The colonic motility response and short-term clinical effectiveness of colonic irrigation was studied in five patients with an end-colostomy, each of whom was studied on up to six occasions, using volumes of 500 and 1500 ml water infused under gravity and over a period of 2·5 and 5 min with a pump. The median baseline colonic luminal pressure was 14 cmH2O and rose to 42 cmH2O with a 500-ml infusion, and to 74 cmH2O with a 1500-ml infusion. Irrigation induced high-pressure (over 200 cmH2O) propagated waves which caused the efflux of colonic contents. These were more numerous after a 1500- than a 500-ml infusion (median 4·5 versus 2·0 respectively). There was no difference between the two volumes infused in the incidence of colostomy breakthrough before subsequent irrigation. Colostomy irrigation with 500–1500 ml water appears to produce intracolonic pressure rises that are safe. These volumes can be infused rapidly under gravity alone.