Is there a difference between "rinse" and "wash" in sentences like this:

Following the staining, the sections were washed twice with deionized water, then dehydrated using ethanol solutions of incrementally increasing concentration (70%, 80%, 96%), cleared using a xylene substitute, embedded in the mounting medium and coverslipped.

Can we use "rinsed" freely in the place of "wash" here, or are there nuances of meaning?

I know the difference between the two verbs in non-specialized English, but I'd like to know if there's a difference in a biotech procedure context.

Google Ngram search gives the following for "sections were washed, sections were rinsed":

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    $\begingroup$ I think they mean the same it is only the usage of different terms. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Aug 6, 2016 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris - thank you! Iooks like "wash" wins out. $\endgroup$ Aug 6, 2016 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ My chemistry lab teacher told us the difference between rinsing and washing before explaining titration. According to what she told, rinse - just cleaning from the outside wash - thorough cleaning from outside as well as inside Another difference was that rinsing was done using water(only), whereas washing included cleaning with HCl also. $\endgroup$
    – Vatsal
    Sep 24, 2019 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


This is a very interesting question and it's kind of strange there doesn't seem to be any literature on it. One would expect those to have been carefully studied by the designers of automated microtechnique equipment such as tissue processors and slide stainers.

I own a fair amount of literature on microtechnique, ranging from the end of the 19th century up to the 1980's. I went trough some of those briefly this morning, but I couldn't find a definition for "dip", "rinse" or "wash" or their German, French, Dutch equivalents (And there are a lot more of those, such as "drain", "agitate", "flood", ...).

The problem is even more complicated than it looks alread, as, very often those terms are acompanied by an adjective adding even more confusion, such as "quick/slow dip", "brief rinse", "thorough wash" etc.

I suppose (but that's only speculation on my part) those therms being undefined has to do with the fact that, in microtechique there are that many variables involved, that it's often next to impossible to achieve reasonable results without esoteric stuff such as "technicians experience" coming into play. That's defenitly the case in the field of for example staining technique, when "the classics", such as Masson, Mallory/Heidenhain's AZAN, Van Gieson etc... need to be used.

But not only in that field: If you do some reading in mailing lists such as the Histonet Listserver, you'll notice that messages, questions etc. on "inadequate processing schedule", "reprocessing inadequatly paraffin infiltrated brain/heart/liver/pancreas/... tissue", "bubelled nuclei and an unidentified artefact", "Feulgen stain doesn't work!" are fairly common occurences. Regardless of how expensive the equipment, regardless of however wel reviewed the protocols, regardless of however strict the quality control.

The only -brief- definition of "dip", "rinse" and "wash" I know of and I can remember, is in the book I have, but I can't find for the moment (you'll always see it...):

Smith, A., Bruton, J.: "A colour Atlas of Histological Staining Technique", ? th edition, 1977, ISBN: 07234 0721 5 Publisher: Wolfe Medical Publications Ltd, UK.

Perhaps you'll get any further, starting from there.

O, and while probably pointing out the obvious: dip is shorter than rinse is shorter than wash.


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