How To Use TSP Cleaner Before Painting Cabinets [Guide]

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If you are looking to prepare your cabinets for painting than you will likely need TSP cleaner to remove any grease or dust from the surface you’re treating.

In this article, we will break down what TSP cleaner is, how to use it, and somethings to consider. By the end of the post, you should be well on your way to knowing how to use TSP cleaner before painting cabinets.

So What is TSP Cleaner?

TSP, otherwise known as trisodium phosphate is a heavy-duty cleaner used to tackle the toughest stains and grime. Typically packaged in a dry powder format, TSP is mixed with hot water to make a cleaning agent that is both odourless and powerful. 

Applying TSP is generally done with a sponge though similar cleaning tools can be used, and quickly allows you to remove any stuck-on dirt.

Contractors, painters and handyman clean cabinets, walls or other areas with TSP prior to painting as it helps ensure the surface is grease and dust-free, in addition to preparing the surface for paint. 

TSP does have some downsides, most notably that its use is banned in some countries and states. With that being said, it still remains one of the best cleaners for cutting through grease, wax and other tough stains as well as for prepping surfaces.

How to Use TSP Before Painting Cabinets

Using TSP cleaner is a simple process, follow the 4 steps below to clean your cabinets with TSP prior to painting. 

Read: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets [Guide]

Once you’re done cleaning the cabinets the surface should be prepared for painting, staining or whatever treatment you plant for it.

1. Prepare the cleaning solution

Prior to actually cleaning the cabinets you will need to prepare your TSP cleaning solution. This requires the mixing of appropriate parts TSP and hot water. A general rule of thumb is to mix ¼ cup TSP per gallon of water, with that being said you should also follow the manufacturers guidelines prior to mixing the cleaner.

Once the solution has been prepared you can begin to prep the surface and surrounding area for painting.

2. Prepare the area

Ensure the area surrounding the cabinets is protected from any potential mess or paint. A canvas or plastic drop cloth can come in handy, or you may simply want to just move any furniture out of the area you’ll be scrubbing.

This is a wise step to take if you want to prevent any additional mess from staining a carpet or brining other unwanted spills.

3. Wash cabinets

With the TSP cleaner prepared and the area ready for cleaning you can get to washing the cabinets. A large sponge or brush is suggested for this stage though any similar cleaning utensil will do.

Make sure to scrub all corners and crevices, the main point of using TSP cleaner is to remove the baked-on grease and grime other cleaners can’t get off so take the time and cover all areas during this stage. 

If you want to ensure the surface is extra clean it can be helpful to do a second pass over to cover any spots that may have been missed. 

4. Rinse the cabinets

Now that the cabinets have been properly cleaned you will want to ensure they are rinsed, and or dried off. This stage helps to clear away the dirt you removed with the TSP as well as remove any residual TSP cleaner. 

Some warm water will be more than enough to help you rinse away everything. With that being said if you are cleaning wood cabinets you will want to be careful to ensure that you do not introduce too much moisture (i.e. water) as it could potentially lead to damage. 

The Pros and Cons of TSP Cleaner

While TSP may seem perfect, it still has it’s negatives, to help you better understand the pros and cons of trisodium phosphate cleaner we break down the key reasons people may or may not use the cleaning agent below.

Pros

1. Cheap

TSP cleaner can be found at most local hardware stores or online. It comes in a dry powder format, typically packed in a box with instructions on how to mix the cleaning solution contained on the side. 

A pound of TSP powder generally goes for $3 to $6 and can be used to make gallons of cleaner.

2. Easy-to-use

Requiring just the powder and hot water, TSP cleaner is easy to make and easy to use. Once prepared you can use it like any other cleaning solution to wash your surface needing only a household sponge to apply.

To rinse, just use hot or cold water to remove any leftover TSP that may be left on your surface to prevent any adverse reactions with your paint.

3. Strong

Unlike many other cleaners available on the market today TSP is strong. It can cut through the toughest stains, grease or baked-on wax without a problem. You can go as far as to strip paint with this cleaning solution. 

With that being said, to protect yourself from TSP you will want to ensure you are wearing rubber gloves as it is a known irritant and could bother your skin if you come in contact with it at high enough concentration.

Cons

1. Known Irritant 

As mentioned above, TSP is a known irritant and can cause problems with your skin if you come in contact with it in high enough concentrations. 

This can be easily avoided by utilizing rubber gloves and eye protection but should still be noted especially for those with already sensitive skin. 

2. Harmful to The Environment 

TSP has been touted as harmful to the environment over recent years and maybe for good reason, one of its key components, phosphate, is known to cause damage to the environment.

While TSP is an indirect sufferer of this problem it still remains damaging and has resulted in its use as a cleaner being banned within some regions.

3. Damaging to Surfaces

TSP in significant concentrations is bad and should be avoided by individuals as it is known as a strong irritant.

In addition to this, there is the potential for the cleaning solution to react with some types of surfaces and cause damage. Before using this cleaner it is wise to test is it in a small area where people can not see.

TSP vs Denatured Alchohol

Depending on your preferences you may opt to use TSP, denatured alcohol or another substitute like the ones listed in the coming section.

TSP is a cleaning solution that acts as a soap, degreaser and heavy-duty cleaner all-in-one, though like a soap it can leave behind a residue that needs to be properly rinsed off prior to painting the surface. 

Denatured alcohol is similar to TSP cleaner, and is great for cutting through tough grease or as a substitute for a deglosser. Where it differs from TSP is that it does not leave any residue and generally quite quickly evaporates from the surface. 

This makes it a good option for when you are in a rush to finish your project, or your contracting and are on a timeline.

Trisodium Phosphate Cleaner Substitutes

If you are looking at the cons of TSP and are considering another solution it’s helpful to know the available substitutes. 

It should be noted that while the following are substitutes, they are by in no way less harmful or toxic in comparison to TSP.

1. Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is a great stain remover and degreaser. It evaporates after use and leaves no residue that requires rinsing making it easier for you to clean and paint your cabinets.

Like TSP it should be handled while wearing rubber gloves but is less of a known irritant.

2. Acetone

Acetone is a heavy-duty cleaner and paint stripper that is both toxic, known to irritate the skin and cause pungent fumes.

It is good for cutting through dirt or when you need to remove thick layers of old paint from things like cabinets, furniture or shelves. It should be handled with caution.


Conclusion

Learning how to clean cabinets with TSP is a breeze. 

Now that you have had the chance to understand how trisodium phosphate works, the steps you should take when using it as a cleaner, and some pros and cons, you should be well equipped to tackle your next cabinet painting project. 

If you still, have questions about TSP cleaner feel free to drop a comment in the box below and a member of our team will do their best to get back to you with an answer.

Ryan

Ryan

Ryan is a writer for ToolboxAdvice.com. He's been a hobbyist and painter for a long time, and now enjoys teaching others. His content primarly focuses on reviews and guides for painters and construction professionals.

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