Abstract Background To study the clinical and laboratory significance of d‐lactate in the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis (BM). Methods The levels of d‐lactate, l‐lactate, IL-6, IL-8, and other biochemical markers were determined in 83 CSF samples from different types of meningitis and the controls. Results The CSF values of d‐lactate, l‐lactate, IL-6, IL-8, erythrocytes, leukocytes, and protein were higher in patients with BM than those in the controls and patients with viral meningitis. The levels of d‐lactate, l‐lactate, IL-6, and erythrocytes in the BM group were higher than those in the tuberculous meningitis group. At the cutoff 12.8 μmol/l, d‐lactate showed the diagnostic sensitivity of 94.7%. d‐lactate gave the area under the curve (AUC) 0.905, which was higher than those of other markers. Using multiple marker detection, the AUC reached 0.956, which was the highest among all the parameters. Pearson correlation analysis revealed that d‐lactate was positively correlated to IL-6 and l‐lactate (r=0.727, 0.789 and P=0.000, 0.000, respectively). Conclusions The CSF concentrations of d‐lactate are significantly increased in the presence of BM. Measurement of d‐lactate provides a rapid diagnosis and differential diagnosis for BM. Combination of d‐lactate with other biochemical markers improves the specificity.