Contamination of blood cultures is believed to occur mainly during the venepuncture procedure. Consequently, meticulous preparation of the venepuncture site is widely recommended. To determine whether the contamination rate is indeed affected by the quality of the antiseptic procedure at the venepuncture site, 181 paired cultures were collected from 176 patients during a 6-month period after either strict antiseptic cleansing of skin with alcohol followed by povidone-iodine, or after brief disinfection with alcohol alone. The contamination rate was not influenced by the antiseptic procedure, and corresponded to the accepted percentage reported in most other studies. Eight false positive cultures (4.4%) were obtained after strict antisepsis of the skin and 6 (3.3%) after short simple cleansing with alcohol (P = 0.39). Our results suggest that contamination of blood cultures may not be related to the venepuncture procedure--regardless of the antiseptic technique used--but may be due to later stages of laboratory handling and processing of the specimens. Review of the literature has provided further indirect evidence to support this conclusion.