Insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) are commonly used as a means of personal protection from malaria transmission by anopheline mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae). Long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) have special treatments intended to remain effective after many washes. The present trials assessed the efficacy and wash-resistance of several production batches of PermaNet (polyester net coated with polymer resin containing pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin 55 mg ai/m2) against malaria vectors in Pakistan, Iran and Tanzania compared to ITNs conventionally treated with alphacypermethrin 15 or 20 mg ai/m2, or deltamethrin 25 or 50 mg ai/m2. Insecticidal efficacy of the nets before and after repeated washing (using W.H.O. recommended and traditional local washing procedures) was monitored through contact bioassays with Anopheles and by experimental hut and outdoor platform tests. Local washing regimes gradually reduced the insecticidal efficacy of conventionally treated nets, but they were not exhausted, even after 21 washes. Using a more rigorous laboratory washing method, insecticide was more readily stripped from conventionally treated nets. PermaNet retained high efficacy after 21 washes, giving more than 97% mortality of Anopheles in contact bioassays with 3-min exposure. Using the more sensitive bioassay criterion of 'median time to knockdown', PermaNet showed no loss of insecticidal activity against Anopheles after washing repeatedly in 2 out of 6 trials; whereas in a further three trials knockdown activity of PermaNet and conventional ITNs declined at comparable rates. Higher mortality levels of Anopheles in contact bioassays did not always translate to superiority in experimental hut or enclosed platform trials. In only one of four comparative field trials did PermaNet out-perform conventional ITNs after washing: this was in the trial of PermaNet 2.0--the product with improved quality assurance. Because PermaNet and conventionally treated nets were both quite tolerant of local washing procedures, it is important in field trials to compare LLINs with conventional ITNs washed an equivalent number of times. Our comparison of PermaNet 2.0 against conventionally treated deltamethrin nets (CTDN) in Pakistan demonstrated superior performance of the LLIN after 20 washes in phase I and phase II bioassays, and this was corroborated by chemical assays of residual deltamethrin. Although PermaNet 2.0 has received WHOPES interim recommendation for malaria control purposes, its performance should be monitored in everyday use throughout its lifespan in various cultural settings to assess its durability and long-term effectiveness for malaria prevention and control. As many millions of conventionally treated nets are already in routine use, and these will require regular re-treatment, programme strategies should be careful to preserve the effectiveness of ITNS before and after establishing the reliability of LLINs in long-term use.