Abstract Identification of chlorinated drinking water disinfection byproducts (DBPs) was investigated by using electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS). Chlorine-containing compounds were found to form chloride ion fragments by MS/MS, which can be used as a ‘fingerprint’ for chlorinated DBPs. Instrumental parameters that affect the formation of chloride ions by ESI-MS/MS were examined, and appropriate conditions for use in finding specific structural information were evaluated. The results show that maximizing the formation of chloride ions by MS/MS required a relatively high collision energy and collision gas pressure; also, limiting the scan range to m/z 30–40 allowed improved sensitivity for detection; but obtaining structural information required the use of lower collision energies. The conditions obtained were demonstrated to be effective in identifying chlorinated DBPs in a standard sample with relatively low concentrations of each component and in a chlorinated humic substance sample. Sample pretreatment techniques including ultrafiltration and size exclusion chromatography appeared to be helpful for identifying highly polar or high molecular weight chlorine-containing DBPs by ESI-MS/MS.