The in-vitro activities of the topical agents azelaic acid, nitrofurazone, silver sulphadiazine and mupirocin have been determined against 80 strains of MRSA collected from worldwide sources. MICs were determined by agar dilution (with an inoculum of approximately 5.0 x 10(5) cfu) in Iso-Sensitest agar, and MBCs were measured by replica-plating from MIC plates using velvet pads. The agents tested were uniformly active against MRSA, mupirocin being the most active (MIC50 0.15 mg/L) followed by nitrofurazone (MIC50 19 mg/L), silver sulphadiazine (MIC50 85 mg/L) and azelaic acid (MIC50 850 mg/L). Concentrations of azelaic acid, nitrofurazone and silver sulphadiazine close to the MIC were bactericidal, but mupirocin was only bactericidal at concentrations substantially greater than the MIC. In time-kill experiments, azelaic acid and nitrofurazone were gradually bactericidal, silver sulphadiazine was rapidly bactericidal and mupirocin was not bactericidal. Silver sulphadiazine killed sulphonamide-sensitive and sulphonamide-resistant strains equally rapidly. No resistant mutants were found to azelaic acid, nitrofurazone or silver sulphadiazine in an inoculum of 10(9) cfu, but two strains yielded (frequency: 1.0 x 10(-9)) mutants resistant to mupirocin. Our in-vitro results suggest azelaic acid, nitrofurazone and silver sulphadiazine could be of use for clearing staphylococcal carriage.