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Out, Damned Spot!

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He'd scrubbed and scrubbed, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually he'd gone down to the dungeons and borrowed one of the torturer's wire brushes, and scrubbed and scrubbed with that, too. That had no effect, either. It made it worse. The harder he scrubbed, the more blood there was. He was afraid he might go mad...

Consumed by guilt, a killer tries to wash away the blood they know is on their hands, but they can't, no matter how much they scrub. This can extend to obsessively trying to clean away imagined bloodstain, or other evidence, when there is no physical trace of the crime left. Can overlap with Shower of Angst.

Please note that examples of this trope need not always involve literal washing. Quite often, in fact, it is manifested in any general sense of feeling "dirty."

As the name comes from William Shakespeare, this is Older Than Steam at the very least.

This is an example of Truth in Television: the New York Times published a study showing that some people wash their hands when they have feelings of guilt.

Compare with Brain Bleach, which is used to scrub away unpleasant mental images instead of guilt. Compare also with Terrible Ticking, where the guilty person hears something symbolic of their guilt. Can be one of numerous tics that result from a Sympathetic Murder Backstory... or not so sympathetic. Sometimes accompanied by a Madness Mantra or a Guilt-Induced Nightmare. See also Must Make Amends, Blood Is Squicker in Water. Often part of a Dark and Troubled Past. Contrast These Hands Have Killed, which tends to be a more temporary reaction.


Not to be confused with really annoying TV spots that you wish would go away. It's not about that obnoxious dog you don't want to have indoors either.

WARNING: This trope quite literally concerns flesh and blood, so possible Squick ahead.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, Reiner Braun is so crushed with guilt over his actions as The Mole that he begins suffering from bouts of self-inflicted Trauma-Induced Amnesia, creating a sanitized version of his identity and memories. During his various breakdowns, he stares at his hands more than once in disgust.
  • In Descendants of Darkness, after Hisoka has to kill Tsubaki at the end of the cruise murder mystery arc, he continues to see blood on his hands even though there is nothing there. His partner Tsuzuki comforts him.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, Miaka scrubs herself with a twig until she bleeds, trying to make herself "clean" again, after believing that Nakago raped her, and therefore she was no longer worthy of the title of Priestess of Suzaku...or Tamahome's love. He didn't. He just roughed her up a bit and let her come to her own conclusions when she came to, just as with Yui.
  • Inuyasha, two examples. In one, a Jekyll & Hyde slasher-villain/doctor did this after his villain side savagely murdered some people. Earlier in episode 52, Inuyasha tried to clean his hands after he killed a bunch of bandits when his Superpowered Evil Side took over, but after each frantic scrubbing found he could still smell their blood.
  • Shishio Gen from Kekkaishi does this after remembering how he accidentally slashed his sister.
  • Kamisama Kiss has two examples. When Tomoe first met Mikage he was trying and failing to wash blood off of himself. Later on, Tomoe kills a demonic spider and is trying and failing to wash to blood off when Nanami shows up to help.
  • A filler arc in Naruto explores Kakashi's life in the wake of killing Rin. He gets a few montages like this.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: After destroying Leliel, Shinji becomes scared of his own hands, because he can't get rid of the smell of blood.
  • Done in Pluto, by a robot with shell-shock.
  • Kenshin of Rurouni Kenshin, a master swordsman, hates to kill but decides to become an assassin for the Choshu during the Boshin War because he wants a peaceful new era. Much angst and hand-washing during those days.

