The limits of detection of 10 genotoxins representing 7 chemical classes with varying structures and modes of action were compared using the Ames test (Salmonella plate-incorporation test) with 2 tester strains, 2 standard colorimetric methods (the umu test and SOS Chromotest), and modifications of the umu and SOS Chromotests developed during the course of this study. The purpose of the study was to determine the sensitivity and reproducibility of each of the six methods. The sensitivities of the methods were compared using two criteria: the concentrations required for doubling responses, and the minimum concentrations required to produce statistically significant increases from background controls. The Ames test with strains TA98 and TA100 was ranked as the most sensitive method more often than the others, but the results indicated that the umu tests were statistically equivalent to the Ames test. The original SOS Chromotest kit method was highly sensitive in detecting the direct acting genotoxins, but neither SOS test was as sensitive as the other methods in detecting indirect acting genotoxins. The umu microtiter plate test is the least expensive of the assays and would be the most suitable for screening large numbers of environmental samples.