The effects of the surfactants, alcohol ethoxylate, amine ethoxylate, amine oxide and SDS on cell membranes were investigated using the lipid soluble spin label 5-doxyl stearic acid (5-DS). Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy revealed that the action of the surfactants was to significantly increase membrane fluidity of Proteus mirabilis, Staphylococcus aureus and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The action of these surfactants as biocides was investigated and found to be dependent on the type of organism tested. There was, however, no direct correlation between enhanced membrane fluidity observed due to the action of the surfactants and biocidal activity. Data presented suggest that perturbing the fluidity of the cytoplasmic membrane is not immediately responsible for cell death.