We analyzed the photoinactivation of the membrane functions of bacteria and erythrocytes induced by xanthene dyes. The dyes tested were rose bengal, phloxine B, erythrosine B and eosin B. These dyes induced the leakage of K+ from Staphylococcus aureus cells within minutes of photoirradiation, in the order of rose bengal > phloxine B > erythrosine B > eosin B. The ability of dyes to inhibit respiration was weak, except for rose bengal, and the dyes dissipated the membrane potential in similar time traces with changes in K+ permeability. The xanthene dyes also induced the leakage of K+ from bovine erythrocytes upon photoirradiation in the same order as that observed with bacteria. Furthermore, we found that the ability to cause the leakage of K+ from erythrocytes was associated with dye-induced morphological changes, forming a crenated form from the normal discoid. These results are discussed in connection with the ability of xanthene dyes to generate singlet oxygen and bind to bacterial cells, and further compared with the actions of cationic porphyrins, which induced photoinactivation of bacteria through respiratory inhibition.