Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) containing the fixative mercuric chloride is considered the "gold standard" for the fixation of ova and parasites in the preparation of permanently stained smears of stool specimens. However, mercuric chloride is potentially hazardous to laboratory personnel and presents disposal problems. We compared three new alternative, nontoxic fixatives with PVA, analyzing ease of sample preparation and quality of smears. Sixty-eight fresh stool specimens were divided into aliquots and placed in each of four different fixatives: PARASAFE (PS) (Scientific Devices Laboratory, Inc., Des Plaines, Ill.), ECOFIX (EC) (Meridian Diagnostics, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio), Proto-Fix (PF) (Alpha-Tec Systems, Inc., Vancouver, Wash.), and low-viscosity PVA fixative (PVA) (Meridian). Specimens were processed and stained according to each manufacturer's directions. Parasites were found in 31 of 68 slide preparations with PVA, 31 with PF, 30 with EC, and 30 with PS. Blastocystis hominis and Iodamoeba bütschlii were preserved in a readily identifiable state by all methods of fixation. However, some parasites were more easily identified with some of the fixatives because of differences in parasite distortion. For example, Entamoeba histolytica (Entamoeba dispar) was detected in 13 stools fixed with PF, 7 with PVA, and 6 with EC but none with PS. Likewise, Chilomastix mesnili was identified in 13 specimens fixed with PF, 8 with EC, and 5 with PVA but only 1 with PS, while Entamoeba coli was seen much less frequently with PS than with the other three fixatives. A dirty background was observed in 41% of specimens prepared with PS, whereas background quality was acceptable with other fixatives. Sample preparation was most rapid with PS, although the EC method involved the fewest steps. In conclusion, PVA and PF produced the least parasite distortion, while PS proved unsatisfactory for the identification of E. histolytica, E. coli, and C. mesnili. Both PF and EC appear to be acceptable, environmentally safe substitutes for PVA.