Absorption of dietary phosphorus plays a critical role in the development of metabolic bone diseases in patients with chronic renal failure. However, phosphorus absorption is difficult to quantitate in dialysis patients because the dialysis treatments complicate metabolic balance studies. Utilizing a recently developed technique which permits measurement of net absorption of dietary constituents after a single meal, we measured phosphorus absorption in dialysis patients. The following observations were made: A.) Following a meal containing approximately 300 mg phosphorus, mean phosphorus absorption in five hemodialysis patients (with severe vitamin D deficiency) was only slightly less than in matched controls (186 +/- 35 vs. 242 +/- 30). B.) After dialysis patients were treated with 1,25(OH)2-D3, phosphorus absorption increased from 186 +/- 35 to 272 +/- 16 mg (P less than 0.025). C.) The effect of three aluminum containing antacids on phosphorus absorption was studied; each slightly reduced the absorption of phosphorus compared to placebo (P less than 0.01), but there was no significant difference between them. D.) Aluminum hydroxide and calcium carbonate each reduced dietary phosphorus absorption to approximately the same extent. Calcium carbonate ingestion was associated with sharply increased calcium absorption. The absorption of dietary phosphorus is influenced only modestly by 1,25(OH)2-D3 and is inhibited to an equal but only modest degree by various aluminum antacids and by calcium carbonate.