Laxatives and lavage solutions are used in the treatment of constipation and toxic ingestion and also for preparation of the colon before endoscopic or surgical procedures. Several different categories of agents are available for use. These include bulking agents, osmotic agents, secretagogues and agents with direct effects on epithelial nerve or smooth muscle cells, and lubricating agents. Each category has different pharmacologic effects, side effects, and clinical indications. This review summarizes current information about these agents.