Cleanup or Clean Up – What’s the Difference?

Cleanup and clean up are confusing to many writers. After all, the only difference between them is a space. Luckily, there is an easy way to tell the difference between them.

The difference between the two is actually quite large; they are not even the same part of speech. Continue reading to learn more about these words.

What is the Difference Between Cleanup and Clean Up?

In this article, I will compare cleanup vs. clean up. I will use each of these spellings in example sentences, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will allow you to choose either cleanup or clean up correctly every time.

When to Use Cleanup

Definition of clean up definition and definition of cleanup definitionWhat does cleanup mean? Cleanup can be a noun or an adjective.

As a noun, cleanup refers to a job involving making something tidy.

For example,

  • “We need a cleanup on aisle seven!” said the cashier over the intercom.
  • Four hundred workers participated in this year’s river cleanup, and removed trash along a two-mile stretch.

As an adjective, cleanup describes such a job. In baseball, the cleanup hitter is also the fourth batter in the lineup.

I have included some example sentences below,

  • Ben Zobrist bats cleanup for the Chicago Cubs, even though Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are more notorious power hitters.
  • The cleanup crew made the store look shiny and new each night while there were few customers inside.
  • In the fourth inning against Tanaka, though, the cleanup hitter Mitch Moreland drilled a hanging slider for his seventh homer. –The New York Times

While cleanup is more common as an adjective and a noun, sometimes it appears as a hyphenated clean-up. Some spellchecks flag this as an error, so it’s probably best to stick with the single word cleanup.

When to Use Clean Up

Define clean up and define cleanupWhat does clean up mean? In contrast to the compound cleanup, clean up is a verb phrase. It means to make something tidy.

For example,

  • “Why do I keep you people around if not to clean up my messes?” asked the frustrated and messy king.
  • Jerry, please clean up your room before I get home, or we will not be able to get cheeseburgers tonight.
  • It is the second time in less than five years Airbus has sought outside help to clean up its internal processes after fraud allegations surfaced. –The Wall Street Journal

Some writers mistakenly use clean up as an adjective or a noun. That usage, however, is considered nonstandard.

As you can see from the charts below, cleanup is more popular than clean up or the hyphenated clean-up as an adjective or a noun.

clean-up or cleanup

cleanup versus clean up

Conversely, if we look only at the verb form to clean up, we can see that the opposite it true.

what is a clean up

This last chart looks at clean up vs. cleanup and clean-up only as a verb, and, as you can see, clean up is restricted in its function to a verb.

Trick to Remember

It can be difficult to remember which spelling is which, and many writers have mistakenly used one instead of the other in the last 200 years, even in published works.

  • Cleanup is a noun or an adjective.
  • Clean up is a verb phrase.

Since clean up is two separate words, and the word clean is also a verb, the meanings of the separate words in this phrase are your clue to the correct usage of the phrase itself.

Also, the two-word clean up as a verb follows the same rules as other one word, two word constructions like setup/set up and checkup/check up.


Is it cleanup or clean up? Despite being separated by a single space, these two terms are not interchangeable: the compound version is never a verb, and the phrase is only ever a verb.

  • Clean up is a verb phrase that means to make something tidy.
  • Cleanup is a noun or an adjective that describe the act of making something tidy.