A comparative study of the performance of liquid chromatography (LC)-atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation (APCI)-mass spectrometry (MS) and gas chromatography (GC)-mass spectrometry techniques for the determination of resin and fatty acids from paper mill process waters was carried out. These compounds are responsible for the high toxicity of paper mill effluents and little research has been carried out regarding their analysis using mass spectrometric techniques. To prove the usability of GC and LC-MS, 16 treated and untreated water samples of recycle, kraft and pulp paper mills were analysed and good agreement was observed as regards to compounds detected and corresponding concentrations. This paper also reports the limits of detection, recoveries, reproducibility, linearity and precision using the two methods. GC-MS presented better selectivity and lower detection limits (below 0.2 microg/l), but derivatization of the extracts and the short life of derivatives (12-24 h) made the technique tedious and prone to high variations. Although LC-APCI-MS presented coelution of the non-aromatic resin acids, it also showed good sensitivity (limits of detection <3 microg/l) and permitted the detection of resin and fatty acids at microg/l level. In addition, since samples could be directly injected to the chromatographic system, LC-APCI-MS was proven as a powerful technique for quick and unequivocal quality control during papermaking.