Various dyes were assessed for their ability to discriminate between viable and non-viable bacteria. Two methods of killing were employed: by heat treatment or by gramicidin treatment. Staining was carried out in two ways; by staining directly in the medium or by washing cells prior to staining in buffer. Carbocyanine and rhodamine 123 dyes only exhibited small changes in fluorescence between viable and non-viable populations of bacteria. Both oxonol dye (bis 1,3-dibutylbarbituric acid trimethine oxonol) and calcafluor white proved much more useful.