Mechanical efficiency, patient acceptability and minimal biochemical perturbation are important factors in the choice of lavage solution for bowel preparation. This prospective randomised trial of 59 patients compared a polyethylene glycol bowel lavage solution (Klean Prep) to a sodium picosulphate solution (Picolax) considering their efficacy from both colonoscopists' and radiologists' points of view, patient acceptibility, and plasma biochemical changes. The sodium picosulphate solution was more acceptable to patients than the polyethylene glycol, and resulted in significantly less nausea and vomiting (p = 0.0025), and far fewer consumption difficulties (p < 0.0001). Mean plasma biochemical changes were significantly different for magnesium (p < 0.001), chloride (p < 0.01) and potassium (p < 0.02). Because neither lavage solution displayed a marked advantage for the colonoscopist or radiologist, and sodium picosulphate was more acceptable to patients, sodium picosulphate is the preferred solution for bowel preparation. The changes in plasma biochemistry values are unlikely to cause clinical problems.