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of the Batman (Tom King) storyline "The Gift", Booster Gold, who created a world where Bruce Wayne's parents weren't killed in a misguided attempt to help Bruce come to terms with it, For the Man Who Has Everything style, finds himself with the alternate Bruce in a certain alley in Gotham thirty years ago. When the alternate Bruce (who had already seen Thomas and Martha in his own timeline die) sees what happens, he shoots himself, and Booster gets splattered with blood. We then cut to him confessing what he's done to Batman, and he says there's a speck of blood on his goggles that just won't come off. "You see it too, right?" The goggles are immaculate.
  • The issue of Swamp Thing that resulted in the title no longer carrying the Comic Code Authority seal features a truly horrific instance of this trope, after Abby realizes the Awful Truth behind why her husband has been acting differently:
    "She ripped all of her clothes off, tearing them up. They were dirty. They'd touched her skin. She tried to burn them, but her hands were shaking and the matches kept going out. In truth, she was a little crazy by this time. It was the smell. She couldn't get rid of the smell. In the shower she used up all of the soap, the shampoo, the bubblebath, the perfume... the smell was still there. Have you ever burned an insect with a magnifying glass? Just once, long ago, when you were a kid and didn't know any better? There. You know it. You know the smell. When the soap wouldn't get rid of it, she went to the kitchen and fetched the wire brush that she used for scraping the potatoes... twenty minutes later she passed out. Twenty whole minutes. Even then she could still smell it. She could smell it in her dreams."
  • In The Sandman (1989), after mercy-killing his son Orpheus (who has spent millennia as a disembodied head), Morpheus is seen washing the blood from his hands in a bowl of water, looking sadder than he ever has in the series.
  • "Touch and Go!" is an EC Comics adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" (see Literature).

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in the The West Wing fanfic Band of Blood. Toby has this reaction to Josh's blood all over his hands while waiting in the hospital after the Wham Episode, although he wasn't even indirectly responsible and his guilt was fanciful guilt over the possibility that his decision to take down a protective canopy for PR reasons might have caused the shooting.
  • Done rather melodramatically in the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic The Chong Sheng Trilogy. When Jet dies in Katara's arms, she snaps and uses actual blood as bending fluid to kill several enemies before Sokka has to snap her out of her insanity. When Katara realizes what she's done she screams and goes catatonic until late that night, when she leaps into a dangerously rushing river and tries to scrub away her sins. Zuko has to rush in to rescue her before she drowns or is swept away.
  • In the ongoing Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Clinging, Ivan (Russia) has a couple of these moments. At 9 years old, he killed his father, who was trying to rape his older sister. Six years later, the owner of the orphanage where he and his sisters wound up repeated Ivan's father's actions, this time directed at Ivan himself. He killed the owner in self-defense. Even though both of them were at least somewhat justified, he has had at least two Out Damned Spot moments. So far.
  • In Foal, whenever Rainbow Dash thinks about her responsibility for her brother's death, she hallucinates that his blood is on her hooves and can't wash it off.
  • In Fallout: Equestria, main character Littlepip discovers that the town of Arbu has been killing caravaneers, travelers and bandits so they can eat them, even feeding them to their children. Littlepip and her group of adventurers had "dinner" with the citizens before she discovered this. The revelation is so sickening and horrifying that she breaks down and murders every pony in the village bearing a 'mark of Arbu' (which signifies they've killed and consumed a victim)- in the chaos, she might have inadvertently or purposefully killed a child as well. Afterwards, however, she's sickened and horrified with herself and how far she went, unable to see herself as anything but a monster covered in blood. And she's the protagonist!
  • In Ghosts of the Past, sequel of Child of the Storm, this is one of the punishments inflicted upon Yelena Belova by Morpheus for her abuse specifically, sexual abuse of Harry-as-the-Red-Son. Apparently she ended up with them worn down almost to the bone. Given what she did, no one is overly sympathetic, especially as her victim was a child.
    • It's hinted to be prophetic, as said victim, Harry later has a horrific incident of this during a Shower of Angst, related to the sexual abuse he underwent at Belova's hands after he relives the incident. He wears through flannel, a brush, and most of a wire scrubbing pad before being stopped.
  • In Incarnation of Legends, while being attacked by terrorists as a concert in Altena, Bell immediately thrusts one of his sword through one of the culprit's shoulders, but can't bring himself to kill him. After the ordeal is suppressed by the Odin Familia, Bell finds that no matter how much he cleans his sword and hands, the blood didn't seem to come off, showing just how haunted by his murder of the man holding Haruhime captive.
  • In Mutant Storm, after Harry kills Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange (one of them with his bare hands), he goes through a Heroic BSoD and just sits in the shower for a while he tries to clean himself. They have to knock him out to treat his injuries.
  • Scar Tissue: After her Mind Rape Asuka always took long baths. As stated in chapter 11:
    She took long baths; she had always taken her time to make sure she looked her best, but ever since the 15th, Asuka remained for at least an hour in the bathroom, trying in vain to clean off the dirt in her own soul.
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers:
  • A variation of this occurs in the Wicked fanfic The Land of What Might-Have-Been: after revealing that she's captured the Cowardly Lion and is prepared to carve him up into bloody parcels until Dorothy is surrendered to her, the Hellion uses her magic to smear bloody handprints all over Dorothy's face as a sign of ownership. As soon as the spell ends, Dorothy sprints off to the bathroom and spends the next few minutes frantically scrubbing the blood off her face and hands - both out of fear of being owned by the Hellion and guilt for not being able to save the Lion.
    This is his blood, isn't it? Just like she said. She did this because of me. She did this because I didn't go with her.

