comment has been written about wash sb's hands of sb yet, you can write the first comment and share your thoughts with our other visitors.
Leave a Reply