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Centrifugal Force vs. Centripetal Force: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 7, 2023
Centrifugal force refers to the apparent force that pulls a rotating object away from the center of rotation, while centripetal force is the actual force that keeps the object in its curved path, directed towards the center.

Key Differences

In exploring the realms of physics, particularly in rotational motion, centrifugal force manifests itself noticeably. Centrifugal force is often described as a pseudo or fictitious force because it does not have a physical agent applying it. This force appears to act outwardly away from the axis of rotation, and interestingly, it is observed only in a rotating frame of reference. For example, when swinging a bucket of water in a vertical circle, the water does not spill, which may be attributed to the outward centrifugal force.
On the contrary, centripetal force exists as a tangible entity with a clear applying agent. Centripetal force always acts towards the axis of rotation, ensuring objects stay in their circular path. This inward force is essential in preventing objects in circular motion from moving in a straight-line path, which they would naturally do due to inertia. For instance, the tension in a string holding a whirling object is a tangible example of centripetal force.
Centrifugal force, owing to its outward direction, can often create the illusion of an invisible barrier holding an object in place. When you spin a bucket in a circle, the centrifugal force, perpendicular to the axis of rotation, gives the impression that it is counteracting gravity, keeping the water inside. However, it's crucial to remember that in a non-rotating frame, this force is non-existent and cannot be utilized to explain the phenomenon occurring.
Centripetal force, being real and perceptible, is essential in explaining the mechanics of numerous phenomena in our natural world. Without centripetal force, planets would not maintain their orbits, and cars would not make it around bends. The gravitational pull between the Earth and the Moon, acting as the centripetal force, prevents the Moon from flying off into space, keeping it in orbit instead.
While centrifugal force can be regarded as a by-product of inertia and is considered an apparent force, it still plays a vital role in understanding rotational mechanics from within a rotating frame. Simultaneously, centripetal force serves as a fundamental concept that explains why objects move in a circle in the first place, offering insight into various physical occurrences from a particle in a cyclotron to planets in an orbit.

Comparison Chart


Acts away from the center of rotation.
Acts towards the center of rotation.


Fictitious or pseudo force, without a physical agent.
Real force with a physical agent applying it.

Frame of Reference

Observed in a rotating frame of reference.
Applicable in all frames of reference.


The force you feel pushing you outward while taking a sharp turn.
The tension in a string swinging an object in a circular motion.

Usage in Calculations

Often used in calculations in a rotating reference frame.
Commonly used in physics to describe circular motion in any frame.

Centrifugal Force and Centripetal Force Definitions

Centrifugal Force

The reactive force equal in magnitude but opposite in direction to centripetal force, described in a rotating system.
The centrifugal force can be felt by a car's passengers as an outward push when the car takes a tight curve quickly.

Centripetal Force

The force that acts on an object moving in a circular path, directed towards the center around which the object is moving.
The tension in the string provides the necessary centripetal force to keep the spinning ball moving in a circular path.

Centrifugal Force

An effect perceived in a rotating frame of reference, experienced as an outward push.
In a rapidly turning car, a loose object in the vehicle appears to move to the side due to the centrifugal force.

Centripetal Force

A force that acts on a body moving in a circular path to keep it on its path.
The friction between the tires and the road provides the centripetal force that prevents the car from skidding when making a turn.

Centrifugal Force

An apparent force that acts outward on a body moving around a center, arising from the body's inertia.
The centrifugal force causes the clothes in the spinning washing machine to be pushed to the drum's outer wall.

Centripetal Force

The inward force required to keep an object moving in a circle at a constant speed.
The gravitational pull between the Earth and the Moon acts as a centripetal force, keeping the Moon in its orbit.

Centrifugal Force

A force that tends to move objects radially away from the axis of rotation when they are rotating around an axis.
Riders on a merry-go-round experience centrifugal force pushing them towards the outer edge.

Centripetal Force

A force that is responsible for keeping an object in its circular path and is always directed towards the center of the circle.
The centripetal force keeps the planets in our solar system in orbit around the Sun.

Centrifugal Force

A pseudo-force that appears to push an object away from the center of a circular path when it is moving along that path.
When spinning a bucket of water over your head in a circle, the water does not fall out due to the centrifugal force acting on it.

Centripetal Force

The net force exerted towards the center of a circular path that maintains an object’s circular motion.
When twirling a rock tied to a string, the string exerts a centripetal force towards your hand to keep the rock in its circular path.


What is centrifugal force?

Centrifugal force is a perceived outward force on an object moving in a circular path due to its inertia.

Which force keeps a car turning on a curved road?

Centripetal force, generated by the friction between tires and the road.

What is centripetal force?

Centripetal force is the real inward force that keeps an object moving in a circular path.

Why do we feel thrown outward in a rapidly turning car?

Due to the centrifugal force, a result of our inertia wanting to keep us moving in a straight line.

Is centrifugal force a real force?

No, it's a fictitious or pseudo force observed in a rotating frame of reference.

Which force do you combat when tightening a string with a spinning object?

You combat the centrifugal force pushing the object outward.

Why does a car's speed need to be limited on curved roads?

To ensure the necessary centripetal force is within limits, preventing the car from skidding.

Does an object's weight affect the centripetal force needed?

Yes, more massive objects require a greater centripetal force to keep them in a circular path.

How does centrifugal force affect the shape of rotating celestial bodies?

It causes them to bulge at the equator and flatten at the poles, leading to an oblate shape.

What provides the centripetal force for planets orbiting the Sun?

Gravitational attraction between the planet and the Sun provides the necessary centripetal force.

Is centrifugal force dependent on the speed of rotation?

Yes, greater rotation speeds lead to a stronger perceived centrifugal force.

In which direction does centrifugal force act?

It acts radially outward, away from the center of the circular path.

How does a washing machine use centrifugal force?

The spinning drum pushes water and soap outwards, helping in the rinsing and spinning cycles.

Is tension in a string acting as centripetal force in a spinning ball?

Yes, tension provides the necessary inward force for the ball to move in a circular path.

Why isn't centrifugal force present in Newton's laws?

Because it's a pseudo force perceived in rotating systems, not a fundamental force.

Can we feel centrifugal force on a merry-go-round?

Yes, it's the force that makes you feel pushed outward when the merry-go-round spins.

What happens if centripetal force ceases to act on an object in circular motion?

The object would move in a straight line tangent to the circular path, due to its inertia.

How do banked roads utilize centripetal force?

Banking provides a horizontal component of the normal force to act as centripetal force, aiding cars in taking turns without skidding.

Why is it harder to hold a bucket of water while spinning faster?

Due to increased centrifugal force pushing the water outward with faster spins.

How is centripetal force calculated?

It's calculated as F = (mv^2)/r, where m is mass, v is velocity, and r is the radius of the circular path.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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