An important problem in the life sciences and in health care is simple and rapid detection of biomarkers. Although microfluidic devices are potentially useful in addressing this problem, current techniques for automating fluid delivery--which include valves and electroosmosis--require sophisticated microfabrication of the chip, bulky instrumentation, or both. In this paper, we describe a simple and reliable technique for storing and delivering a sequence of reagents to a microfluidic device. The technique is low-cost, requires minimal user intervention, and can be performed in resource-poor settings (e.g., outside of a laboratory) in the absence of electricity and computer-controlled equipment. In this method, cartridges made of commercially available tubing are filled by sequentially injecting plugs of reagents separated by air spacers. The air spacers prevent the reagents from mixing with each other during cartridge preparation, storage, and usage. As an example, we used this "plug-in cartridge" technology to complete a solid-phase immunoassay in a microchannel in 2 min with low-nanomolar sensitivity and demonstrate the diagnosis of HIV in 13 min.