In a multi-laboratory trial with the mombrane filtration technique, three surfactants – Teepol 610 (T610), Tergitol 7 (T7) and sodium lauryl sulphate (LS) – were compared in media for the enumeration of coliform organisms and Escherichia coli in water. A total of 170 samples of water (87 raw and 92 marginally chlorinated) were examined for colony counts of coliform organisms, and 185 water samples (94 raw and 91 marginally chlorinated) for E. coli. Slight differences in the confirmed colony counts between the three media were noted, but few of these were observed consistently in every laboratory. In most laboratories, T7 gave slightly higher counts of E. coli than LS with chlorinated waters; a higher incidence of false-positive results for E. coli at 44 °C was also noted with T7. As there were no outstanding differences in the trial, sodium lauryl sulphate, which is chemically defined, cheap and readily available, is therefore recommended for use at a concentration of 0·1% instead of Teepol 610 in the standard medium for the enumeration of coliform organisms and E. coli in water by the membrane filtration technique.