The Pros and Cons of Cleaning with TSP

TSP is a powerful, tried-and-true cleaning agent, but it's so potent that you must be very careful when using it. Read on to learn its rewards and risks.

Cleaning with TSP Trisodium Phosphate


It wasn’t so long ago that trisodium phosphate (TSP) was a go-to choice for tough cleaning jobs. In recent years, however, the popularity of TSP has waned. There are no complaints about its performance—TSP was and remains highly effective. Rather, an increasing number of people are steering clear of cleaning with TSP simply because, due to its potency, working with the stuff can pose dangers to personal health and the environment. Here, we look at both the pros and the cons of cleaning with TSP, leaving you to decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you and your family, your home, and the situation at hand.

Cleaning with TSP Trisodium Phosphate - Bag


There’s little doubt that TSP works great. For stubborn stains, it can often succeed where other solutions fail to do the trick. You might expect that using such a powerful cleaning agent would entail a complicated procedure, but once diluted, TSP can be applied simply with a brush or sponge, or via a sprayer.

TSP is suitable for use on a variety of materials, including brick and stone, cement and wood. But if any of those surfaces are painted, you should expect to repaint. That’s fine much of the time, because the single most common use of TSP is for cleaning surfaces as part of a proper paint preparation process, particularly for exteriors.

If you’re using TSP to clean siding, speed up the job with a power washer. Don’t own one? Rent the tool from your local home center. Doing so may set you back a few bucks, but you’ll save endless trips up and down the ladder. One benefit of cleaning exteriors with TSP is that, when combined with household bleach, it eliminates mold and mildew. Protect your landscaping by choosing a windless day for the project, and by hosing down leaves before and after the job.

Avoid cleaning with TSP in the bathroom; it can damage metal, ceramic tile, grout, and glass. And as discussed above, it’s not suitable for painted surfaces.

Being toxic, TSP must be handled with care. That means wearing the appropriate protective gear. T-shirts and shorts are a no-no. Instead, wear full-sleeve clothing in addition to gloves, glasses, and a respiratory mask. And if you’re going to be working indoors, you must adequately ventilate the area.

TSP can also be bad news for the environment. If it ends up in lakes and streams, the phosphates trigger an overgrowth of algae that results in a depletion of oxygen levels in the water, which endangers fish and aquatic plant life. Use only as much TSP as you need, and tightly control the runoff.

You should also be aware that, given the drawbacks of TSP, some municipalities have either limited its use or banned its use altogether. Before starting your cleaning project, be sure to check local regulations. Also note that on the shelves of your local home center you may not find TSP, but TSP substitute instead. The latter is much safer to use, but most agree that it doesn’t clean as well as the real stuff.
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