Little is known about feces disposal practices, their determinants and feasibility for change, despite their importance in the control of diarrheal diseases. We report here the results of formative research for the development of an intervention to promote sanitary disposal of feces of young children. The study was conducted in a densely populated shanty town area of Lima, where water and sanitation systems are scarce. In-depth interviews were undertaken with mothers, husbands and community leaders. Group discussions were held with mothers in order to validate findings from the interviews, investigate particular topics further and explore reactions to possible intervention strategies. The principal defecation sites for young children were diapers, potties, the ground in or near the home, the hill, latrines and flush toilets. The main determinants found were the age of the child, the effort required by the method, perceptions of dirtiness and the availability of resources. Almost all children under one year of age use diapers but the high resource cost of diaper washing is a strong motivation for mothers to move their children on as early as possible. Potties were considered the most socially acceptable and 'hygienic' defecation method for children between one and three years of age. Nevertheless, defecation directly onto the ground is common at this age. Potty training is deemed to be quite difficult and the long term achievements are determined by the initial training success. In most cases, the training process is authoritative and inconsistent. The use of latrines and flush toilets is not considered appropriate for children until they are three to four years old. Based on these initial findings, a micro-trial was conducted to assess the feasibility and acceptability of promoting greater use of potties and associated practices. The results of the trial were very encouraging and provided valuable information for the design of a community-wide intervention. Our findings help explain why the emphasis given in most sanitation projects, where efforts have been concentrated on the promotion of latrines, has failed to induce their utilization by small children. Sanitation projects should incorporate interventions that will promote hygienic defecation and stool clearance practices for infants and small children.