The volatile anaesthetics sevoflurane and desflurane feature new and promising properties. Their low blood and tissue solubility enables rapid onset of and emergence from anaesthesia, thus enhancing patient safety and comfort. This article is designed as an up-to-date review of the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of modern volatile anaesthetics. The first part focuses on pharmacokinetic issues such as substance properties, uptake and elimination. The second part covers the effects of inhaled anaesthetics on organ systems, with emphasis on the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory tract, liver and kidneys.