Weck-Cel sponges were examined for suitability as an absorbent material for nontraumatic collection of rectal secretions in humans. Sponges were tested in vitro and determined by quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to be capable of releasing 100% of absorbed albumin and all immunoglobulin subtypes after treatment with detergent-supplemented buffer. Protein composition in rectal secretions collected from normal women with dry sponges (DS) or with sponges previously softened by moistening with saline (MS) was subsequently compared. DS secretions showed evidence of contamination with blood and interstitial fluid-derived albumin, immunoglobulin G (IgG), and monomeric IgA. MS secretions appeared to represent local mucosal secretions more accurately because they contained negligible blood, a greater percentage of secretory IgA within the total IgA, and both lower albumin/IgG ratios and more dramatic alterations in IgG subclass distribution compared with corresponding serum. Anti-HIV IgG, IgM, IgA, and antibodies with secretory component could be demonstrated by ELISA in rectal secretions collected with moist sponges from 8 of 8, 1 of 8, 5 of 8, and 3 of 8 HIV-infected women, respectively. The data show that Weck-Cel sponges, if premoistened, can be used to collect rectal fluids nontraumatically and to obtain quantitative information about concentrations of immunoglobulins and specific antibodies on rectal mucosal surfaces.