Red cell stability in the face of thermal stress has been evaluated only in the setting of prolonged incubation. This study was conducted to determine red cell tolerance of rapid mixture with heated saline, which exposes red cells to heat only until thermal equilibration, which is a matter of seconds. Half-units of 35-day-old red cells stored in CPDA-1 were mixed at 6 to 10 degrees C in the blood container with an equal weight of 60, 70, or 80 degrees C saline. This resulted in mean mixture temperatures of 30.9, 37.5, and 42.6 degrees C, respectively. Controls consisted of the same mixture, but with 6 to 10 degrees C saline. The red cells in the mixtures were assessed for osmotic fragility, and the supernatant was examined for plasma hemoglobin and potassium. Neither osmotic fragility curves nor supernatant hemoglobin or potassium changed significantly with saline temperatures of 60 or 70 degrees C. When 80 degrees C saline was used, osmotic fragility, supernatant hemoglobin, and potassium all increased significantly (p less than 0.01) over control values. Red cells tolerate rapid mixture with 70 degrees C saline without hemolysis or change in osmotic fragility.