Semiquantitative cultures were compared with blood cultures during one year in order to see if the routine use of a semiquantitative catheter culture method (SQC) in unselected patients can detect or predict infection associated with central venous catheters. Catheter infection, i.e. greater than or equal to 15 colony forming units (cfu) per plate, occurred in 137 of 542 catheter tips (25%), mainly with coagulase-negative staphylococci. Catheter-associated bacteremia occurred in 17 of 93 cases (18%) where blood cultures had been drawn. In 15 of these, the catheter tip grew greater than or equal to 15 cfu. The predictive value for bacteremia of a positive SQC was only 21%. SQC is not a suitable method for the detection of catheter-associated bacteremia, but may be an indicator of the standard of central venous catheter hygiene.