Tim Bowen wipes out confusion with his latest article on phrasal verbs.

‘More than £3.5 billion was wiped off the value of the company’s shares today following the release of a disappointing set of sales figures for the second quarter of the year’. Here, wipe off means to reduce the value of something by a large amount. It can also be used to mean to remove something from the surface of an object, as in ‘She spent ten minutes wiping mud off the car windows’.

To wipe down is to clean a surface with a cloth, as in ‘He scrubbed the kitchen floor and wiped down all the surfaces’. If you wipe something up, you remove a liquid from a surface using a cloth, as in ‘The floor was covered in water and it took me ages to wipe it up’.

Wipe out can mean to eradicate, as in ‘It took many years for the virus to be wiped out’ and, usually used in the passive voice, it can also mean to kill a lot of people or animals, as in ‘Millions of people were wiped out by viruses brought to the New World by European settlers’. Again often used in the passive, wipe out can also be used to mean to make someone extremely tired, as in ‘By the end of the day I was completely wiped out’ or ‘These early morning meetings really wipe me out’.

If you wipe something out, you clean its interior with a cloth, as in ‘It might be a good idea to wipe out the new fridge with a damp cloth before you start putting food in it’.