Bronchoalveolar lavage with the fiberoptic bronchoscope is commonly used for the diagnosis of pulmonary infections in mechanically ventilated adults and children. However, its use for intubated infants is precluded because the small artificial airway does not permit the passage of the bronchoscope. We have developed a technique for nonbronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage, performed via a sterile, disposable feeding tube. We have used this technique in 15 infants with diffuse interstitial disease and/or atelectasis, while they were intubated and mechanically ventilated. The volume of the lavage effluent averaged 70.3% of the volume instilled. Specific diagnosis on the basis of the cytologic evaluation and/or culture of the lavage fluid was possible in 9 (60%) patients. Two patients with atelectasis showed radiographic evidence of improvement following the procedure. There were no complications. We conclude that nonbronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage is well tolerated, and clinically useful in small, mechanically ventilated infants with respiratory failure due to diffuse pulmonary disease. This technique provides a lower risk alternative to more invasive, and costly procedures.