Understanding the Idiom: "come out in the wash" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we communicate with others, we often use idioms to convey our message more effectively. An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning. The idiom “come out in the wash” is one such example. It’s an interesting and commonly used idiom that can be confusing for non-native English speakers.

The Origin of the Idiom

The origin of this idiom is not entirely clear. However, it’s believed to have originated from washing clothes by hand before washing machines were invented. When people washed their clothes by hand, they would often notice stains or dirt on them that didn’t come off immediately. But after several rounds of washing and rinsing, those stains eventually came out in the final rinse cycle.

The Meaning and Usage

The phrase “come out in the wash” means that something will become clear or resolved over time without any additional effort required. In other words, if there are any hidden issues or problems related to a particular situation or decision made earlier, they will eventually reveal themselves naturally without any intervention.

This idiom is commonly used when someone faces a difficult situation where they’re unsure about how things will turn out but remain hopeful that everything will work itself out eventually. For instance: “I’m not sure if I should invest my money in stocks right now; however, I believe everything will come out in the wash.”

To summarize, understanding idioms like “come out in the wash” can help improve your communication skills and help you better understand native English speakers. So, the next time you hear this idiom, don’t get confused; instead, use it in your everyday conversations to sound more fluent!

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “come out in the wash”

The origins and historical context of idioms are often shrouded in mystery, but they can provide valuable insights into the culture and language of a particular time period. The idiom “come out in the wash” is no exception.

While there is no definitive answer as to when or where this phrase originated, it likely has its roots in laundry practices from centuries ago. Before modern washing machines, clothes were washed by hand using water, soap, and a washboard. After scrubbing the clothes clean, they would be rinsed with water before being hung up to dry.

During this process, it was not uncommon for stains or dirt to go unnoticed until after the clothes had been hung up to dry. However, once they were dry, any remaining stains or dirt would become more visible and could be easily removed with a brush or another round of washing.

Over time, this concept became associated with other situations where problems may not be immediately apparent but will eventually become clear and can be resolved. This led to the development of the idiom “come out in the wash,” which means that something will ultimately work itself out or become clear over time.

In modern times, this idiom is still commonly used in English-speaking countries around the world. Its origins may have been humble laundry practices from centuries ago but its meaning remains relevant today as a reminder that sometimes problems simply need time to resolve themselves.

To summarize briefly: while we cannot pinpoint exactly when or where “come out in the wash” first appeared in our lexicon; it’s likely tied back to old-fashioned laundry methods where stains might only show up after drying – yet could still be remedied through further cleaning efforts. Today we use this expression figuratively whenever we want to convey that an issue will eventually sort itself out given enough time!

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “come out in the wash”

The idiom “come out in the wash” is a common expression used to describe how certain things will eventually be resolved or become clear over time. This phrase can be used in various situations, such as when discussing a problem that seems unsolvable at first glance or when talking about an issue that requires patience and time to resolve.

Variations of the Idiom

While “come out in the wash” is the most commonly used form of this idiom, there are variations that have similar meanings. For example, some people may say “sort themselves out” instead of “come out in the wash.” Others might use phrases like “work themselves out,” “resolve themselves,” or even simply say that something will eventually become clear.

Usage Examples

Situation Example Usage
A difficult problem “I know this situation seems impossible right now, but I’m sure it will come out in the wash eventually.”
An unclear situation “I don’t understand what’s going on yet, but I’m confident that everything will sort itself out soon.”
A complex issue requiring patience and time “We just need to give it some time. It might take a while for things to work themselves out, but they will eventually.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “come out in the wash”


One synonym for “come out in the wash” is “be resolved.” This suggests that a problem or issue will eventually be worked out or solved over time. Another synonym is “be sorted,” which implies that things will be organized or put into order.


An antonym for “come out in the wash” might be “remain unresolved.” This indicates that a problem or issue may not ever be fully resolved or addressed. Another antonym could be “get worse,” suggesting that instead of improving over time, a situation may deteriorate further.

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “come out in the wash” has roots in laundry terminology – when clothes are washed, any stains or dirt will eventually come out after being washed multiple times. This metaphorical use of laundry imagery is common across many cultures and languages. For example, in Spanish there is an expression: “el tiempo lo cura todo” (time heals everything), which conveys a similar idea of patience and waiting for things to work themselves out.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “come out in the wash”

In order to fully grasp and utilize the idiom “come out in the wash,” it is important to practice using it in different contexts. The following exercises will help you become more comfortable with incorporating this phrase into your everyday conversations.

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

Find a partner and engage in a conversation where you use the idiom “come out in the wash” at least three times. Try to use it in different ways, such as expressing confidence that a problem will be resolved or acknowledging that something may need further examination before its true nature is revealed.


Person A: I’m worried about my car’s engine. It’s making strange noises.

Person B: Don’t worry, sometimes these things come out in the wash. You should take it to a mechanic just to be safe though.

Exercise 2: Writing Practice

Write a short story or paragraph where you incorporate the idiom “come out in the wash.” Make sure that its usage fits naturally within your writing and accurately conveys its intended meaning.


As soon as Sarah saw her daughter’s muddy clothes, she knew there had been an adventure. She asked what happened but was met with silence from her daughter. Sarah smiled knowingly, confident that whatever secrets were being kept would come out in the wash eventually.

  • Exercise 3: Listening Practice
  • Listen to a podcast or watch a TV show where someone uses the idiom “come out in the wash.” Pay attention to how they use it and try to identify any nuances or variations of meaning based on context.

By practicing these exercises regularly, you’ll gain greater familiarity with using this idiomatic expression effectively and confidently!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “come out in the wash”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meanings and usage. The idiom “come out in the wash” is a common expression used to describe how things will eventually work themselves out or become clear over time. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

One mistake is using the idiom too early or prematurely. It is important to wait for all of the facts and information to come to light before assuming that everything will work itself out. Jumping to conclusions can lead to misunderstandings and confusion.

Another mistake is using the idiom in inappropriate situations. While “come out in the wash” may be appropriate for minor issues or misunderstandings, it may not be suitable for more serious situations such as legal disputes or medical diagnoses.

A third mistake is misusing the tense of the verb “come”. The correct form of this idiom uses present tense (“comes”) rather than past tense (“came”). Using past tense can change the meaning of the phrase and cause confusion.


  1. come out in the wash”, in Collins English Dictionary.; see alsoit will all come out in the wash”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1996–present
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