Ingestion of an electrolyte lavage solution containing polyethylene glycol 3350 and sulfate is an effective method of cleansing the colon for diagnostic studies. Polyethylene glycol and sulfate are considered poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Because of the quantities administered, concern exists about potential toxicity of absorption of even a small percentage, particularly for polyethylene glycol. We measured the urinary excretion of both polyethylene glycol and sulfate in normal subjects and inflammatory bowel patients. Absorption of polyethylene glycol can be assessed by measuring recovery in urine, as 85%-96% of an intravenous load is excreted in urine. Similarly, appreciable sulfate absorption would exceed renal tubular reabsorption and result in increased urinary excretion. Mean percent polyethylene glycol load recovered in urine was minimal and similar for normal (0.06%) and inflammatory bowel (0.09%) subjects. Urinary sulfate excretion after lavage was also similar for both groups and was not different from baseline. These results do not suggest the likelihood of toxicity due to polyethylene glycol 3350 or sulfate absorption during gut lavage with this solution.