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To TSP or not to TSP?

TSP (a more manageable mouthful than its full-on high school chemistry iteration, Trisodium Phosphate) is a white granular substance that, when dissolved in water, produces a highly soluble alkaline cleaning agent. Its alkalinity works very well on grease and oils to help dissolve them from surfaces. Once used extensively in many commercial cleaning products but now less so because of its environmental and personal health hazards, TSP is still a go-to cleaning agent for stubborn areas. That said, there are some benefits to using it in certain circumstances and it can be a highly effective cleaner on exterior and stubborn stains.

For the full scope of its plusses and minuses, here you go:


  • Great on exterior surfaces like brick, stone, cement, wood, and roofing.
  • Cuts grease and works on difficult dirts and stains.
  • Easy application with a brush or a sponge.
  • Removes mold and mildew when combined with bleach.
  • Excellent at cleaning siding if fed into a power wash machine.


  • Stains metal fixtures.
  • Damages grout, metal, ceramic tile, and glass.
  • Remove paint, particularly the glossy sheen, and causes paint to chip off if it’s already cracking.
  • Highly toxic. You MUST use PPE while using, especially a mask, gloves, and full sleeve clothing and pants. Ventilation is critical when using indoors.
  • Terrible for the environment. TSP causes algae blooms which decrease oxygen levels in lakes and ponds, decimating wildlife.
  • Destroys your landscaping.

So is there a safe alternative? Borax is a considered a more natural alternative to TSP. Sodium borate (as its called by chemists) is also alkaline and also consists of white colorless crystals that dissolve in water.

Boron must be mined and mining has an enormous environmental footprint. In addition to increasing carbon emissions, mining degrades flora, destroys wildlife habitats, consumes huge amounts of water, and creates air and water pollution. According to Scientific American, the mining company that extracts from one of the two mines in the world that supplies most boron, Rio Tinto, actually has high marks for its environmental stewardship. However, the Environmental Working Group rates Borax with a “D” for both the inflammatory effects it has on the skin, eyes, and respiratory system and the acute poisoning and developmental issues it creates over longtime exposure. And if it does that to humans, wildlife also pay a price.

Simple Green, is probably the best, but not perfect, option. It, like TSP and Borax, cuts grease (though sometimes can be sudsy, a problem offset by greater dilution with water.) It can be added to both carpet cleaning machines and pressure washers and is safe for all washable surfaces from countertops, sinks, tile, carpeting, flooring, upholstery, chrome, steel, and other metals to remove heavy dirt, grease, food residue and other soils. It should not be used on suede, leather, unfinished wood, opals or pearls. Taken off the environmentally friendly list for a time due to toxicity concerns over one of its ingredients, Simple Green removed 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) from the ingredient list in 2013 and has been reinstated as non-toxic by the EPA.

PopUP CleanUP is a licensed professional cleaning company serving events and commercial properties in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

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