To determine the threshold at which red blood cells (RBC) begin to manifest deformation-dependent leakiness to monovalent cations, we examined net passive potassium leak during elliptical deformation. Normal RBC did not begin to leak appreciable amounts of potassium until shear stress reached 204 dyn/cm2, at which point they had attained greater than 96% of their maximal deformation. In striking contrast, RBC that had undergone minimal, physiologically relevant degrees of peroxidative damage induced by t-butylhydroperoxide began to leak potassium at only 59 dyn/cm2 when they had reached only 63% of their maximal deformation. The cation leak identified in this manner is not prelytic, and it is fully reversible. Therefore, these data may be relevant to abnormal cation leaks that develop in sickle red cells that have membranes damaged by auto-oxidative stress and that manifest an exuberant but reversible leakiness to monovalent cation during sickling-induced deformation of the cell membrane.