  • Marnie in 100 Feet repeatedly paints over the bloodstain left by her husband from the Killing in Self-Defense she was forced to. His ghost keeps bringing the bloodstain back.
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, wherein the title character burns his clothes after he finds out that Lois Einhorn is really Ray Finkle. And then at the end, the entire police force (and even the dolphin) starts puking upon that revelation.
  • In April Showers, Jason tears off his clothes that have the blood of the dead girl on them, only to find that some of the blood went through the fabric to his skin.
  • Parodied in Batman Returns, by Catwoman: "The thought of framing Batman makes me feel so dirty. I think I'll give myself a bath right here." Then - being a cat-person - she proceeds to lick herself!
  • Black Hawk Down: During the denouement, after everyone has come back to the base, General Garrison is visiting the wounded soldiers at the field hospital. He sees that some blood has spilled on the floor and grabs something to clean it up with, but only succeeds in spreading it around on the floor. In this case, it's not guilt for an evil act he has committed, but rather the burden of being responsible for the men serving under his command.
  • Played very straight in Casino Royale (2006), during the shower scene. Vesper's consumed by feelings of guilt after watching James kill a bunch of Mooks, and he finds her sitting in the shower, clothed, and sobbing about the blood on her. The original plan was for her to be in her underwear. Daniel Craig, upstanding gentleman that he is, convinced everyone that this wouldn't make sense since she wouldn't have stopped undressing at her underwear. So she either had to be fully clothed or fully nude.
  • Chicago has a bit at the beginning with a character having a hard time scrubbing the blood off her hands in the dressing room before being called up on stage.
    • Subverted, in that the character carries no guilt at all about the murder.
  • Dead Presidents: Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine) is a Bronx-based Protestant minister. He is also a Vietnam War veteran who feels remorse about the atrocities he committed in the jungle, and so he initially refuses to participate in a bank robbery being organized by an unemployed fellow vet. But he eventually agrees to take part in the crime, because there's a lot of money involved. After the violent heist, during which several policemen and two of the robbers are killed, Cleon is inconsolable as the gang counts their money at their hideout. He bleakly proclaims that "we've bought our way into Hell" and "I'm not sure I even want any of this dirty money." It all eventually gets to be too much for Cleon, and he rats out the rest of the gang after being himself arrested.
  • In Harriet the Spy, when even her friends turn on her when he spying is exposed, Harriet jumps (fully-clothed) into a bathtub and furiously tries to scrub off their friendship tattoo.
  • The Hunger Games: After Rue's death, Katniss attempts to scratch off the scabs she suffered during the forest fire escape in a manic state, along with Rue's blood. The trope applies because Katniss had just killed Marvel.
  • The Machinist: Reznik is constantly seen washing his hands with bleach and lye. It turns out he once killed a young boy and has repressed the memory.
  • In Man in the Attic, Slade compulsively washes his hands in the Thames after each of the Ripper murders.
  • In Only God Forgives, Julian is given to sullenly staring at his hands and watching them slowly turn into fists. At one point he washes his hands, but he sees the water become blood. This is implied to be guilt over having beaten his father to death.
  • A subtle one in Pulp Fiction. After dealing with I Just Shot Marvin in the Face, Jules and Vincent wash their hands. Then they wipe them clean and Jules points out that Vincent's left some bloodstains on the towel. Which is symbolic of how Jules chooses a different path, but Vincent doesn't.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has Nathan Wallace. He's very good at repossessing organs, but the fact that he actually enjoys his work leads to a lot of Out Damned Spot moments. It doesn't help that he's constantly being guilt-tripped by Dead Marni and taunted by the Genterns.
    • A good example comes at the end of "Thankless Job" - when the song ends, it hits Nathan about what he's doing while his arm is still in the corpse, and he ends up spraying down his uniform and tools.
  • The Robe: Pontius Pilate is depicted briefly as washing his hands repeatedly, likely due to unconscious guilt over Christ's crucifixion. note 
  • Scotland, PA (which is Macbeth in a rural '70s Pennsylvania fast-food joint), Pat McBeth gets a small burn from frying oil when Duncan dies. As she sinks into madness, she becomes convinced that the burn is getting worse, even though it completely healed in reality. In the end, she's driven to cut off her hand with a kitchen knife, then promptly faints and bleeds to death.
  • As Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is Macbeth in feudal Japan, it is unsurprising that Asaji freaks out over blood only she can see.

