Short Form 36 (SF-36) is a well-documented health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) instrument consisting of 36 questions compressed into eight scales and two primary dimensions: the physical and mental component scores. This tool was used to evaluate QOL among peritoneal dialysis (PD) and hemodialysis (HD) patients. The results of 16,755 HD and 1,260 PD patients (728 continuous ambulatory PD [CAPD] and 532 continuous cycling PD [CCPD]) completing an SF-36 during 1996 were analyzed. Three analyses of variance were performed, consisting of (1) no adjustment, (2) case mix (age, sex, race, and diabetes), and (3) case mix plus laboratory parameters. PD patients were younger (P < 0.001), a larger fraction were white (P < 0.001), fewer had diabetes (P < 0.001), and had lower serum albumin concentrations (P < 0.001) and higher creatinine, hemoglobin, and white blood cell count values (P < 0.001) than HD patients. Diabetes was present in a larger fraction of CCPD than CAPD patients (P < 0.001). HD and PD patients scored similarly for scales reflecting physical processes. PD patients scored higher for mental processes, but only after statistical adjustment for the laboratory measures. Scores on scales reflecting physical processes were worse, and those reflecting mental processes were better among CCPD than CAPD patients. HD and CAPD scores were similar. CCPD patients perceived themselves as more physically impaired but better adjusted than HD or CAPD patients. These descriptive data show that perception of QOL among PD and HD patients is similar before adjustment, but PD patients score higher for mental processes with adjustment. CCPD patients score worse for physical function and better for mental function than either CAPD or HD patients. We cannot, however, exclude the influence of therapy selection.