Abstract The activity of various disinfectants against poliovirus (Sabin 1an) was assessed using surface and suspension tests. The surface test showed that 2% glutaraldehyde and high concentrations of hypochlorites (9200 ppm avCl 2) were effective (i.e. ⩾4 log 10 reduction) against a dried virus suspension in 1 min. Diluted aldehydes (‘Sporicidin’ and ‘Gigasept’), lower hypochlorite concentrations (1000 ppm avCl 2) and peroxides (3%) were less effective while 70% ethanol showed variable results; 70% isopropanol was ineffective in 10 min. In the suspension tests hydrogen peroxide (3% and 6%) and 70% ethanol were ineffective in 1 min.