Women are advised to take folic acid before they conceive as a precaution against neural-tube defects. However, the use of folic acid in preventing orofacial clefts is unknown. We investigated whether a woman's periconceptional use of multivitamins containing folic acid was associated with a reduced risk of orofacial clefts. We derived data from a population-based case-control study of fetuses and liveborn infants with orofacial anomalies among a 1987-89 cohort of births in California. We interviewed 731 (84.7%) of eligible mothers with orofacial cleft case infants and 734 (78.2%) mothers with non-malformed control infants. We found a reduced risk of orofacial clefts if the mother had used multivitamins containing folic acid during the period from one month before through two months after conception. The odds ratios ranged from 0.50-0.73 depending on cleft phenotype. Controlling for the potential influence of other variables did not substantially alter the results. Maternal daily consumption of cereal containing folic acid was also associated with a reduced risk of orofacial clefts. Women who used multivitamins containing folic acid periconceptionally had a 25-50% reduction in risk for offspring with orofacial clefts compared to women who did not use such vitamins. However, this association may not be attributable to folic acid specifically, but may be a consequence of other multivitamin supplement components, or behaviours, that are highly correlated with the use of multivitamins containing folic acid.