I am having great difficulty to figure out which word fits best in the following examples.
Do reinigen, sauber machen and säubern fit here as a translation for to clean?

I need to clean my room.
They have cleaned their street from trash.

  • 1
    Saubermachen/sauber machen und säubern sind bedeutungsgleich. Säubern klingt »offizieller«.
    – Janka
    Feb 13, 2018 at 21:09
  • @Janka Do you think they fit here?Or putzen fits better? Feb 13, 2018 at 21:24
  • 1
    Putzen is manual work. If you wrote someone Sie putzen die Straße., it means the are making it clean with brooms and mops. Usually done right before the Unser Dorf soll schöner werden jury arrives.
    – Janka
    Feb 13, 2018 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


In general, all these words have the same meaning and you can use them interchangeably. You'd use any of the words when you clean something. A room, the floor, clothes, a wound, the streets, a house, your fingernails. I consider one of the words slightly more formal, because it's commonly used for any kind of professional cleaning; but it's not formal per se. More about this in a minute.

Here are a few examples:

Sauber machen is pretty informal and used when cleaning, for example, your room or your clothes.

Mach deine Schuhe sauber.
Ich muss noch (mein Zimmer) sauber machen.

Putzen is a common synonym in both cases.

Putz deine Schuhe.
Ich muss noch (mein Zimmer) putzen.

To me, using putzen might connote the use of water or a cleaning agent (Putzmittel). So, when putzen your room, you might do it with water, but when just sauber machen your room, it might just be removing the chaos.

Reinigen could be used in these cases, too. But it's slightly more formal to my mind. Your room service in a hotel will reinigen your room. The laundry service will reinigen your clothes.

Mein Zimmer wurde noch nicht gereinigt.
Ich muss meine Kleidung reinigen lassen.

The noun Reinigung describes the place where you go to let you clothes clean. The noun Straßenreinigung describes the street cleaning.

Still, even for professional cleaning, you can always go with the informal terms.

Mein Zimmer wurde noch nicht geputzt/sauber gemacht.
Ich muss meine Kleidung sauber machen/säubern lassen.

Säubern is more informal, again. I guess I'd use it most likely with clothes or wounds; though, the other words are fine again.

Ich sollte die Wunde säubern/sauber machen/reinigen.

To sum up, you can basically you any of the words when cleaning something. If you clean yourself or your hands, the best word choice, however, is probably waschen. And though, you could use any of the terms above again.

Wasch deine Hände.
Mach dir die Hände sauber.
Putz deine Hände.
Reinige deine Hände.

  • "sauber" as an adjective describes the according object, "Der Raum ist sauber". In the case of "sauber", it's a volatile property of the room, thus it describes the (current) state of the room.
  • "machen" describes the creation/making/execution/establishment of something that needs to be specified. Example: "Ich mache jetzt eine Bewegung" (You could also say "Ich bewege mich"). In this case you are going to establish your movement. So, "machen" means that the executor starts a process which culminates in the result, that the exceutor did what he specified: He started what he specified (the "Bewegung"/movement) and after he did, it is truth to say he did it. So applying the demonstrated concept to "sauber": "Ich mache den Raum sauber." means i start the process to do what I specified. I specified that the state of the room will be "sauber", so I do that. (As you can see in this example you could use "machen" for varIous examples and it's easy to use. That's why kids learn the word "machen" very early. But it's also why you would use it less as an adult: It conveys the impression that you are not very precise and also speak very simple [like a kid]).
  • "säubern" is a short form in this case for "sauber machen", you could also say "Ich wässere die Blumen", "Ich räume auf". But as you can see, the inflecion is harder / maybe irregular and not as easy to learn. Thus this is commonly the prestige way to say.
  • "reinigen" is a short form for "rein machen". So we need to compare "rein" to "sauber" ("rein" describes the state of an object as also said for "sauber" above). "Rein" means that the object that is "rein" is pure / without external things that you wouldn't consider is essential to the described object. "Sauber" is similar but is used in slightly different context, often impling more implications and is thus slightly different So, "sauber" also relates to aesthethics (and maybe functionality) . E.g. you would say "Er hat eine saubere Handschrift" (aesthethics), "Er hat saubere Hände" (thus he can eat with them, no health risk - functionality) - you wouldn't use "reinigen" here. So you could say "reinigen" is the more sober/austere/more abstract /formal word which implies less than "säubern".
  • Because the other answer mentioned "waschen". Just think about "waschen" like "säubern mit Wasser". If you want futher explanation, just write a comment :).

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