A comparison of clinically useful phosphorus binders for patients with chronic kidney failure. Over the past 30 years it has become apparent that hyperphosphatemia plays a major causative role across the entire spectrum of morbidity associated with advancing kidney dysfunction and failure. A large fraction (60% to 70%) of dietary phosphorus is absorbed and normally excreted by the kidneys. Ideally, as kidney function deteriorates, the net quantity of phosphorus absorbed from the GI tract should be proportionally reduced to match the decrease in kidney function. After initiation of chronic dialysis therapy, the absorbed phosphorus load should match the amount of phosphorus removed via dialysis plus any excreted by residual kidney function. Because it is very difficult to reduce dietary phosphorus to these levels, a variety of oral phosphorus binders have been employed. Currently available binders include alkaline aluminum, magnesium, and calcium salts (primarily calcium carbonate and calcium acetate), various iron salts, and the binding resin sevelamer hydrochloride. Lanthanum carbonate is the newest agent and will probably be released shortly. This review compares the theoretic and in vitro chemistry of these drugs with in vivo data obtained in both normal patients, and in patients with kidney failure. The clinical potency and potential toxicity of the binding agents are compared, and optimal drug administration strategies are also reviewed.