  • Orson Scott Card:
    • Xenocide. Han Qing-jao becomes a "Godspoken" after she suddenly starts feeling her hands constantly dirty, washing her hands all the time and scrubbing them with stone until they bleed. It then turns out it's because Qing-jao, as well as all the Godspoken, was born with OCD.
    • The Tales of Alvin Maker series: The trope features prominently in the form of a curse.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky:
    • After hearing Smerdyakov's explanation of events in The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan begins to continuously recount the events prior to his father's death over and over again, trying to convince himself that he is not the one responsible for murdering him. This ends up with him talking to Satan and eventually freaking out spectacularly at the trial of his brother.
    • In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov obsesses over cleaning up the murder of the pawnbroker. He compulsively washes the axe used to commit the deed, tries to clean off the coin purse and stow it in the wallpaper of his room, only to later decide to just bury it somewhere. Then he realizes that he got the blood on his sock, and desperately tries to work the stain out. While the stain fades to unrecognizability, Raskolnikov is unable to not see the blood on his sock.
  • In Animorphs, Cassie is disgusted and horrified by all that she's done and the deaths that she's responsible for. In one book, after ripping out a Hork Bajir's throat with her teeth while in wolf morph and finding a piece of flesh still lodged between her teeth after demorphing, Cassie brushes her teeth until her gums bleed.
  • The Hungarian Ballad of Agnes by János Arany tells the story of a woman who has her lover stab her husband in his sleep, and afterward she spends day after day at the river, trying to wash the (imaginary) bloodstain out of the sheet, though said sheet has already been reduced to a handful of ragged cloth from all the scrubbing. Even when she's taken to court, she just keeps saying she has to go back to her washing; the judges take pity on her and decide her own guilt is punishment enough.
    Mistress Agnes in the streamlet
    Washeth still her ragged sheet;
    Downward are the cover’s remnants
    Carried by the current fleet.
  • The Dresden Files: The robes of the Wardens are enchanted so that blood will not stain them. Keep in mind that the Wardens are tasked with administering death to anyone found in violation of the Laws of Magic even if they had no knowledge of the Laws and were unaware that they were performing dark magic (most of whom are teenagers). Because of how Black Magic affects people in this 'verse, though, most of the ones they execute are, by that point, less "punishing someone who broke a rule" and more "putting down a rabid beast before it kills anyone else."
  • This trope appears twice in book II of The Faerie Queene.
    • Canto II begins with Guyon attempting to guiltily clean his hands of the blood of the couple he failed to save from poisoning and death, only for none of the blood to come off.
    • Canto VII: The ghost of Pontius Pilate is trapped in the river Cocytus forever failing to wash his hands clean of Christ's blood.
  • Robert Harris' Fatherland has a disturbingly understandable version. The protagonist, a former U-Boat captain, finds out that some of the uniform clothing he was issued while in the service was manufactured from the hair of Holocaust victims. He describes not feeling clean after bathing repeatedly for days; more justified than most given the close physical contact involved...
  • This is taken to extremes in the Ray Bradbury short story "The Fruit At The Bottom Of The Bowl", in which a man becomes so obsessed with removing all his fingerprints from a murder scene that he actually forgets that his main objective is to escape and get away with the crime — the police eventually find him at three in the morning, polishing old coins he'd found in a box in the attic, by which time he seems scarcely bothered about being caught and is only concerned with making sure he polishes the handle of the door as they lead him out of the house.
  • Early in The Magician King, Eliot mentions his first meeting with Julia at a spa, during which she had taken to obsessively taking steam baths - often at such high temperatures that nobody else could stand to be in the same room. Eliot speculates that she was trying to cleanse herself of something she can't remove, but the reason why doesn't become apparent until the end: Julia had taken part in the summoning of a goddess, only to get the attention of Renard the Fox, who brutally murdered all but one of Julia's friends - and then raped Julia herself in exchange for sparing her one remaining friend.
  • In Mila 18, which is based on true events in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland during WWII, one of the Nazi leaders is constantly bathing. At least one of the more astute people around him is aware he is trying to wash away his guilt in the slaughter of Polish Jews.
  • Near the end of Mix Beer With Liquor And You Will Get Sicker, Corbin scrubs blood off his floor that has gotten there when he'd mistook a person in his house for a burglar and brutally hit him over the head, only to discover afterwards that it was actually a friend looking after him. Said guy has survived the incident, but still got a pretty nasty injury out of it, and Corbin works himself into a guilt loop and keeps cleaning the spot even though the blood is long gone. He doesn't even realize that his hands have gone sore and blistering from the work.
