Antacids used to decrease phosphorus absorption in patients with renal failure may be toxic. To find more efficient or less toxic binders, a three-part study was conducted. First, theoretical calculations showed that phosphorus binding occurs in the following order of avidity: Al3+ greater than H+ greater than Ca2+ greater than Mg2+. In the presence of acid (as in the stomach), aluminum can therefore bind phosphorus better than calcium or magnesium. Second, in vitro studies showed that the time required to reach equilibrium varied from 10 min to 3 wk among different compounds, depending upon solubility in acid and neutral solutions. Third, the relative order of effectiveness of binders in vivo was accurately predicted from theoretical and in vitro results; specifically, calcium acetate and aluminum carbonate gel were superior to calcium carbonate or calcium citrate in inhibiting dietary phosphorus absorption in normal subjects. We concluded that: (a) inhibition of phosphorus absorption by binders involves a complex interplay between chemical reactions and ion transport processes in the stomach and small intestine; (b) theoretical and in vitro studies can identify potentially better in vivo phosphorus binders; and (c) calcium acetate, not previously used for medical purposes, is approximately as efficient as aluminum carbonate gel and more efficient as a phosphorus binder than other currently used calcium salts.