Cleanup vs. clean up

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When you need a term meaning (1) to make clean or orderly, or (2) to make oneself clean, use clean up—two words. In American and Canadian English, the one-word cleanup is a noun referring to (1) a thorough cleaning or (2) the act or process of cleaning. It may also function as an adjective in phrases like cleanup crew and cleanup hitter. British writers typically use the hyphenated form—clean-up—instead. Australian and New Zealand publications are inconsistent on the matter.


For example, these American and Canadian publications use cleanup as a noun and adjective:

This is a fund that finances the cleanup of mines that were in operation before Congress passed federal mining laws in 1977. [Wall Street Journal]

And for critics, the industry’s bold cleanup plans give little cause for reassurance. [Globe and Mail]

As tornado cleanup continues in Joplin, Missouri, graphic artists in St. Louis are lending their talents to the effort. [CNN]

British publications prefer clean-up for these purposes—for example:

The clean-up even had to be halted yesterday after a rise in radiation. [Mirror]

The clean-up operation was under way on Monday. [BBC]

And all use clean up when a verb is needed—for example:

The Government has announced new rules and extra funding to clean up the country’s most contaminated sites. [Timaru Herald]

UK scientists say lab-grown “meat” would slash emissions and help clean up the planet. [National Review]

Taxpayers have had to stump up almost £24,000 to clean up the mess after an unofficial royal wedding party turned violent. [Scottish Daily Record]