Trace amounts of adventitious transition metals in buffer solutions can serve as catalysts for many oxidative processes. To fully understand what role these metals may play it is necessary that buffer solutions be 'catalytic metal free'. We demonstrate here that ascorbate can be used in a quick and easy test to determine if near-neutral buffer solutions are indeed 'catalytic metal free'. In buffers which have been rendered free of catalytic metals we have found that ascorbate is quite stable, even at pH 7. The first-order rate constant for the loss of ascorbate in an air-saturated catalytic metal free solution is less than 6 X 10(-7) s-1 at pH 7.0. This upper limit appears to be set by the inability to completely eliminate catalytic metal contamination of solutions and glassware. We conclude that in the absence of catalytic metals, ascorbate is stable at pH 7.