Neurosurgical patients are at a high risk for infectious sequelae following operations. For neurosurgery in particular, the risk of surgical site infection has a unique implication given the proximity of the CSF and the CNS. Patient factors contribute to some degree; for example, cancer and trauma are often associated with impaired nutritional status, known risk factors for infection. Additionally, care-based factors for infection must also be considered, such as the length of surgery, the administration of steroids, and tissue devascularization (such as a craniotomy bone flap). When postoperative infection does occur, attention is commonly focused on potential lapses in surgical "sterility." Evidence suggests that the surgical field is not free of microorganisms. The authors propose a paradigm shift in the nomenclature of the surgical field from "sterile" to "clean." Continued efforts aimed at optimizing immune capacity and host defenses to combat potential infection are warranted.