  • Downplayed in Moominpappa at Sea. Moomintroll finds a wonderful secret spot, but it's infested with ants. When he mentions this to Little My, she kills all the ants with paraffin, which is not at all what he had in mind. (Or, as she claims, he did have that in mind but was deceiving himself about it.) Coming back after discovering this, he feels like the smell of paraffin is never going to come off of him.
  • Mortal Stakes: Robert B. Parker uses this very line from the mouth of Private Detective Spenser, who thinks this after he's forced to kill two mob men in self-defense.
  • On My Honor: As the Newberry Award-winning book goes on, the guilt-ridden protagonist keeps smelling the river everywhere he goes.
  • In The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne Boleyn takes an extremely hot bath and rubs her skin raw the morning after she takes a potion from a witch to induce a miscarriage. She believes the baby to be dead, but probably still harbors guilt on the offchance that it may have been alive and the male heir she needed to bear to secure her position as Queen.
  • Outcast of Redwall: Veil suffers something similar. His victim was poisoned, and the Abbey herbalist puts out an announcement that it will be easy to find the killer because the particular poison used will stain one's skin and fur red within two days if one touches it with bare paws. Veil, unaware that this is a complete and utter lie, starts frantically scrubbing his paws at every opportunity, even with sandstone, thus making them look red. He breaks into the infirmary to find the "herbal solution" the herbalist supposedly left there and dips his paws into the basin without looking, only to find that said basin actually contains beetroot juice, thus leaving his paws very obviously red and proving his guilt.
  • Redeeming Love: When she first begins to see that Michael is a genuinely good man, Angel feels that because of her past as a prostitute she is unworthy of him; she plunges into a river and frantically begins trying to make herself feel clean. Michael eventually finds her rubbing her skin raw with gravel and sobbing.
  • Another literary example: The leader with blood-stained hands, from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer's Rhymes and Legends. It depicts the tragic story of the Hindi Warrior Prince Pulo, who always wore gloves so nobody would see the permanent blood stains on his palms, which he got as a curse after killing his older brother Tippot-Dheli, to steal away his wife Siannah. The bloody stains didn't go away until Pulo, having failed the tests that the Gods gave him to purify himself, revealed his sins to his people... and then committed suicide.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Melisandre uses a shadow assassin created from Stannis' life energy to kill Stannis' younger brother Renly, who is disputing Stannis' claim to the Iron Throne. Stannis never outright admits to being aware of her plan but implies it, talking about how he was asleep in his tent at the time, having a nightmare about Renly's murder. "I was in my tent when Renly died, and when I woke my hands were clean."
  • In the novel Stormland by the Icelandic author Hallgrí­mur Helgason, the protagonist Bøddi begins seeing black flies crawling on himself, objects and the faces of everyone he talks to after shooting his brother through the eye and seeing the flies crawl around in his wound. The visions get more intense as his mental breakdown worsens.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: After Francie's attack, she begs her parents to help her because she can still feel where it touched her thigh. Her father pours acid over the spot, leaving a permanent scar but Francie is happy to have it rather than the feelings or dirtiness left by her ordeal.
  • In Warrior Cats, Hollyleaf killed Ashfur. The official iOS app mentions that she can still taste his blood in her mouth.
  • Parodied in Wyrd Sisters (naturally, since it's a parody of Macbeth) where Duke Felmet becomes so obsessed with washing the metaphorical blood from his hand, he tries scrubbing it with a wire brush, among other things. (It's implicit his measures ensure that his hand will always have blood on it, just not the victim's anymore.) At one point he's even seen with a cheese grater, and bandages on his hand. The parody starts to turn very dark, though, when towards the end the narration describes "the remnant of his right hand," culminating in him falling to his death because he no longer has any (working) fingers with which to grab on to a wall.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bad To the Bone: The 1997 TV movie had an example that eerily echoes Macbeth. Francesca ("Frankie") Wells (Kristy Swanson) is a Fille Fatale (she is 19, but often behaves as if she is several years younger) who has killed her own mother in order to get her hands on the family inheritance and then talked her younger brother into killing her latest boyfriend so that they can take over the nightclub the boyfriend owns. Both are eventually arrested and charged with the murders, but Frankie jumps bail, gives herself a false name, and eventually winds up living on a seacoast villa with a rich man she has seduced. She spends one morning swimming in the ocean. The rich man sees her coming in from the surf and mentions that he once heard that the ocean is supposed to wash all one's sins away. In a splendid display of dramatic irony, Frankie tells him that, unfortunately, that isn't the case. A subtle yet effective Cry for the Devil, especially given Frankie's Woobie-ish backstory.
