The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of a mobile laminar airflow (LAF) unit in reducing bacterial contamination at the surgical area in an operating theatre supplied with turbulent air ventilation. Bacterial sedimentation was evaluated during 76 clean urological laparotomies; in 34 of these, a mobile LAF unit was added. During each operation, settle plates were placed at four points in the operating theatre (one at the patient area and three at the perimeter), a nitrocellulose membrane was placed on the instrument table and an additional membrane near the wound. During four operations, particle counting was performed to detect particles > or =0.5 microm. Mean bacterial sedimentation on the nitrocellulose membrane on the instrument table was 2730 cfu/m(2)/h under standard ventilation conditions, whereas it decreased significantly to a mean of 305 cfu/m(2)/h when the LAF unit was used, i.e. within the suggested limit for ultraclean operating theatres (P=0.0001). The membrane near the wound showed a bacterial sedimentation of 4031 cfu/m(2)/h without the LAF unit and 1608 cfu/m(2)/h with the unit (P=0.0001). Particle counts also showed a reduction when the LAF unit was used. No significant difference was found at the four points in the operating theatre between samplings performed with, and without, the LAF unit. Use of a mobile LAF unit with turbulent air ventilation can reduce bacterial contamination at the surgical area in high-risk operations (e.g. prosthesis implant).