What is TSP? Every post for cleaning old wood paneling says to use TSP. I have searched Lowe's and Home Depot's websites to no avail. Help!
By Luludog1 from Cleveland, OH
Not all "TSP" is trisodium phosphate. Read the label! Some of it is "TSP Substitute" which may or may not matter for your purposes, but you might need to know.
Jess above is right that TSP is being phased out in a lot of localities, but he is wrong about why. TSP is not at all a serious chemical. The issue is that it's a phosphate, and when phosphates get into the watershed they cause fouling of fresh water bodies (lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, etc). Phosphates are potent fertilizers for algae and algae blooms crowd out other aquatic plant life and deplete water of oxygen which screws up aquatic animal life (fish).
So quite a while ago, the federal government required that phosphates be removed from the largest non-fertilizer source of phosphates -- laundry detergent (look at the label of your detergent and somewhere it will say "phosphate-free," now you know why). But environmental phosphate problems still remain and in the near future (2011), the federal government will require that all dish-washing detergents be formulated to be phosphate free as well. When the restrictions started, they tended to be local and a varying patchwork of local restrictions is what caused the federal government to make uniform rules.
This is true for TSP. Where I live, TSP is not widely available. If you go to Home Depot or Lowe's or the local paint or hardware store, you will not find TSP but you might find TSP Substitute, which is phosphate-free. I have found real TSP at Ace Hardware (which probably shouldn't be there). And of course, you can find real TSP online in eBay and other places. There are some states that don't ban phosphates this way, and so the Home Depots/Lowe's/hardware/paint stores there will have real TSP. That's why some of the posters above say it's easy to get while others couldn't find it.
Why should you care? Maybe you don't need to. If you are doing a general clean up, the substitute works just as well and it is better for the environment by being phosphate free. The original post mentioned cleaning wood paneling and if that was indoors, there is little risk of environmental run off, but an outdoor wood deck for example is a different matter.
For me it mattered. TSP has long been used to clean up before painting. The residual phosphates don't seem to chemically interact with paint, so that's why painters like it. In my case, I needed to clean concrete before applying epoxy coatings. Sometimes muriatic acid is used to "etch" the concrete and neutralize the alkaline efflorescence that can emerge from concrete and mortar, causing paints to flake off. But that chemical was too harsh for the Rustoleum Epoxy Shield Basement Coating I was using, and it's too harsh for many concrete stains. The phosphates in TSP buffer the alkalinity rather than neutralizing it like acids, so it works better with those kinds of concrete coatings. But if the chemistry isn't an issue for your application, then the TSP Substitute should be fine.
If you can't find TSP, buy a box of Spic and Span. It has TSP in it.
Murphy's Oil Soap works well for cleaning wooden cabinets, paneling, etc.
By Teri Van Hecke04/14/2009
Trisodium Phosphate - if the local hardware stores don't carry it (and I can't imagine why - look by the wood fence and decking supplies) try paint stores. We've used it for years on the cedar decks.
I agree, you can find it in any home improvement store. It is a very good cleaner but remember to follow the directions for the amount to use because it will soften paint or a finish if too much is used. Just ask a clerk next time you are in the store, if they don't know what you are asking for, they shouldn't be working in a home improvement store! It is a basic!
By Grandma J04/13/2009
Maybe not every grocery store carries this in the cleaning isle, but any hardware store does. It can be in the paint or the cleaning supplies section. Usually not a very big box. Mine I always get are white boxes, about 4 x 6 x 2. Goes along way.
By LEONA LABINE04/13/2009
You should be able to buy it at any hardware store. The container it comes in looks like a milk carton and is usually blue.
I bought it at Lowe's within the last several weeks. It is in the paint area, with the other cleaners, spackles, etc. to use when preparing to paint. You can buy it in powdered or liquid form.
Here is a wikipedia link that talks about TSP. It stands for the chemical Trisodium Phosphate.
It sounds like your best bet is to go to an actual paint store, like Sherwin Williams and ask there. Most hardware stores are phasing it out because it is a pretty serious chemical.
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