  • The Bloody Lady, a fictionalized account of the life of 18th century noblewoman/serial killer Darya Saltykova, has killing her husband and later ordering her maids to clean the blood drops off the tiles. However, guilt-ridden, she sees the whole wall get covered in dripping blood as she watches them work, so she lashes out at the maids for doing such a horrible job and beats one of them to death. This, in this version of the story, is the final push down the path of becoming a murderer and torturer of hundreds of peasants that history knows her as.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Bad Girls". The final scene of the episode briefly shows Faith desperately trying to clean the blood of the man she accidentally killed, out of her shirt. Also, when Anya becomes a vengeance demon again, and murders a frathouse who laughed at a girl who was broken up with at a party. Complete with a "what have I done?"
  • A possible interpretation of the events of Breaking Bad episode "Fly", where Walter obsessively tries to kill a fly contaminating the lab, all the while ruminating on how he's lived too long and the guilt he feels over Jane's death.
  • Daredevil (2015). After the massacre at the Bulletin, Karen Page is suffering from Survivor Guilt and repeatedly tries to wipe the blood spots from her sleeve during her FBI interview.
  • Dark Shadows: In the old supernatural soap, the young witch Angelique lays a curse on her husband/enemy Barnabas Collins in a moment of transcendent rage, a curse on him to die and rise as a vampire. She almost immediately regrets it and tries without success to lift it, and tries to scrub up a bloodstain on the floor from the incident, only to find that no matter how hard she scrubs the blood won't come off the wooden floor.
  • The Drew Carey Show: Played for Laughs when Drew has cybersex with Mimi and doesn't realize it until the deed is done, whereupon we cut to a fully-clothed Drew sobbing in a hot shower.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: After John Walker beats a terrorist to death in public with Captain America's shield - both literally and figuratively sullying Steve Rogers' legacy - Sam and Bucky engage in a brutal fist fight with him to take it back. They just barely succeed, and Sam numbly sits on the floor trying to wipe the blood off the shield with his bare hands. It doesn't work.
  • Kamen Rider 555: This is the reason that Masato Kusaka obsessively cleans his hands. He wasn't the murderer but he did witness the massacre of his classmates and was killed himself. They got better. Still, this could partially account for why he's such a manipulative Jerkass.
  • On Lost, having just killed Ana-Lucia and Libby, Michael asks Eko about Hell while scrubbing Libby's blood off the floor. The conversation ends with Michael going outside to throw up.
  • M*A*S*H turns this into a Tear Jerker in "Heal Thyself," when a talented and experienced new doctor has a Heroic BSoD after a grueling session in the OR.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl's mother slept with their next-door neighbor some 20 years prior. She broke it off, since she felt ashamed, and she kept it from her husband all that time. And when he found out, he left her. After having a good cry with Earl about it, he came back, and she was scrubbing the chairs in the garage where she and the neighbor had sex all those years ago, with bleach.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    • One of Tom Servo's repeated riffs is "But you'll never be able to get rid of the stain on your soul."
    • While watching a short film about Ross, an animal wrangler who captures wildlife for zoos, Joel's and the bots' commentary makes Ross out to be a villain on par with those from Captain Planet. Then, there's a brief shot of Ross wiping his face off with a towel, at which point Servo quips:
      Tom Servo: Ross tries to towel away the evil, but nothing doing.
  • One Step Beyond: In "The Hand" Tom Grant, a piano player at a run-down dive, murders a beautiful young woman in a jealous rage with a broken-off beer bottle. After the police arrest a drunken derelict for the crime, Tom figures he's in the clear. Although he at first seems to have covered his tracks well enough, he soon discovers that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot get the woman's blood off his hands. He forces a doctor to bandage the hand only to cause the blood to seep through. Eventually, he breaks down when he is called into witness for the murder and has to lay the hand on The Bible and swear to tell the truth.
  • The Originals: Elijah is always immaculately dressed in a suit, no matter the occasion, and has notably better impulse control compared to his other vampire siblings. It is revealed in the second season to be something of a compulsion, to disassociate himself from the wantonly violent deeds of his past.
  • In The Second Coming: Judith, after she's cooked the poisoned pasta but before Steve's eaten it can be seen drying her hair and rubbing her head in a rather forceful manner.

