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Centrifugal vs. Centripetal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 19, 2023
Centrifugal relates to a force moving away from a center; centripetal refers to a force moving towards a center.

Key Differences

Centrifugal and centripetal are terms that describe forces in relation to a center point. Centrifugal force points outwards from the center of rotation, pushing objects away. In contrast, centripetal force pulls objects towards the center of rotation. Though they sound somewhat similar, they represent opposite directional forces.
In a spinning washing machine, centrifugal force pushes water and clothes to the outer edges. This is the force that causes the water to be extracted from the clothes during the spin cycle. Centripetal force, on the other hand, would be what keeps the clothes from flying out of the machine entirely, drawing them towards the axis of rotation.
When driving a car in a circular path or taking a sharp turn, passengers might feel themselves being pushed to the side. This sensation is due to centrifugal force. Conversely, the tires of the car grip the road and provide the necessary centripetal force to prevent the car from skidding outward and to keep it moving in its curved path.
In the context of celestial bodies, the earth's gravity acts as a centripetal force, keeping the moon in its orbit. Without this centripetal force, the moon would move in a straight line. On the contrary, if one were to swing a bucket of water in a vertical circle and the water doesn't fall when the bucket is upside down, it's because of the centrifugal force acting on the water.
It's worth noting that while centrifugal force is often called a "fictitious force" because it arises from the inertia of an object in a rotating system, centripetal force is a "real" force, responsible for the acceleration directed towards the center.

Comparison Chart


Outwards from the center
Inwards towards the center

Common Example

Water in a spinning washing machine being pushed outwards
Tires of a car providing grip during a turn

In Physics

Often considered a "fictitious force"
A "real" force responsible for center-directed acceleration

Felt In

Spinning objects
Objects moving in a circular path

Relation to Spin

Causes objects to move away from the axis of rotation
Causes objects to move towards the axis of rotation

Centrifugal and Centripetal Definitions


Moving or tending to move away from a center.
In the centrifuge, the heavier particles settled on the outside due to the centrifugal motion.


Relating to a force moving towards the center.
The centripetal force keeps the planets in orbit around the sun.


Relating to a force moving away from the center.
The centrifugal force of the spinning wheel threw the mud outward.


Operating or moving in a direction towards the center.
The centripetal motion of the fluid created a vortex.


Operating by the action of centrifugal force.
A centrifugal pump moves fluids by spinning them rapidly.


Tending or directed towards a center.
The flowers exhibited a centripetal arrangement of petals.


Emanating from a central point.
The centrifugal spread of the dye made an interesting pattern.


Pertaining to the force that causes objects to move in a circular path.
Without centripetal force, cars would skid out of circular tracks.


Pertaining to the apparent outward force on a rotating body.
The children felt a centrifugal push while on the merry-go-round.


Attractive or drawing towards a center.
The sculpture had a centripetal design, drawing the eye inwards.


Moving or directed away from a center or axis.


Moving or directed toward a center or axis.


Operated by means of centrifugal force.


Operated by means of centripetal force.


What does centrifugal mean?

Centrifugal relates to a force that moves or pushes objects away from a center.

How is centripetal different from centrifugal?

Centripetal refers to a force drawing objects towards a center, while centrifugal pushes objects away.

Which force, centrifugal or centripetal, keeps the moon orbiting the Earth?

The centripetal force, provided by Earth's gravity, keeps the moon in its orbit.

Why don't clothes fly out of a spinning washing machine?

Centrifugal force pushes them outwards, but the walls of the machine and centripetal force keep them inside.

In which direction does centrifugal force act?

It acts outwards, away from the center of rotation.

Is centrifugal force responsible for the artificial gravity in space stations?

Yes, the spinning motion creates a centrifugal force that pushes objects outwards, simulating gravity.

Is it accurate to say centrifugal force is an "outward pull"?

It's more accurate to say it's an "outward push" due to the inertia of rotating objects.

How is centripetal acceleration related to centripetal force?

Centripetal force is the force responsible for centripetal acceleration, which keeps an object moving in a circular path.

Can centrifugal and centripetal forces exist simultaneously in a system?

Yes, they are two sides of the same coin; while centripetal force pulls inward, centrifugal force is the perceived outward push due to inertia.

What provides the necessary centripetal force for a car taking a turn?

The tires of the car grip the road, providing the necessary centripetal force.

Why is centrifugal force called a "fictitious force"?

It's because it's not a force resulting from any physical interaction but rather from the inertia of a rotating system.

Which force is responsible for the spiral pattern of galaxies?

Both forces play roles; gravitational (centripetal) forces hold stars in orbit, but their inertia creates centrifugal effects.

Do we experience centrifugal forces daily?

Yes, in activities like taking turns in vehicles, using mixers, or being on rides at amusement parks.

Is centrifugal force considered "real" in physics?

No, centrifugal force is often termed a "fictitious force" arising from inertia in a rotating system.

Why do passengers feel pushed to the side in a turning car?

They are experiencing the centrifugal force.

What role does centripetal force play in a roller coaster loop?

Centripetal force keeps the coaster and riders pressed against the track, especially at the top of the loop.

Do both centrifugal and centripetal forces have the same magnitude in a rotating system?

Yes, they have the same magnitude but act in opposite directions.

Can centripetal force be felt directly?

Yes, for example, when swinging an object in a circular motion, the tension in the string provides a feel of centripetal force.

What happens to an object in circular motion if centripetal force is removed?

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

Why does water stay in a bucket when spun vertically?

Centrifugal force pushes the water outward, keeping it in the bucket, especially at the topmost point.
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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