Genocide has been the leading cause of preventable violent death in the 20th-21st century, taking even more lives than war. The term 'ethnic cleansing' is used as a euphemism for genocide despite it having no legal status. Like 'Judenrein' and 'racial hygiene' in Nazi medicine, it expropriates pseudo-medical terminology to justify massacre. Use of the term reifies a dehumanized view of the victims as sources of filth and disease, and propagates the reversed social ethics of the perpetrators. Timelines for recent genocides (Bosnia, 1991-1996, 200,000; Kosovo 1998-2000, 10,000-20,000; Rwanda, 1994, 800,000; Darfur 2002-2006, >400,000) show that its use bears no relationship to death tolls or the scale of atrocity. Bystanders' use of the term 'ethnic cleansing' signals the lack of will to stop genocide, resulting in huge increases in deaths, and undermines international legal obligations to acknowledge genocide. The term 'ethnic cleansing' corrupts observation, interpretation, ethical judgment and decision-making, thereby undermining the aim of public health. Public health should lead the way in expunging the term 'ethnic cleansing' from official use. 'Ethnic cleansing' bleaches the atrocities of genocide, leading to inaction in preventing current and future genocides.