  • The Title Track from Tom Waits's Blue Valentine has:
    I can never wash the guilt or get these blood stains off my hands
  • In "Bonnie St. Johnstone," a "cruel mother" ballad dating to the seventeenth century, the young woman who has slit the throats of her two illegitimate children attempts to wash the knife in a brook, but the knife keeps looking redder and redder.
  • From Annie Lennox's "Dark Road":
    There's no water that can wash away
    This longing to come clean
  • Bob Seger's "Hands In The Air" has the line "If you're selling these lies, these impossible dreams, you can keep on washing, but you'll never get clean."
  • !HERO: The Rock Opera: Governor Pilate at the end of "Kill The Hero" says, "I wash my hands of this sick madness."
  • My Chemical Romance's "I Never Told You What I Did For A Living", which is about a contract killer.
    Another knife in my hands
    A stain that never comes of the sheets
    Clean me off
    I'm so dirty babe
    The kind of dirty where the water never cleans off the clothes
  • Coheed and Cambria's song, "In the Flame of Error", does this with "These dirty hands just won't come clean".
  • In Erutan's Image Song for Beatrix from Final Fantasy IX, "Rose of May", one of the lyrics in the chorus:
    The blood on my hands
    Won't wash away, wash away

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • Versed in the Book of Jeremiah as God's condemnation of Israel's behavior: "For though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, Yet your iniquity is marked before Me." (Jer 2:22)
    • The Four Gospels attest that Pontius Pilate washed his hands after sentencing Jesus to death, to assuage his guilt (or to show Jesus was Convicted by Public Opinion, not him). But this hasn't prevented the Apostle's Creed from stating that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate."

