Operating time for idiopathic hydroceles and epididymal cysts is scarce as these conditions compete with an increasing caseload of more consequential surgical disease. Therapy is often relegated to repeated aspiration. Sclerotherapy appears to be effective in a majority of published trials, but comparative effectiveness, efficacy and safety of most agents, including phenol versus tetracycline, has not been established. A deliberate strategy of re-treatment until cure is not universally practised, with surgery still being offered after single-treatment failures. Two trials, the first consisting of 53 scrotal cysts treated with 5% phenol-in-water and the second, 42 cysts treated with tetracycline, are compared for effectiveness, efficacy and safety of sclerotherapy per se and of re-treatment. Intention-to-treat analysis yields similar cure rates (no re-accumulation three months after last injection) for phenol and tetracycline (83% and 81% respectively, p = 0.8). Per-protocol analysis also yields similar cure rates (100% and 97% respectively, p = 0.26) and mean number of injections to cure (1.34 and 1.12 respectively, p = 0.069), with range 1–4 and 1–3 respectively. Severe pain following tetracycline injection required administration of pre-injection cord block. Other complications occurred equally (25% and 25.7% respectively, p = 0.94) and were trivial except for one case of chronic haematocele treated by orchiectomy in the tetracycline group. Phenol (5%) and tetracycline are equally efficacious sclerosants for idiopathic scrotal cysts, achieving almost 100% cure with re-treatment and matching the efficacy of surgery. Concern about post-treatment fertility applies equally to surgery and demands informed consent for both modalities.