We have studied experimentally the effect of different initial iron contamination levels on the electrical device properties of p-type Czochralski-silicon solar cells. By systematically varying phosphorus diffusion gettering (PDG) parameters, we demonstrate a strong correlation between the open-circuit voltage (Voc) and the gettering efficiency. Similar correlation is also obtained for the short-circuit current (Jsc), but phosphorus dependency somewhat complicates the interpretation: the higher the phosphorus content not only the better the gettering efficiency but also the stronger the emitter recombination. With initial bulk iron concentration as high as 2 × 1014 cm−3, conversion efficiencies comparable with non-contaminated cells were obtained, which demonstrates the enormous potential of PDG. The results also clearly reveal the importance of well-designed PDG: to achieve best results, the gettering parameters used for high purity silicon should be chosen differently as compared with for a material with high impurity content. Finally we discuss the possibility of achieving efficient gettering without deteriorating the emitter performance by combining a selective emitter with a PDG treatment. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.