  • Macbeth, the original. Lady Macbeth, long after she had washed her hands dripping with Duncan's blood, continued to be preoccupied by hand-washing. So great was her sense of guilt that no amount of water and the ritual incantation of "Out, damned spot! Out, I say" could restore her peace of mind or ability to sleep.
  • In Woyzeck, the title character murders his unfaithful girlfriend and obsesses over fear that someone will find the murder weapon. His determination to hide it in the river and wash off the blood gets him drowned. Probably.
    • This is the version of the ending used in the opera Wozzeck (which adds some anguished last words for the title character about the water being full of blood) and Werner Herzog's film version.

    Video Games 
  • In Alpha Protocol, The Dragon, Conrad Marburg, wears black gloves at all times. At their first meeting, if the protagonist has accumulated enough of Marburg's dossier, he can accuse him of wearing them as a feeble psychological crutch to avoid feeling that he has blood on his hands.
  • In the early FPS Blood, the name of this trope is mentioned, then the trope is outright subverted in the first episode. Within the first map, the protagonist (Caleb, an undead, wisecracking cowboy with a sadistic streak as big as Texas) comes across a sink, to which he replies:
    Caleb: "OUT! OUT! Damned spot!"
    • When he finds another sink, deep within a kitchen area, he goes on to comment:
    Caleb: "But I like my hands bloody..."
  • In Dragon Quest VI, there's a town that thrives due to their rejuvenating water, which, shortly after you arrive, turns blood red. Investigation reveals that a woman is trying to clean the blood off her sword at the water's source, consumed with guilt because she believes she killed her lover. You have to find him Not Quite Dead, but she'll be cleaning her sword until you do.
  • In Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube, Alex Roivas comes across the ghost of a maid cleaning her grandfather's carpet. When the ghost hears Alex, she looks up and screams "I can't get the blood out!" Soon, she finds her grandfather's chapter of the Tome of Eternal Darkness, and discovers that the maid died on that spot forty years ago.
  • Final Fantasy XV Episode Prompto has Prompto Argentum suffer a bout of this. He has recently discovered that the tattoo on his wrist is a barcode marking him as one of the cloned life forms that are daemonified and used as Magitek Troopers for the Niflheim Empire, and is left alone with his thoughts when he makes it to a campsite he was directed to by Aranaea Highwind. He starts off trying to rub it off, and eventually seizes a stick out of the campfire. The player is then given the option to have him burn his wrist with the hot end or cast the stick aside. The live trigger even has the header "Out, Damn'd Spot".
  • Silent Hill 2 is essentially the protagonist's guilt over the murder of his wife manifest as a variety of physical monsters.
  • In Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, this leads to one of the assassins, despite saving hundreds of lives in the story, committing suicide in front of his friends. No matter what he does the blood won't come off. So he decides to put his soul in the washing machine.

  • Invoked in Housepets! when Peanut Breaks the Fourth Wall during an imagination scene.
    Doctor!Peanut: The washing of hands while sleepwalking indicates profound guilt. Not surprising given how much embarrassing fanfiction she tends to write.
    Lady Macbeth!Grape: (throws "screwball" placard she was holding at him) OUT, D-WORDED SPOT!!!

    Web Videos 
  • Philosophy Tube: In Elon Musk, Pontius Pilate is re-imagined as a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-type 'comprehensive designer' who has a breakdown trying to get the blood off his hands for killing Jesus Christ (a metaphor for the inadvertent harm brought by consumer capitalism, even when used by liberal personalities).

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in an early episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy where Edd is shown desperately trying to scrub off a grass stain from his arm, and, when this fails, giving a Skyward Scream.
  • On The Ren & Stimpy Show, "Stimpy's Fan Club", Ren rants about having to answer all of Stimpy's fan mail "with these hands... Dirty!! The dirt won't come off!"
  • The Simpsons:
    • Used humorously in "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner" when Homer became a food critic and was criticized by his editor for an inept review. Lisa finds him in the bathtub repeatedly scrubbing himself and babbling: "Still not clean! Stink of failure still on me!"
    • Also Played for Laughs in "Stark Raving Dad", where Homer is put in a mental asylum and has "Insane" stamped on his hand. After he's discharged, he is seen trying to scrub away the stamp, saying "Come off! I'm sane now!"
  • The Critic: A woman Jay dated is showering, muttering, "Still not clean yet!" when he calls. It's revealed she's been in the shower for a week.
  • Used humorously in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Last Laugh". The Joker dumps a load of smelly garbage on top of Batman during their battle; afterwards, Bruce remarks that he still feels soiled after taking several showers.

    Real Life 
  • This is a common symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder — a feel of "dirtiness" and a compulsion to somehow clean it, often resulting in germ/cleanliness obsessions and frequent, almost continuous, hand- or body-washings. Because it's one of the most conspicuous symptoms of OCD, along with intense adherence to routines and nervousness when these routines aren't followed, this trope is one of the most common associated with OCD in fiction, though it doesn't necessarily accompany every case in reality.
  • Victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially that caused by abuse, can also express this sentiment in a psychological form - believing that they are at fault, they devote much of their time trying to atone for things that they did not do, suffering immensely because their condition prevents them from ever feeling satisfied that they've done enough.
  • This can also be a behavior exhibited by sexual abuse victims. Some severe cases have (in a manic state) reportedly scrubbed their skin raw while bathing, trying to remove the filth that they believe is on and inside their body.
  • In a more literal sense, bloodstains are very hard to remove from skin or clothes, especially once they've dried.