The antimicrobial activity of solutions of potassium hydroxide (KOH) and mixtures of KOH and lauric acid against microorganisms associated with poultry processing was determined. In vitro tests were performed by enumerating viable microorganisms recovered from bacterial cultures suspended in peptone water (control) and in solutions of 0.1% KOH or mixtures of 0.1% KOH and 0.25 or 0.50% lauric acid. Additional studies were conducted to identify changes in the native microbial flora of poultry skin washed in distilled water, KOH, or KOH-lauric acid. Although results of in vitro studies indicated that significantly fewer bacteria (P < or = 0.05) were recovered from cultures suspended in KOH than from cultures suspended in peptone water, there were also significantly fewer bacteria recovered from cultures suspended in KOH-lauric acid than from cultures suspended in KOH. Results of experiments with broiler skin indicated that although rinsates of skin washed in 1.0% KOH solutions contained significantly fewer total aerobic bacteria and enterococci than did skin washed in water, significantly fewer of these microorganisms were generally recovered from rinsates of skin washed in mixtures of 1.0% KOH and 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, or 2.0% lauric acid than from skin washed in KOH alone. Washing of broiler skin in solutions of 0.25 to 1.00% KOH or mixtures containing these concentrations of KOH and two parts lauric acid (wt/vol) also significantly reduced the populations of bacteria and yeasts in the native flora of broiler skin. Enterococci, lactic acid bacteria, and staphylococci in the native flora of the skin had the highest level of resistance to the bactericidal activity of KOH-lauric acid. These findings indicate that the antimicrobial activity of KOH-lauric acid is significantly greater than that of KOH alone in vitro and on poultry skin. Thus, KOH-lauric acid may be useful for reducing the level of microbial contamination associated with poultry processing.