The first stages of the photocatalytic degradation of the compounds chlortoluron [3-(3-chloro-4-methylphenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea] and chloroxuron [3-[4-(4-chlorophenoxy)phenyl]-1,1-dimethylurea], belonging to the class of phenyl-urea herbicides, were investigated using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled to electrospray ionization ion trap tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-IT-MS/MS). Degradation was accomplished under solar radiation, using TiO2 embedded into a polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) transparent matrix as a heterogeneous photocatalyst. Aliquots of the chlorinated herbicide solutions were withdrawn at different times and subjected to gradient elution, reversed-phase HPLC separations, specifically optimized to obtain the highest resolution between peaks related to the herbicide degradation by-products. The latter were then investigated using MS detection; in particular, MS/MS measurements were made and structural information was obtained from the interpretation of fragmentation data. Several by-products were identified; the most important ones are hydroxylated compounds arising from the interaction between the two chlorinated herbicides and OH radicals generated at the TiO2 surface under irradiation. Other by-products were generated by slightly different processes, namely demethylation, dearylation and dechlorination, eventually followed by interaction with OH radicals. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.